There’s nothing like a dash of cinnamon to wake up your morning oatmeal or a few mint leaves to bring flesh flavor to a glass of lemonade. Lucky for us, not only are herbs and spices great for enhancing the flavor of foods, they have significant health benefits as well!

Evidence suggests that early hunters and gatherers wrapped foods such as meat, nuts, seeds and berries in leaves for storage. These leaves turned out to be herbs, and they were pleasantly surprised to discover that this process enhanced the taste! Spices and herbs started to be used for healing and medicinal purposes as well as for flavor. This created quite the demand for herbs and spices! Eventually their value skyrocketed and they started to be used for exchange and trade all around the world. Nowadays, herbs and spices are a common and relatively inexpensive method of adding flavor to dishes.1

The Health Benefits

Research shows that herbs and spices contain several health benefits. They are rich in polyphenols, a type of phytochemical that is present in many plants. These polyphenols have antioxidant capacities that neutralize harmful free radicals. You can read more about how antioxidants work in a previous Carleton Dining blog: They have also been linked to cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits, 2 and some studies also show that herbs and spices may also have anti-microbial activity that can protect against the growth of certain bacteria and fungus.3

How To Use Herbs and Spices

When buying fresh herbs, look for those that are bright, even in color and not wilting.3 You can store them with the stems down in a glass of water, or cover loosely with a plastic bag. Fresh herbs will last about 4 to 6 days in the refrigerator. Dried herbs are best stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. Remember, they only maintain their quality for about six months! As a general guide, you can substitute 1 tablespoon for 1 teaspoon of dried herbs in recipes.

When it’s time to cook, use whole herbs at the beginning, since it takes longer to draw out the flavor when whole. When chopped, the cells of the herbs are broken open, letting out the aroma, and so they are best used right before serving. When it comes to cooking dried herbs, add them early to allow the heat to release their flavors.

Foods that complement common herbs and spices

Basil: Flavouring for sauces, pesto sauce, dressings, infusing oils, vinegars, chicken, fish and pasta dishes.

Cinnamon: Used in baking, seasoning hot cereals and puddings.

Cumin: Adds flavour to soups, stews and sauces.

Curry: Good with meat, poultry and stews.

Dill: Wonderful with fish, potatoes and eggs.

Oregano: Used in a variety of sauces, soups and salads, and tasty with poultry, beef, veal, lamb and vegetables.

Paprika: Good with seafood, vegetables, potato salad and eggs.

Rosemary: Delicious with chicken, lamb and pork.

Tarragon: Usually used with chicken, fish, veal and egg dishes

Thyme: Tasty with chicken, veal, salads and vegetables.

For a recipe that’s filled with flavor and fresh herbs, try grilled zucchini roll-ups with ricotta cheese and herbs. While easy to make, they look impressive and are great at parties.

Grilled Zucchini Roll-Ups with Ricotta and Herbs (Makes 24 bites)5

  • 3 medium zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/3 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 24 whole basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tomato sauce to serve on the side (optional)


  1. Preheat a grill or pan to medium-high heat
  2. Remove both ends from the zucchini. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices. Lightly brush each sides of the zucchini with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper just before placing it on the grill. Place the zucchini on the grill in a single layer and cook for 2 minutes on each side. When done, the zucchini should feel soft enough to roll and have light grill marks. Remove the zucchini from the grill and place on a baking sheet to cool completely.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, basil, mint, ¼ teaspoon salt, and freshly ground pepper, and stir together.
  4. To assemble, spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese across a strip of zucchini. Place a whole basil leaf on one side of the zucchini, and starting at that end, roll up the zucchini. Set aside, and repeat with the remainder of the slices.

In conclusion, enjoy herbs and spices! Not only do they add flavor and aroma to foods without adding salt, calories or fat, but they have exciting health benefits of their own!

  1. History of Spices
  2. Culinary Herbs and Spices: Their Bioactive Properties, the Contribution of Polyphenols and the Challenges in Deducing Their True Health Benefits (2014)
  3. The Role of Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention (2009)
  4. How to Cook with Herbs (2017)
  5. Grilled Zucchini Roll-Ups with Ricotta and Herbs (2015)

Monday, November 19, 2018 in ,
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