Written by Andrea Hanson under the direction and review of Ann Schwader.
Herbs and spices come in a variety of forms and can be used to add flavor, color, and variety to food. Herbs, such as parsley or basil, are the leaves of low-growing shrubs, while spices like cinnamon or nutmeg began from the bark, roots, buds, seeds, berry or fruit of tropical plants and trees.
The Dietary Guidelines state that we should “limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium.” One of the main benefits of using herbs and spices in your cooking is that they serve as flavorful options to salt, fat, and sugar, without adding excess, unwanted calories to meals.
Common Flavor Combinations
When learning to cook with herbs and spices, it can be difficult to know which flavors pair well with different foods. Try some of the following suggested combinations to ‘spice up’ your recipes. Once you become more familiar with different herbs and spices, feel free to try your own combinations!
Italian cooking, tomato products, eggs, game meats, lamb, veal, rice, spaghetti, vinaigrette, soups (minestrone, pea, potato, and vegetable), beans, eggplant
Eggs, game meats, lamb, veal, rice, poultry, barbeque sauce, fish, oysters, chowders, soups (onion, tomato, and vegetable), mushrooms, tomatoes
Dumplings, eggs, game meats, lamb, veal, poultry, fish, barbeque sauce, chicken, beef, soups (pea and vegetable), beans, mushrooms, potatoes, squash, cauliflower, turnips
Tomato dishes, beef, game meats, veal, spaghetti, clams, soups (bean, minestrone, and tomato), beans, eggplant, and mushrooms
Tomato dishes, yeast breads, eggs, coleslaw, potato salad, fish, beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cucumber, summer squash
Salads, vegetables, pastas, potatoes
Cottage cheese, game meats, pork, rice, poultry, soups (chicken, minestrone, and vegetable), stuffing, summer squash, carrots
Mexican and Asian cooking, rice, salsa, tomatoes
Desserts, lamb, peas, fruit salads, sauces
Carrots, winter squash, pork, desserts, breads, fruit, tea, breakfast food, coffee
Desserts, breakfast foods, potatoes, winter squash, cauliflower, fruit, coffee, tea
Other Tips for Cooking With Herbs and Spices
- Fresh herbs or spices can be expensive, so if you do not have access to fresh ingredients, try using dried (they have strong flavor and will last longer).
- To reduce your salt, try using savory herbs and spices such as black pepper, garlic powder or granules, curry powder, cumin, dill, basil, ginger, coriander, onion, tarragon or oregano.
- When reducing sugar, use sweeter spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, anise, allspice, cardamom, or mace.
- Add fresh herbs near the end of cooking time for better, more enhanced flavor. Dried herbs can be added during cooking.
- Use whole spices, like cinnamon sticks or bay leaves, when preparing recipes that require lengthy cooking. There will be ample time for flavor to be extracted and spread throughout the food.
- If using garlic and onion spices, use the powdered form, rather than the salt form, to reduce sodium intake.
- Try pairing fresh herbs with fruits or vegetables to flavor your water.
- Choose MyPlate, USDA
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, USDA
- Shopping for Health: Herbs and Spices, University of Florida IFAS Extension
- Herbs and Spices, University of Missouri Extension
- Add a Little Spice (and Herbs!) to Your Life, University of Nebraska-Lincoln