Herbs and Spices 101

To be an effective cook; to ensnare the senses of those you are cooking for, you must learn how to properly use herbs and spices. Once considered only a luxury for the wealthy, throughout history herbs and spices have been used primarily for medicinal purposes and then later to flavor food. Herbs and spices are also great if you are on a salt restricted diet. And even better there are some herbs and spices that are considered to be aphrodisiacs. They contain zero fat and calories but, should be used sparingly as to merely enhance the natural flavors of the food.

There are many debates on the similarities and differences between herbs and spices but two stands out the most to me.

  1. Herbs come from leafy green plants and can be found all over the world. Some can be used fresh and some can be used dried.  
  2. Spices can be obtained from seeds, fruit, roots, bark, and are indigenous to the Far East and some tropical countries.

In any case, no one likes to eat a tasteless meal. Liven up your recipes with some basic herbs and spices that you absolutely must have in your kitchen. We are going to explore some basic herbs and spices in which (if you have not already) I expect you to become intimately involved with their texture, taste, and smell. Without the use of herbs and spices your food will taste like cotton. I recommend if you have not ever used these herbs or spices that you go to your local grocery and pick some up. Get to know them by tasting them and touching them. Let’s begin.

First: SALT

Actually salt is not an herb or a spice. Salt is a mineral. It is the number one man-made seasoning in the world. Salt comes in many forms, but the following forms are most common: (CAUTION: too much salt increases the risk of health problem such as high blood pressure)

Table
Comes from mined rock salt deposits, contains chemical additives to keep it free-flowing.  Added iodine causes a slightly bitter aftertaste. (also known as Refined) 

Kosher
Also mined from rock salt but with no additives. Purer taste, coarse grain, dissolves more quickly than table salt. 

Sea
Made by evaporating sea water.  No additives, clean taste, coarse, large grains. Takes a little longer to dissolve and better for longer cooking periods, as for soups and stews. (also known as Unrefined)

Fleur de sel
French for “flower of salt”. Harvested by hand from salt beds. It has a delicate flavor and works well as a finishing touch to appetizers, salads and roasted meats. (also known as Unrefined)

Remember: Cooking is a journey. Eating is a passion.

Tomorrow’s discussion: Onion and Garlic

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