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Kitchen Makeover: How to flavor your food

Keeping a supply of a variety of herbs and spices can not only make your food taste great;  it can also make eating healthy easier. Spices have traditionally been used to prevent and cure ailments. A number of herbs and spices even have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-oxidant properties.  Additionally, by flavoring your food using herbs and spices, it is possible to reduce the amount of fat and salt in your diet and still eat delicious, satisfying meals.

If you are new to the world to herbs & spices, use the following guide for flavoring.  Use any of the spices on the list or use a combination – don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Herb & Spice Hints

  • Herbs can be used fresh or dried.
  • Fresh herbs have more flavor.
  • Consider growing an herb garden. Herbs grow well inside or out and typically do not require much maintenance.
  • Dried herbs are convenient and can be stocked up in your pantry.
  • Visit ethnic markets and grocery stores for authentic herbs and spices that are reasonably priced.

Flavoring Guide

  • Beef (use lean beef -more than 90%): onion, black pepper, sage, thyme, nutmeg, marjoram.
  • Chicken or Turkey (use skinless): ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon, curry powder, black pepper, mint
  • Fish: mustard, lemon, paprika, black pepper, parsley, dill
  • Beans: ginger, garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, chives
  • Vegetables: ginger, garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, chives, black pepper, parsley, basil, sage, cinnamon, rosemary, mint, tarragon

If you wish to experiment with different world cuisines, use the following guide:

  • Chinese: Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, red chilies, black pepper, sesame oil, hot mustard, Five-spice powder (star anise, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper – formula can vary depending on regional cuisine)
  • Indian: carom seeds, asafetida, ginger, garlic, onion, cilantro, cumin, mustard seeds, turmeric, cayenne, chili powder, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, coriander seeds, tamarind, coconut, mint, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, Garam Masala (a mixture of ground spices – formula can vary depending on regional cuisine)
  • Mexican: Basil, chilies, cumin, cilantro, oregano, epazote, onion, cinnamon, tamarind
  • Italian: garlic, onion, basil, bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
  • Thai: Thai basil, lemongrass, cilantro, coconut, red chilies, ginger
  • French: Bay leaf, chervil, chives, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, Herbes de Provence (a mixture of dried herbs), Quatre-Epices (a mixture of ground spices)
  • Greek/Mediterranean: Bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sesame seeds, sumac, Za’atar (a popular blend of herbs & spices)
  • Japanese: ginger, shiso basil, wasabi, sesame seeds, Shichimi (a seven-spice powder using dried red chilies, orange peel, sansho pepper, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, nori)

Parul Kharod is a clinical dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital.  With questions for the dietitians, e-mail For individual nutrition counseling, call WakeMed Cary Hospital Outpatient Nutrition Services at 919-350-2358. Learn more about WakeMed’s Outpatient Dietitian Services.