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Spice up your food for taste and health benefits

Use what you have on-hand

Want to add new flavors and aromas to your cooking, without added fat, sodium or calories? It’s likely the solution is hiding in your kitchen cupboards.

“If you’re looking for an easy way to make your food more appealing, take a look at the spices you have on hand,” says Julie Enga, dietitian at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Start by using the spices, one at a time, with simple items, like baked chicken or roasted vegetables. Add a pinch at a time to determine which combinations you like best.”

While spices are busy enhancing the aroma, color and flavor of your food, they’re also making it healthier.

“Spices are chock-full of compounds, like antioxidants, that benefit your health,” says Enga. “And now, there is evidence they have anti-inflammatory and heart-health benefits. Some are healthy for the brain, others aid in digestion.”

To get the most aroma and flavor out of your spices, Enga suggests buying them in small quantities and storing them in a cool, dark place. Most ground spices will last about a year in ideal conditions.

Is it a spice or an herb?

Herbs come from the leaves of the plants, such as rosemary, sage or parsley. Spices come from the non-leafy parts, such as the roots, bark, seeds or berries of the plant. Some plants have both. For example, cilantro leaves are an herb, while the seeds, coriander, are a spice.

Eight spice standouts

Try these spices at your next meal
  1. Cayenne pepper

    A type of dried chili pepper, cayenne adds a kick to your meals, and can be found in many forms, including red pepper flakes, crushed red pepper, or chili flakes. The dried chili peppers are rich in vitamin A, a nutrient that will keep your immune system healthy and strong. Some research also suggests peppers help stimulate metabolism and prevent fat storage.

  2. Cinnamon

    A fragrant spice from the inner bark of a tree, cinnamon is sweet, woody and fruity. While you have likely used cinnamon in sweet dishes, you can also add it to savory stews and curries, or coffee and tea. Cinnamon may help with inflammation and protect your body from unstable molecules that cause damage to your cells.

  3. Coriander

    Coriander is a dried seed that comes from the same plant as the herb, cilantro, but its seeds and leaves taste very different. While the leaves are more pungent and citrusy, the seeds have an earthy flavor. Rich in antioxidants, coriander may help control blood sugar, fight infections, and promote heart, brain, skin, and digestive health.

  4. Cumin

    A primary ingredient in chili powder, curry powder, and often included in barbecue spice blends, cumin provides a warm and nutty flavor to dishes and is naturally rich in iron. The antioxidants in cumin may help control blood sugar and contribute to heart health.

  5. Curry

    A curry spice blend differs depending on the region and dish. It usually includes coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, red chili pepper, chili powder and black pepper. The combination of spices gives a hot and spicy flavor to a variety of dishes. Curry powders contain a variety of anti-inflammatory spices and may benefit heart health by reducing triglyceride levels and improving blood flow.

  6. Ginger

    Ginger is a common spice that can be used fresh or dried. Fresh ginger is used in a variety of main dishes, but dried ginger is typically used in baked goods. Considered among the healthiest spices in the world, ginger is loaded with nutrients and antioxidants that may prevent or treat arthritis and inflammation. Ginger also has a calming effect on the digestive system and eases an upset stomach.

  7. Paprika

    A colorful spice derived from dried and ground sweet orange and red peppers, paprika compliments a wide variety of foods. It's also rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Research shows it can help prevent inflammation and improve your cholesterol, eye health and blood sugar levels.

  8. Turmeric

    Turmeric is the main spice in curry and responsible for its yellow color. It has a warm, bitter, earthy flavor. Studies indicate that curcumin, an antioxidant in turmeric, eases inflammation and may help ease pain. Even small amounts may prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

    This advice is not a substitute for the care of your personal physician. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any health concerns you may have.

Get your spices in order with these tasty combinations

Use these spice combinations to dress up grilled or roasted meat, potatoes and veggies, or use in place of pricey spice packets or other seasonings in your meals.

Homemade chili powder

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Taco seasoning

  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Cajun seasoning

  • 2 teaspoons dried minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

Classic spice rub mix

  • 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion
  • 1 tablespoon crushed coriander
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon paprika

Need some spiced-up recipe inspiration? Try these recipes for spicy penne and panko veggie bowls and creamy curried chicken.