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Spice up your life

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Using herbs and spices to add depth and flavour to your cooking

Fed up with the same old recipes? Why not spice things up.

The supermarket shelves are jam packed with different herbs and spices bringing taste sensations from around the world.

There are no end of herbs, spices, mixes and blends to pep-up your mealtimes. They deliver flavour without resorting to salt, butter and cream so tend to be better for our health.

"In a world where we are always encouraged to cut down on saturated fats and salt, for very good health reasons, people tend to think that "healthy" foods must be tasteless. However, you can easily make delicious meals, replacing them with spices," says British Dietetic Association spokesperson, Jennifer Low.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most versatile which could add a new dimension to mealtimes:

Garam masala

Garam Masala is a mixture of ground spices which is used as the base for many Indian dishes.

The exact recipe changes depending on the heat of the spice and the tastebuds of the cook. Typical ingredients are cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper and ginger.

It can be used early on in the cooking process blended with onion and then perhaps tomatoes as the starting point for a curry. Madhur Jaffrey in 'Simple Indian Cookery' recommends sprinkling it on towards the end of cooking to retain its aroma. Garam Masala can also be used with yoghurt as a marinade for meat and fish. Try adding it when cooking vegetable stews, soups and potatoes.

Smoked paprika

Smoked paprika usually comes from Spain. It’s made from pimento peppers that have been smoked over a fire then ground into a powder.

It has a more distinctive smoky taste than paprika from Hungary which has a more bitter taste.

Its almost barbeque flavour give stews and soups a warming note. It works well with meat, vegetable and rice dishes giving more depth of flavour. You can use it as a rub or a marinade with olive oil.


Allspice is the dried berry of the West Indian allspice tree. It tastes like a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s used in sweet and savoury dishes.

It’s is a key ingredient in Caribbean jerk dishes. You can also use it in pickles and marinades, mulled drinks, Christmas pudding, biscuits and cookies.

Trying to keep your blood pressure in check? Then make your own jerk seasoning, as nearly all the commercial versions are high in salt.


Turmeric has a distinctive bright orangey-yellow colour and a pungent flavour. It’s the root stalk of a tropical plant that’s part of the ginger family. Beware it can stain your fingers and clothes. The yellow colour of turmeric is curcumin, which is also used as a natural food colourant (E100).

It’s usually sold ground and dried and is used in lots of Southeast Asian recipes. Try it in curries, with soups, in rice and pilaf (pilau) dishes or with lentils.

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