No one knows exactly when humans started seasoning their food with herbs & spices. Anthropologists assume that early civilizations observed what animals ate and discovered tasty plants by experimentation. Salt (which is a mineral) was probably the first flavoring they used, since they found that it preserved food for storage. Plus, salt brought out the subtle taste in the meats and plants they consumed.
Many of our favorite herbs & spices were first used as medicines. Herbal doctors in India recorded health benefits of certain plants & berries as early as the 7th century BCE. It was not long until humans across the known world started to cultivate wild herbs & spices close to their homes. These “kitchen” gardens have been popular for thousands of years.
The demand for flavorful herbs & spices turned them into valuable commodities. Many of these precious plants, berries & roots were used as currency. The most lucrative spice trading was done in the Far East. One of the reasons European explorers accidently found North America was their efforts to get quicker route to the Eastern herbs & spices market.
For me, one of the things that separates a good dish from a mediocre one is seasoning. Even the best cuts of meat or fresh produce turn out bland without a boost of salt, herbs & spices. My smart recipe collection from RecipeSavants.com strives to offer the ultimate flavor with generous seasonings. As you become more familiar with global cuisine, you will discover how good cooks from different countries use a combination of herbs & spices to create the flavors for which they are renowned.
Over the years, my experiences as a chef have taught me the importance of using quality herbs & spices in all my dishes. I have interviewed master chefs from over the world and have gleaned much from their proven cooking and seasoning techniques. Allow me to share some of my creative ways to use herbs & spices to elevate your family’s daily menus
Always Keep A Fresh Supply
When used judiciously, your spice cabinet can be your best friend in the kitchen. Be aware of the expiration on your herb & spice jars and toss out anything that is spent. For maximum flavor, use the freshest spices available.
Don’t Be Afraid To Experient
While I use seasoning measurements in recipes as a guideline, I have learned to experiment a little to find the taste that best suits my palate. Go beyond your culinary comfort zone and try international recipes with unfamiliar herbs & spices. Indian dishes are a fun way to taste new herbal blends. As you expand your cooking repertoire, you can discover how to infuse global flavors in some of your favorite dishes.
Consider Growing Your Own Herbs
Most herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow. They do not require a lot of space and will thrive with minimal care. You will save money by having some of your favorite fresh herbs right at your doorstep. Since I live in an apartment, I grow several fresh herbs in pots on my kitchen window seal. All I need to do is snip off what I need for instant seasoning or a refreshing cup of herbal tea.
Use The Right Technique For Herbs & Spices
When you are trying new recipes, notice how the herbs & spices are processed in the dish. Become familiar with delicate herbs that would lose flavor with cooking and should be used for garnishes or vinaigrettes (like dill and parsley). Woody herbs like rosemary & thyme stand up well to cooking and impart fragrance and taste to your dish. From preparing many recipes from India and the Middle East, I found that many spices taste better when they are gently toasted in a skillet. They release their essential oils and are more fragrant and tasty when used in the recipes. Consider buying whole spices (like cardamom, nutmeg, cloves & allspice) and grinding them yourself for the freshest seasoning.
Use Herbs & Spices That Complement Each Other
Some herb & spice blends are iconic, such as Asian-style ginger, garlic & shallots. Italian dishes favor oregano, basil and fennel and the French use Herbes de Provence. I like to try common spice blends in soup and other dishes to see how it enhances the original flavor. The more you delve into international cuisines, the more delightful flavor combinations you will discover.
Use Herbal Infused Oils & Vinegars
It is easy to make your own infused oils & vinegars at home. Add them to sauces and other dishes to bolster the taste and aroma of the dish. I love to use herbal oils and vinegars to make one-of-a-kind marinades and salad dressings that are always a hit with family and friends.
Let your spice cabinet be a treasure trove on your culinary journey. Herbs & spices give your dishes that extra kick that everyone enjoys. As with anything, the more you cook and try new recipes, the better home cook you will be!
Here are a few of my favorite herb forward recipes - Feel free to swap out the herbs & spices - the pairings and flavor combinations are nearly endless