Archive for Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Add a little spice to meals

Herbs, spices and health

February 27, 2002

Spices and herbs have been used in foods for centuries. Archaeologists estimate that by 50,000 B.C., primitive man had discovered that parts of certain aromatic plants help make food taste better, according to the American Spice Trade Association.

In ancient times, spices were used to make food taste palatable. With a lack of fresh foods during colder months and with stored foods deteriorating in quality, a dash of cinnamon or pepper could help make foods more edible.

Spices were once so costly only the wealthy could afford them. In 11th Century Europe, many towns paid their taxes and rents in pepper. The reason for Columbus' voyage in 1492 was to seek a more direct passage to the rich spices of the Orient.

What's the difference between a spice and an herb? Here's a definition from the American Spice Trade Association: Spices are any dry plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes. Included are tropical aromatics (such as pepper, cinnamon, cloves) leafy herbs (basil, oregano, marjoram), spice seeds (sesame, poppy, mustard) and dehydrated vegetables (onion, garlic). Blends such as curry, chili powder, poultry seasonings, are part of the spice shelf too.

Adding herbs and spices to your recipes may help lower your amount of dietary fat, sugar and sodium.

Removing a tablespoon of fat removes about 10 grams of fat and 100 calories, an amount, which could represent a 10-pound weight loss in a year. The calories in herbs and spices are far less than in breading, batters, gravies, sauces and fried food, according to Ann A. Hertzler, a registered dietitian and extension specialist in Virginia who wrote "Herbs and Spices."

Reduce or eliminate sugar by using sweet-tasting spices. Hertzler recommend trying these spices: allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace and nutmeg.

Here are some tips for using spices and herbs to help reduce the salt in foods.

Savory flavors, and flavors with "bite" such as black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, dill seeds, basil, ginger, coriander and onion, are the most effective in replacing the taste of salt, according to the spice association.

Use minced or powdered garlic and onion rather than their salt form. Omit the salt when cooking pasta and flavor with basil, oregano, parsley or pepper.

Check labels to see if "salt" or "sodium" is listed among the ingredients.

The amount of herbs and spices to add to a recipe varies with the type of spice or herb, type of recipe and personal preference. If possible, start with a tested recipe from a reliable source. If you're creating your own recipe, begin with trying one or two spices or herbs.

How do you make the substitution if your recipe calls for fresh herbs and all you have are dried herbs? One tablespoon of finely cut fresh herb may equal 1 teaspoon dried leafy herbs or about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground dried herbs.

If you don't know how much of a spice or herb to use, follow these recommendations from SpiceAdvice. Remember to use more herbs if using a leafy or fresh form. Begin with 1/4 teaspoon of most ground spices or ground dried herbs for these amounts and adjust as needed: 4 servings; 1 pound of meat; 1 pint (2 cups of soup or sauce). Start with 1/8 teaspoon for cayenne pepper and garlic powder; adjust as needed.

Red pepper intensifies in flavor during cooking, so use it in small increments.

The type of spice or herb and the type of food for which it is used influence the time to add it during food preparation. As a general rule, add fresh herbs near the end of the cooking time as prolonged heating can cause flavor and aroma losses. Remove whole spices and bay leaves at the end of cooking; secure them in a tea ball for easy removal. For uncooked foods, add spices and herbs several hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Here are some suggestions about what spice or herb to add to meat, poultry, fish and vegetables:

Beef: bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage, thyme.

Chicken: ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme.

Fish: curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika, pepper.

Carrots: cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage.

Corn: cumin, curry powder, onion, paprika, parsley.

Greens: onion, pepper.

Potatoes: dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley, sage.

Air, light, moisture and heat speed flavor and color loss of herbs and spices. Store them in a tightly covered container away from sunlight and moisture. Prevent moisture from entering the container during use by removing from the container with a dry spoon. Don't sprinkle the spice or herbs directly from container into a steaming pot. Some spices will keep longer if stored in the refrigerator. Paprika, chili powder and red pepper will retain their color, especially in summer or hotter climates.

As a general rule, herbs and ground spices may be kept for a year. Whole spices may be kept for two years. If the herb or spice smells strong and flavorful, it's probably still potent. To smell whole spices, such as peppercorns and cinnamon sticks, crush or break them to release their aroma.

Nada F. Thoden is Johnson County extension agent for family consumer sciences.

Spicy Orange Roughy
1 pound orange roughy fillets
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix seasonings together in a bag. Put fish in bag and shake to coat. Arrange fish in shallow microwave-proof dish. Sprinkle with remaining coating. Cover with paper towel. Microwave on high 4-6 minutes or until fish just begins to flake when tested with a fork. Let stand covered 1-2 minutes to complete cooking.
Make 4 servings: Per serving: 152 calories, 8 gm total fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 23 mg cholesterol, 207 mg sodium. Diabetic Exchanges: 3 1/2 meat

Zesty Bread Sticks
1/2 teaspoon chervil
1/2 teaspoon sweet basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 cup margarine or butter

Blend all together. Margarine should be at room temperature. Spread on bread sticks cut from French Bread. Make sticks approximately 1/3 the length of the loaf. Bake on cookie sheet at 450 degrees for 79 minutes. Makes 10 servings. Per servings: Butter: 150 calories, 10 g. fat, 25 g cholesterol. Soft Margarine: 149 calories, 10 g. fat, 0 mg cholesterol. Reduced-Calorie Margarine: 108 calories, 5 g fat, 0 cholesterol.

Five Spice Powder Blend
2 teaspoons anise seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Combine all ingredients: store in an airtight container. Use to flavor fish or pork. Yield: 1/4 cup

Herbs Seasoning Blend
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parley flakes

Combine all ingredients: store in an airtight container. Use in omelets and to season fish, vegetables, or chicken. Yield: 1/4 cup.

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