For many, cooking can be an intimidating process. More than the logistics behind tools and cook time, is the basic principle will my food taste good? The balance between wanting to create both healthy and delicious dishes keep many people out of the kitchen.
When this happens, individuals are more likely to buy processed foods or eat out more often. Not only will this impact your wallet, but it will affect your waistline, as well. Many of these foods (and restaurants) can hide ingredients like sugar and table salt into our meals. These scary ingredients can pack on the pounds and negatively affect our overall health.
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Luckily with the help of a nutritionist and chefs, one of the difficulties that comes along with cooking (and properly seasoning food), will be broken down for even the most beginner chef to master and comprehend. We’ll look at seasonings to keep in your pantry, as well as those which should never be brought into your kitchen.
Read on as we provide the total guide on how to properly season healthy food.
Learning the Basics of Seasoning
Just like any art, the art of cooking and culinary skills (especially when it comes to seasonings) have basic parameters and beginning guidelines. Before buying your next spice rack, it’s crucial to learn the wide variety of seasonings and their origins. While some can be made of herbs, vegetables, and fruits, others can be from nuts, roots seeds, and flowers. See our list below as we go in depth about some favorite seasonings.
Salt may be the single most important seasoning that has stood it’s relevant throughout our history. In actuality, by earning a salary it meant at one point you were paid in salt. That’s how valuable the seasoning is. Keeping meat from spoiling and providing a large quantity of iodine and minerals, salt has proven itself as a must-have seasoning in your kitchen that can literally go in anything. From the chocolate chip cookies to the gourmet roasted chicken, most recipes call for salt.
But, before you go diving for your table salt, there’s a few things to keep in mind. Table salt has been processed and depleted of many nutrients to get it ‘pretty’ and easy to pour through a salt shaker. Instead try sea salt or pink himalayan salt, which are natural and rich in minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
The flavor that enhances all other flavors, pepper is a table staple for a season. According to Jacqueline King Schiller author of the upcoming cookbook PESCAN: A Feel Good Cookbook, pepper is the most widely used culinary spice. “Consuming black pepper regularly can help you maintain a healthy weight. It contains a compound called piperine that has thermogenic properties thought to help increase metabolism. While you probably already use ground black pepper in your kitchen, for the best flavor use whole peppercorns that you can grind just before adding to a dish. Black pepper can be used to infuse flavor during cooking or as a finishing touch to add a mild spicy kick to foods just before serving. Adding black pepper to dishes that contain turmeric can enhance the absorption and anti-inflammatory effects of the turmeric.”
So, go ahead and load up on the pepper to almost any food group. But remember that pepper can burn quickly if left on high heat while frying. So, if frying a dish, try adding pepper towards the end or on low heat. In addition to the most commonly used black peppercorn, try expanding your palate and incorporate both yellow and red peppercorns into your diet.
“With the average American consuming twice the recommended amount of sodium (in products like table salt), and high sodium intake linked to high blood pressure, cancer and osteoporosis, increased use of lemons could play a major role in reducing America’s’ dependence on the salt shaker,” says Christina Ward, Sunkist’s director of communications. “For many years, we’ve been encouraging individuals to choose all-natural lemons over salt to flavor their food.”
In fact, many individuals (who’ve tried reducing their salt intake) preferred recipes made with reduced salt and added lemon juice and zest to the original full-salt recipes. “Using lemon juice and zest in vegetable recipes allows for a potential 75 percent reduction in sodium per recipe. Incorporating lemon juice and zest in recipes for pork tenderloin, tuna, halibut, and salad dressing allows for a potential 50 percent reduction in sodium per recipe. Adding lemon zest to dry rubs for meats like chicken and beef allows for a potential 30 percent reduction in sodium per recipe,” says Ward.
My Italian family always jokes, if it’s not loaded with garlic for seasoning, it’s not going to taste very good. And, it’s true! In addition to the phenomenal taste, garlic comes with a long and sturdy list of health benefits. According to Registered Dietitian Jeanette Kimszal RDN NLC, “Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties, manganese, B6, vitamin C, selenium, and fiber. These nutrients support immune health to prevent colds and keep you healthy. They also aid in digestion, collagen promotion for great looking skin, and thyroid function to make sure [that] your hormones are in check. Garlic can be used in everything (and we mean everything) from soups and stews, to dressings sautées, and salads.”
Herbs are an incredible way to add both flavor and vital nutrition into your diet. One herb that can add a special taste to your favorite Italian (or even Thai dish), is basil. Kimszal explains that basil is rich in vitamin K, manganese, and copper. “These nutrients will help with blood clotting, thyroid function, calcium absorption, and metabolism of fats and carbs. Basil can be used in sauces, stews, bakes, and sautées to make your veggies pop.”
Something to keep in mind, basil can be a little sensitive when cooking. While (like most greens) the benefits are true to form when eaten raw there are a few tips to incorporating into a heated dish. If making a sauce or stir fry, try adding in the basil three to five minutes before serving (while the dish is on low heat). It will wilt the leaves so that they are not crunchy, and they will release wonderful taste and nutrition, but it will not burn the plant. A great and simple way to incorporate basil into your diet is with tomatoes and a little olive oil. This way you’re tasting the full flavor profile of the basil while eating it in raw form and gaining the full nutritional value.
“Cumin has iron, calcium, magnesium, B1, and phosphorus.” says Kimszal. “It helps with immunity and digestion, and is typically used in both curry dishes and taco seasoning.” While these are the traditional recipes that call for cumin, Kimszal believes that it has earned itself a little more of a spotlight. “I like to add it to everything,” she says, “from eggs to salad dressings. Cumin is a spice that plays wells off [of] the flavor of other products.”
It may be funny looking as you add it into your shopping cart. But the miracle food should be embraced for its quirky appearance. “Ginger has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Kimszal. “It helps support digestion and keeps you healthy by pumping up your immune system. Ginger has a great taste and makes vegetables yummy. They are used in sauces, stir fries, sautées, dressings, and baking.”
It may be easier to buy ground ginger from the store. But, we’re going to recommend buying fresh and manually mincing into meals. Not only will the taste wow you, but the nutrition value will shock you. While not on our list, ginger pairs excellently with lemongrass. So, next time you’re making an Asian style sauce or stir fry, try adding both of these fresh ingredients into your pot or pan and let it soak. Additionally, the extra skin bits of the ginger that didn’t make their way into your dish, are great scraps for tea. Boil water and add the ginger and lemon for an intense immunity booster and excellent tasting tea.
More than adding it’s unique and stand out flavor to our favorite Italian dishes, “Oregano is a common digestive aid. The essential oils in oregano have antibacterial and antifungal properties,” says Schiller. “It is extremely rich in antioxidants and can give a boost to your immune system. Oregano can be bought fresh or dried, and can be used for much more than sprinkling on pizza. Add a generous pinch of dried oregano or fresh minced oregano to soups, sauces, vegetables, or stews during cooking. Stuff whole fish with fresh oregano and lemon slices and roast in the oven. It’s also a wonderful addition to a vinaigrette, which can be used to dress up salads, potatoes, or steamed veggies.”
There’s a reason that many health conscious individuals put large amounts of parsley into their morning smoothies. “Parsley contains high levels of vitamins K, C, and A, and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which are beneficial to your liver. It’s also one of the many herbs considered to be a cancer-fighting food,” says Schiller. If that’s not enough, she goes on to explain how versatile freshly minced parsley is. “Add a sprinkle to garnish almost any dish to add beautiful color, a fresh peppery taste, and extra nutrients. You can also add fresh parsley leaves to salads and pestos. Look for the less bitter flat leaf parsley (also known as Italian parsley) rather than the curly leaf variety when cooking.”
“Turmeric is one of the superfoods of spices!” claims Certified Nutritionist Melissa Eboli. “It’s widely known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. It also contains compounds with medicinal powers that mainly comes from curcumin that aid in preventing disease such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. For best absorption, it should be eaten with a fatty meal or food. For instance, in a dish with coconut oil, coconut cream, or over a salad concoction that has nuts or seeds.”
Another great way to get your daily dose of turmeric nutrition and spice up a dish is to make yourself golden milk. Made from boiling nut milk, coconut oil, raw vanilla and turmeric, golden milk is a great way to create a healthy and nutrition packed dessert.
“Cinnamon (like turmeric), is also high in antioxidants and an anti-inflammatory spice as it contains polyphenols,” says Eboli. “It is also known to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure. It can also help to lower bad cholesterol (LDL), as well as balance blood sugar for those with Type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon can be eaten in a variety of ways, including in coffee, on cereal, topped on ice cream, in baked goods, and over sweet potatoes.”
Eboli speaks highly of this zesty seasoning, “With its deep red color, paprika is high in vitamin A and beta carotene, which aids in improving eyesight and macular degeneration. It is another antioxidant spice that has also been linked to reducing the risk of cancer. Additionally, this amazing spice can help reduce blood pressure and help with new blood formation that comes from the copper and iron in this spice. A great way to ingest paprika is to top over eggs (in particular, they’re a showstopper when it comes to deviled eggs), chicken salad, your favorite chili, and vegetables, such as asparagus.”
“Along with having ample amounts of vitamin A, cayenne pepper’s driving medicinal force comes from capsaicin, which is responsible for how hot the pepper is; meaning the more capsaicin it contains, the hotter the spice,” says Eboli. Given it’s zest of hot and spicy flavor, it’s an ideal add for those who enjoy a kick! Along with the heat in cayenne pepper, there are “specific health benefits that come from consumption. These include increasing metabolism from the heat of the pepper, as well as lowering blood pressure as capsaicin relaxes blood vessels. Foods to eat with cayenne include eggs [and] chicken, [or] sprinkle on tomato sauce or over a salad for some added heat.”
Staying Away From Hidden Ingredients
Seasoning food is great, but many seasonings contain salt and hidden sodium,” says Amanda Kostro Miller, RD, LDN. “Most Americans consume over the recommended amount of sodium. So, it is best to avoid adding seasoning with (table) salt and sodium. Learn to love low- or no salt seasonings and the natural taste of foods. Instead of seasoning with salt, season with citrus juice (i.e. lemon, lime), vinegars, and herbs. One easy switch would be to switch out your garlic salt for garlic powder.”
Along with salt, sugar is a hidden ingredient in many pre-made spice mixes. This can include steak and chicken rubs or even taco seasoning. The sugar may give it that intense (and addictive taste). Look at packages carefully and read the full list of ingredients. If you’re not opposed to the additional sweetness, try and go for seasoning with brown sugar instead of bleached white sugar.
Pre-Mixed Low-Salt Seasonings
In the store, you can find handy premixed no salt seasonings for any type of cuisine (i.e. Italian, Greek),” says Miller. “When looking for a good pre-mix pack, check the sodium content and compare with other products. Opt for no salt, no salt added, reduced sodium or low-sodium. While these labels all mean different things, you are usually getting the lower salt options when you choose packets with these labels.”
Meaning pleasant taste in Japanese, umami is another processed salt alternative when it comes to seasoning food.“ It is made from triple fermented soybeans and simmered fresh vegetables like onion, leeks, and mushrooms,” says Director and Chef of Yondu Culinary Studio Jaume Biarnes. “Umami enhances the natural flavor of each individual ingredient while balancing the overall taste of your dish. Simultaneously, this is all done without adding extra salt, oil, or butter, and can overall reduce your sodium intake.”
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