How to Use Spices in Your Cooking

October 31st, 2018 Posted by Advice 0 thoughts on “How to Use Spices in Your Cooking”

Spices are prized for the unique flavor they impart to food, but they have also been historically used for their medicinal properties. In fact, many of today’s pharmaceuticals are modeled after the healing properties of plants, herbs, and spices. The nutrients in dried spices are concentrated, making them full of health-promoting antioxidants and phytonutrients, even in small doses.

Spices are virtually effortless to have on hand and easy to use. They take up very little room in the kitchen and don’t require any additional chopping or preparing; just a simple shake or spoonful will do. If you find yourself reaching for more salt, cheese, or butter to add flavor to your dish – it may be time to consider using more spice!


Turmeric: Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has been found to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and it’s currently being investigated for its potential impact on diseases like Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and cancer.

Turmeric is found in curry and also pairs well with garlic, citrus, coriander, and cumin. It can be added in pinches to a variety of foods, including meats and salads – or you could jump on the “turmeric latte” bandwagon.

Ginger: A lot of us are familiar with fresh ginger, but did you know you can store powdered ginger in your spice cabinet for convenient use? Ginger has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to calm nausea and an upset stomach.

Ginger pairs well with soy sauce, citrus, chili peppers, and garlic. It can be combined with honey for a fresh tea, sprinkled in smoothies or fresh juices, or used to flavor stir-fry dishes, soups, and fish marinades.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant values of any spice and is particularly effective in lowering blood sugar. It does this by slowing the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive tract and improving insulin sensitivity.

Cinnamon pairs well with other baking spices like cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and chocolate as well as fruit and nuts. In addition to using it in baked goods, you can sprinkle it on yogurt, cottage cheese, or stir it into peanut butter, protein shakes, or use it to top sweet potatoes or carrots.

Cayenne Pepper: This is a spicy one, and the heat of cayenne pepper is due to a compound called capsaicin, which has been shown to relieve aches and soreness and is actually an active ingredient in some over-the-counter pain relieving creams.

Cayenne pepper can add spice to any dish and pairs extremely well with chili powder and cumin.

Cumin: Traditionally, cumin was added to foods to aid in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. Recently, cumin has been shown to have antibacterial qualities, especially associated with the digestive tract.

Most people associate cumin with tacos, because it’s the main ingredient in most taco seasonings. Try it on roasted potatoes, or use it to flavor chilis, lentil soups, pork dishes, or hummus.

Garlic: Many of garlic’s health benefits come from a compound called allicin, which is also responsible for garlic’s distinct smell. Allicin provides powerful immune support and has also been found to promote heart health and stable blood pressure.

Garlic powder can be used to season meats and vegetables as well as snacks like popcorn and roasted nuts. Garlic powder can even be used as a salt substitute in low-sodium dishes.

Cardamom: Cardamom has been used in alternative medicine to remove toxins and has also been linked to anti-tumor activity. It can be used to make chai tea, or added to coffee, curries, or rice dishes. It can also be used to give meat a wood-smoked flavor by rubbing it on along with salt and pepper.

Nutmeg: Nutmeg has traditionally been used for soothing, pain relief due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a sweet spice and is great to use in baked goods as well as sprinkled on winter produce like acorn squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.

Fennel Seed: Fennel seed is an excellent source of vitamin C, meaning that regular consumption is a good way to support a healthy immune system. Fennel seed is traditionally used in fish dishes, particularly those made with oily fish, because the seeds enhance the flavor and aid digestion of fats.

Chili Powder: Another fiery spice, chili powder is also a good source of capsaicin as well as vitamin A. This combination has been shown to reduce pain, support heart health, clear congestion, and boost immunity.



Pay attention to expiration dates.

Spices don’t spoil, but they do lose their potency the longer you keep them. The older spices are, the less flavor they will impart in your recipes.

Buy whole spices when you can (but only if you’re fancy).

Whole spices will stay fresh longer, for up to 4 years, whereas ground spices only stay fresh between 1-2 years. Dried herbs, though, should not be kept for more than 1 year because their delicate flavor wanes pretty quickly. Seed spices can be purchased whole or ground. Root spices, like ginger and turmeric are only available ground. If you have whole spices, you’ll need to grind them yourself using a spice grinder – either a dedicated coffee-type grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Store in a cool, dark place.

Light, air, heat, and moisture are a spice’s enemy. That’s why it’s best to keep them in a dry, dark place in your cupboard. You can also keep your spices in steel tins or canisters or opaque containers to make sure all light is kept away. Make sure your bottles seal tightly.

Use dry measuring spoons.

Moisture will cause spices to cake, so make sure any measuring spoons you stick in your spice jar are dry and avoid shaking spices out of their jars over steaming pots.

How much dried herb do I use to substitute for a fresh herb?

Use 1/3 the amount of dried as you would fresh. For example, if your recipe calls for 3 teaspoons of parsley, you would only need to use 1 teaspoon of dried parsley.

Can I freeze cooking spices?

Yes. Freezing is the best known way to retain flavor in spices. However, when spices are removed from the freezer, it’s possible that enough condensation will form on the containers to cause caking of the contents. Because spices have such a long shelf life at room temperature, it often makes more sense to store them in a cupboard and keep your freezer space for other ingredients.

Drew Parisi

Drew Parisi

Drew Parisi, NC is a certified nutritionist, foodie, and amateur gardener, helping entrepreneurs and other busy people develop nourishing food habits to fuel their dreams. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband, son, and 1,000 paper cranes.

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