Gone are the days of seasoning food with just salt and pepper or of jars of herbs and spices collecting dust for a decade in a kitchen cabinet.
The exciting era of herbs and spices has begun and you can either let it boost your home cooking to a higher level of flavor and health or be left behind clutching your jar of Old Bay Seasoning.
There’s a whole world of exotic herbs and spices available to you now over the Internet or at specialty stores that you might not know about because they aren’t called for in Grandma Martha’s recipes. You might not even see the following up-and-coming herbs and spices in magazine and cookbook recipes either — yet.
Herbs and spices aren’t just about adding flavor. They may also have health perks related to their antioxidants. And using herbs and spices in your foods may help you cut back on fat, sugar, and salt, which could help your waistline, blood pressure, and overall health.
Here are six herbs and spices that you probably aren’t using yet, but should.
1. Smoked Serrano Chili Powder
Serrano chili peppers are known for their bold, spicy heat. Now you can find Serrano chilies that are smoked and ground into a fragrant powder.
How it improves dishes: Smoked Serrano chili powder adds a rich, smoky flavor and lively heat to your favorite dishes, including a variety of Mexican and Southwestern dishes, stews, casseroles, egg dishes, and chili.
Turmeric, a favorite ingredient since ancient times, is the root stalk of a tropical plant in the ginger family. It adds a bright golden color and a pungent flavor found in everything from Indian curry powder to traditional American mustard.
How it improves dishes: Turmeric can be added to Southeast Asian recipes including curries; soups; rice and pilaf dishes; and vegetable, chicken, or lentil dishes. It can also be used to add some punch to relishes and chutneys.
3. Saigon Cinnamon
Cinnamon is not a new spice, but Saigon cinnamon, prized for its sweet and spicy taste and aroma, is considered the finest and most flavorful cinnamon in the world.
How it improves dishes: Cinnamon is an old favorite called for in fancy coffee drinks, hot oatmeal, cookies, and fruit crisps. It’s also a popular spice for main dishes (including chicken, seafood, and lamb) from international cuisines such as Indian, Greek, Mexican, and Middle Eastern. Saigon cinnamon is an important ingredient in the popular Vietnamese noodle soup called pho.
4. Vanilla Paste
Vanilla extract is ubiquitous in dessert recipes, but the next generation of recipes might start calling for vanilla paste instead. Vanilla paste is much more preferable to vanilla extract because of flavorful flecks of vanilla bean dispersed throughout its syrup consistency. Vanilla paste has the benefits of using the actual vanilla bean (where you cut the long, thin bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the center) but is so much easier.
How it improves dishes: Vanilla paste has a more concentrated flavor than extract, and the flecks of vanilla bean can be particularly appetizing used in single-color dishes such as ice cream, sugar cookies, and vanilla frosting. It’s a treat to see and taste those flavor-packed little black dots.
This is an up-and-coming herb, according to the Spice Island Marketplace at the Culinary Institute of America. Although this is a relatively new herb to many American cooks, epazote has been used in Mexico for cooking and medicinal purposes for thousands of years.
In Mexico, Epazote is best known for flavoring bean dishes and making herb tea. One new use, suggested by the Spice Island Marketplace, is to drizzle some olive oil on top of flat bread, and then sprinkle epazote over the top, heat, then serve.
How it improves dishes: Epazote has a powerful flavor similar to licorice and can be used in bean dishes as well as eggs, burritos, rice, soups and stews, salad, quesadillas, and meat dishes. There is one way that epazote may improve your bean dishes beyond flavor: It’s known in Mexico for helping to diffuse the gas-inducing effect of beans.
6. Herbs de Provence
Herbs de Provence (also called Herbs of Provence) is a blend of five or six herbs reminiscent of France’s sunny Provence region. The herbs included in the blend vary by brand but usually include thyme, basil, savory, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, and/or lavender. When you buy it in a blend, the individual herbs are already in balanced amounts ready to inspire flavorful and convenient cooking.
How it improves dishes: This sweet and fragrant aromatic herb blend adds depth and complexity to your hot dishes. It can be used as a rub on roast, meats, and fish and works great on the grill. It can be added to marinades, sprinkled into sautés, omelets, vegetable dishes, sauces, and soups.
Tips for Buying, Using, and Storing Dried Herbs
If your grocery store doesn’t stock the spices or herbs mentioned in this story, try searching for them online.
- Store dried herbs in a cool, dark place, especially if they come in a clear glass container.
- Dried herbs are usually stronger-tasting than fresh. So if a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you’re using dried instead, use about 1/3 less. If the recipe calls for a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs, a teaspoon of dried herbs will do.
- Dried herbs lose flavor over time. If stored correctly, they will last about a year. Sniff the herbs before you use them. If you can’t smell anything, they’re past their prime.