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Herbs. They don’t just add an extra element to your meals in terms of flavour, but they deliver great health benefits too! Have you ever wondered what the best herb combinations are though? Where should you start and what should you try to bring a new dimension to your cooking?
Herbs are packed with flavour and nutrition. Experimenting with new combinations can make ordinary dishes taste more delicious than you may think possible, while at the same time giving your body the nutritional support it craves.
Herbs and spices tend to be extremely rich in nutritional content — especially antioxidants, which the body needs to protect against free radicals, also known as “oxidative stress.” Research from the European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology concluded that “herbs and spices are one of the most important targets to search for natural antioxidants.”1 Regularly cooking new recipes that call for a wide variety of antioxidant-rich herbs will help provide your body with enough antioxidants to help safeguard against oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Protection against free radicals is far from the only health benefit offered by fresh herbs. Every herb has distinct nutritional content so each one provides different support to your body. Basil is rich in vitamin A which has been shown to support healthy vision. Sage tends to have high levels of folic acid – a nutrient that pregnant women are strongly encouraged to consume. Tarragon has high levels of the important minerals calcium, manganese and iron. Dill is a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C.
Spices have also been found to be particularly rich in anticancer compounds which act in many different ways to keep healthy stem cells healthy so they do not develop the multiple defects that can lead to cancer.2
Every cuisine has its own foundation of herbs and spices. Regional differences in availability and taste preferences dictate which herbs tend to be used most and how they are paired. However, in general, a few basic combinations are well received everywhere: basil/thyme/oregano, dill/chive/ parsley, coriander/sweet marjoram/thyme, lemon verbena/mint/chamomile, and parsley/thyme/bay leaf.
Experiment with taste and nutrition by substituting herbs called for in your recipe with similar yet distinctly different choices. Try adding marjoram instead of oregano, parsley instead of coriander or anise in place of fennel. Not only will you give your taste buds something new to try but you will also help expand the variety of health-promoting nutrients in your body.
Coriander is a particularly good spice to use when preparing fish-based dishes as it enhances detoxification of mercury which is often concentrated in fish, particularly in larger fish with a longer life span, such as tuna.
An easy way to test new combinations before throwing your fresh herbs into the cooking pot is to dice a small amount and mix it into soft butter or cream cheese. Spread this on a cracker or a piece of bread. Your taste buds will let you know right away whether or not your experiment was successful.
Nothing can boost the flavour and nutritional content of your favourite dishes like adding a few fresh herbs. When using them, remember that recipes generally measure for dry herbs. One tablespoon of finely cut fresh herbs is equivalent to one teaspoon of crumbled dried herbs or about half a teaspoon of ground dried herbs. Dry herbs can be added earlier in the cooking process, but fresh ones cannot.
For longer-cooking recipes, add your fresh herbs in the last 45-60 minutes of cooking. Be sure to handle your fresh herbs gently because their oils can be fragile.
Thyme, parsley, bay leaf, dill, tarragon.
Paprika, chili, garlic, allspice, thyme, cayenne.
Cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, nutmeg.
Chives, chervil, parsley, thyme, tarragon.
Cumin, coriander, cardamom, curry.
Oregano, basil, marjoram, tarragon, parsley.
Garlic, cumin, oregano, coriander.
As you master the basic combinations of fresh herbs and spices, you will learn the best herb combinations to bring your food to life. Keep experimenting to ensure your meals are fun and your body receives a wide range of nutritional support.
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