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Want to make a small change that will have lasting health benefits? Try cutting down on salt!

One easy way to do this is by using more herbs and spices in cooking. Fresh or dried, either can enhance the flavor of any dish.

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Pairing Foods with Herbs and Spices

Learning what herbs and spices go with what foods doesn't have to be overwhelming. Start by getting familiar with the particular nuances of various herbs and spices by using them in time-honored recipes. Once you have a good feel (or shall we say, taste?) for their characteristics, you can begin to create your own seasoning blends. In tomorrow's post, we'll share some winning combinations for seasoning vegetables.

Considerations

  • Be conservative in the amount of an herb used until you are familiar with the taste and strength of it. Start small! You can always add more later.
  • When using more than one herb or spice, don't mix two very strong flavored herbs or spices together. Instead, combine one strong flavored herb with one or more milder flavored herbs to complement both the stronger herb and the food.
  • For salt reduction, choose savory or biting herbs and spices. Good choices include: basil, black pepper, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, garlic, ginger, onion, oregano or tarragon.

Using Fresh Herbs in Cooking

Unlike dried herbs, fresh herbs are more likely to lose their flavor during long cooking periods.

  • For delicate herbs: add 1-2 minutes before the end of cooking
    • Delicate herbs include: Basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram and mint
  • For less delicate or sturdy herbs: add at the last 20 minutes of cooking
    • Sturdy herbs include: dill seeds, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme

For chilled foods like salads and dips, add several hours in advance or overnight to allow flavors to blend.

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Fresh vs. Dried

Trying to decide if you should use fresh or dried herbs? It comes down to personal preferences and the availability of herbs in your area. The good news is, whether you choose to use fresh or dried, both provide great flavor and are a healthy alternative to using salt.

Essential oils are what give herbs their pronounced flavors. Since dried herbs have a lower water content, their oils are more concentrated and potent compared to fresh. That means you won't have to use as much. We'll explore substituting between dried and fresh in tomorrow's post!

Whether you are working to decrease the amount of salt in your diet or simply want to enjoy their amazing flavors, herbs are a great addition to your favorite dish. Start your journey today and let your palate lead the way!

Today's post was written by Diane Reinhold, MPH, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson & Winnebago Counties. She specializes in chronic disease prevention, food preservation and worksite wellness.