Essential Spices and Herbs for the Budget Home Chef
Food overloaded with salt, particularly from the packaged and restaurant food industries in the United States, contributes to pervasive health problems such as high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.1,2 With a home-cooked meal, you can control everything that goes into your body. If you ever needed another reason to reap the benefits of cooking for yourself, now is the time to break out your kitchen apron, pots and pans.
Coming up with new, healthy meals at home can feel overwhelming when you’re just learning to cook, and eating the same meal can get old fast. With a solid selection of seasonings, you can bring new life to your dishes. Rather than loading up the salt, keep these expert-selected herbs, spices and flavorings in your pantry to refresh your favorite recipes.
1. Cloves of Garlic
Fresh garlic is an inexpensive addition to your regular grocery shopping list. Fresh garlic, while somewhat inconvenient to handle, provides a much better flavor profile than its bottled or peeled grocery store counterparts. Garlic easily complements an enormous variety of foods, from heart-healthy vegetables to crock pot stews and soups. Garlic also blends well with many other spices in this list, ensuring that you can add depth to your dishes.
The way you prepare fresh garlic also affects its flavor profile, so make sure you’re cutting it properly for your recipes:
- Roasted garlic tends to have a more intense flavor with bitter notes and less sweetness.
- Sliced garlic provides a good base flavor without overwhelming dishes.
- Minced garlic gives a more pungent profile and is great for coating with other ingredients.
2. Fresh Ground Peppercorn
Throw fresh ground peppercorn on anything from roasted vegetables and meat marinades to a hot cup of spicy chai tea. Or, use whole peppercorns in stocks and brines before cooking to add fresh seasoning. Black pepper is an incredible kitchen staple, as it’s rich with antioxidants and can aid in digestion.3 Pick up an inexpensive peppercorn and grinder set at your local grocer; you can add complexity to your dishes with a colorful peppercorn blend.
3. Crushed Red Pepper
Usually made from cayenne peppers, this dried seasoning packs a lot of heat. Add a shake or two of crushed red pepper on freshly prepared pasta, pizza, salads, fish, dressings, Asian dishes and more.
4. Taco Seasoning
This spicy seasoning blend can definitely go beyond tacos. Sprinkle some on burgers and dips or use it as a dry meat rub for your next barbecue. Some varieties contain sugar and higher sodium content than is desired; just check the nutritional facts to find the best option.
5. Curry Powder
You’ll have to try several different varieties to find your favorite, as curry powders vary highly from one blend to the next, but this seasoning mix will add a rich, spicy edge to stews, meats, veggies and more. You can even add a bit of curry powder to fire up your favorite condiments or dips like ketchup, mayo or hummus.
6. Herbs de Provence
Give your cooking a nod to Southern France with Herbes de Provence. This seasoning mix blends herbs commonly used in the area, and typically includes thyme, rosemary, savory, marjoram and oregano. Use it with marinades, dried rubs, dipping sauces, dressings, vegetables and meat seasonings.
Skip cinnamon for multifaceted allspice. This seasoning, made from dried berries of a Jamaican tree, has robust, warm notes similar to a blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Use this versatile spice in savory meats or sweet dishes to add a warm, peppery taste.
8. Home-Grown Garden Herbs
In order to make home cooking even more budget-friendly, consider starting your own herb garden. Start off with a few hardy herbs and you can look no further than your own yard for a fresh, seasonal burst of flavor in your next meal. Herbs like chives, sage, rosemary and mint tend to be more resilient for successful home growing.
With a mix of these herb and spices on hand at home, you can easily experiment with your kitchen creations to craft new recipes all your own.
1Mukherjee, S. (April 5, 2018). The food industry’s overuse of salt contributes to almost 100,000 American deaths every year. Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://thinkprogress.org/the-food-industrys-overuse-of-salt-contributes-to-almost-100-000-american-deaths-every-year-ba91ac3bb33e/
2American Heart Association. (April 16, 2018). Get the scoop on sodium and salt. Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sodium-and-salt
3Heid, M. (January 16, 2019). Is black pepper healthy? Here’s what the science says. Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://time.com/5503520/black-pepper-health-benefits/