Get to Know Your Spice Rack

By Sharon Salomon, MS, RD
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There are many delicious, fresh foods that require little tinkering with flavor. But, when it comes to lightening up recipes, it is important to understand how to keep flavor when reducing fat, sugar or sodium.

One way is through the addition of spices, herbs or other flavorings such as citrus juice, vinegars, dried fruits and cheeses. Some dishes use chopped or diced aromatic vegetables — onions, garlic, shallots, scallions, leeks, peppers or celery — for a base flavor in soups, stews, sauces and stir-fry recipes. Others add depth by adding seasonings such herbs and spices to layer flavors.

How to Outfit a Spice Rack

More intricate or advanced recipes may call for specific herbs and spices, but this list is a good place to start:

  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Oregano
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder (not to be confused with garlic salt)
  • Onion powder (not onion salt)
  • Bay leaf
  • Curry powder
  • Thyme
  • Paprika (smoked paprika is a trendy one)
  • Nutmeg
  • Turmeric
  • Clove
  • Cinnamon
  • Chili powder
  • Italian herb seasoning blend

3 Tips for Storing and Using Spices

  • Dried herbs do not always taste like their fresh counterparts, so they are not necessarily interchangeable in a recipe. But in a pinch, try substituting one part dry herb for three parts fresh.
  • Remember that dry herbs and spices have a shelf life. Most should not be kept for more than a few years, especially after they've been opened. Store dried herbs and spices in airtight containers and in a cool, dark cupboard or pantry.
  • Taste and season throughout the cooking process. It's better to under-season and add more spices, than over-season and be left with a ruined dish. Only add salt at the very end — you may find your dish doesn't even need it!

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