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Using Herbs and Spices to Add Flavour and Aroma to Your Dishes This Winter

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Herbs and spices not only add flavour to your mealtimes but variety too! With the right mix of herbs and spices, you can liven up any dish and experiment with a diverse range of flavours.

With winter around the corner, and an obvious chill already in the air, now is the ideal time to use more herbs and spices while cooking. This way, you’ll add more warmth, flavour, and aroma to your meals to keep your family cosy and satiated during the cold weather. Satiated

What are herbs and spices?

The words ‘herbs’ and ‘spices’ are often used interchangeably, and although they’re both obtained from plants and used to add flavour, aroma, and colour to foods, they refer to two different things. Both herbs and spices can be used fresh, but for our convenience they’re also available in a dried format, allowing us to add it to our dishes on the fly.

Herbs are from the leaves of non-woody (herbaceous) plants. They’re mainly used for savoury flavours in cooking and some even offer medicinal value. Herbs can be used in larger quantities than spices as their flavours are less potent. Some well-known herbs, which you might’ve cooked with before, include rocket, thyme, basil, rosemary, mint, and parsley. Robertsons Mixed Herbs (made up of thyme, sage, origanum, marjoram, and basil) is also a go-to in many households.

Spices, on the other hand, are obtained from the roots, flowers, fruits, seeds, or bark of plants. They are found in non-woody and woody plants. Most spices have a much stronger flavour than herbs and are used in smaller quantities when cooking. These can be categorised further into pure spices, such as cinnamon (from the bark of the cinnamon tree), nutmeg (from a seed), and ginger (from a root), and pure peppers, such as black pepper.

Robertsons also has a range of seasoning blends which are made from herbs, spices and salt. These offer amazing alternatives to the usual salt and pepper starter kit and are great for adding flavour and aroma to your meals.

In rare instances, a plant produces both herbs and spices. Coriander, for example, is often used as a herb, where the leaves are added to salads and salsas; and a spice, where the seeds are used to add flavour to popular South African food items like biltong and boerewors.

Benefits of cooking with herbs and spices

Besides the unmistakable benefit of making food taste better, adding different kinds of herbs and spices to your food also offers a range of health benefits. Once you have a grasp of the different uses of various herbs and spices, you can even use them as alternatives to salt to make your food healthier, as outlined in this study by Andersen et al.

Generally, fresh herbs and spices offer more nutritional value and flavour but using the dried alternative doesn’t take away their health benefits and taste completely. Most herbs and spices offer antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial effects, making them beneficial for us to consume. Furthermore, many of the popular herbs and spices used for cooking can help our bodies fight inflammation and reduce cell damage. This is because they’re rich in phytochemicals, which are plant chemicals that offer health advantages.

Many of the herbs and spices that offer above-mentioned health benefits are also ideal for cooking hearty and aromatic wintery dishes, which makes it the perfect time to start experimenting.

Herb/spice

Health benefits

Pairs best with

Winter recipe ideas

Cinnamon

Cinnamon has been used to treat fever, inflammation, common colds and diarrhoea. Another benefit is its ability to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Pairs well with non-competing flavours, including vanilla, maple, and honey.

Cardamom

Cardamom’s main health benefit is that it can be used as a digestive aid and helps to relieve gas and bloating.

Can add flavour to a variety of dishes such as stews, soups, curries, baked goods, desserts, and hot beverages.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg contains an abundance of antioxidants which may help to neutralise and keep free radicals in check, and prevent cellular damage.

With its warm and spicy flavour, nutmeg pairs well with sweet spices, desserts, and baked goods.

Clove

Cloves are high in antioxidants. It may help to regulate blood sugar, kill bacteria, and support liver health.

Cloves are ideal to add flavour to meats, curries, rice pilaf, mulled wine, fruity desserts, and pumpkin dishes.

Turmeric

Turmeric’s magic lies in curcumin’s benefits, which offers many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Turmeric is mainly used in combination with other spices and works well in bean dishes, rice dishes, whole grain dishes, soups, stews, sauces and marinades, and curries.

Ginger

Ginger could help you lose weight, manage arthritis, and reduce symptoms associated with menstruation.

Ginger is versatile and pairs well with most fruits, drinks (hot and cold), pork and chicken, and pumpkin dishes.

Cumin

Cumin offers health benefits such as promoting digestion and reducing your risk of contracting food-borne infections.

With its warm flavour, cumin works great with most meat dishes. Especially as a meat rub.

Rosemary

Rosemary has been used for its medicinal qualities for ages! It’s believed to help lessen muscle pain, enhance memory, boost immune function and blood circulation, and help hair growth.

Rosemary complements a variety of dishes, from grains and potatoes to onions and mushrooms. It's also great for lamb, poultry, beef, chicken, and fish.

How to extract more flavour

There is an art behind adding more herbs and spices to your meals, and it’s not as complicated as you think!

Most of us buy already-grinded, dried herbs and spices as they are convenient and allow us to add flavour to our meals amid our busy schedules. Thanks to Robertsons’ wide range of herbs and spices, we can keep an entire collection of flavours in our pantry, ready for any meal at any time.

To get the most flavour from your dried herbs and spices, you should bloom them. Most spices have fat soluble flavour compounds which means that you can extract more flavour by warming them up in hot oil. A lot of recipes start with sauteing onions. This is also the perfect time to add your spices and fry them to release their flavours. Frying your herbs and spices for a mere 30 to 60 seconds will make a magical difference to your dish.

When using fresh herbs, for example, parsley, mint or coriander, you want to make sure that you add them to your dish towards the end of the cooking process. This way, you can make sure they don’t lose their freshness or flavour. You can either tear them up or chop them before adding to your dish, so that they don’t get bruised.

Ready to start cooking?

Unlike salt and pepper, herbs and spices cannot be used for all kinds of dishes. You need to have a basic understanding of its taste and aroma to make sure you’re adding the desired flavours to your meal.

Start adding herbs and spices to your winter cooking by using our handy table above. We are sure you’ll appreciate the delicious outcome.

FAQs

Is there a difference between herbs and spices?

Yes. Although herbs and spices are obtained from plants and used to add flavour, aroma, and colour to foods, they refer to two different things. Herbs are from the leaves of non-woody (herbaceous) plants, while spices are obtained from their roots, flowers, fruits, seeds, or bark.

Do herbs and spices offer health benefits?

Yes, adding herbs and spices to your diet offers a range of health benefits. Once you grasp their different uses, you can use them as alternatives to salt to make your food healthier.

Do certain herbs or spices go better with certain foods?

Yes. Unlike salt and pepper, herbs and spices cannot be used in all kinds of dishes. It’s best to learn their different tastes and uses so you can achieve the desired flavour outcome. We’ve shared some recipes above to get you started.

How do I get more flavour from dried herbs or spices?

To get the most flavour from your dried herbs and spices, you should bloom them. This means frying them to release their flavours. Frying your herbs and spices for a mere 30 to 60 seconds will make a magical difference to your dish.

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