Spice Up Your Plate (and Your Health!)

by Sheetal K. Parikh, MS, RDN, LDN 

As an Indian American and vegetarian since childhood, herbs and spices have always been a very important ingredient of each and every meal that I am consuming each and every day. As a dietitian, I have always been asked a question on how the plant-forward meals be made appetizing which can please our eyes, nose and tongue? Many patients and clients has verbalized that after some time they stop enjoying plant-forward meals as it becomes monotonous and boring to them. I have always shared the importance of adding herbs and spices to their meals to make it more palatable and nutritious without adding extra salt, sugar and oil. While these are key ingredients of many recipes and meal, they are also responsible for many chronic diseases if not consumed in proportions. I am glad to initiate this journey with in collaboration with Plant Based World to share my love and passion for herbs and spices from around the world.

The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to “appearance, sort, and kind” has the same root. Since ancient times, herbs and spices are used as fragrant, flavor, delicious, aromatic and medicinal plants. Everyone can smell, eat, bath in, and heal with them. The US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a spice as an “aromatic vegetable substance” whose significant function in food is “seasoning rather than nutrition” and from which “no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been removed” and herbs are defined as “leafy and green part in non-woody plants of temperate climate zone”.

When fresh, herbs are more fragrant, but spices are mostly stronger as dried powders. In some cases both herb and spice may come from the same plant.  Since spices tend to have strong flavors and are used in small quantities, spices tend to add few calories to food, even though many spices, especially those made from seeds, contain high portions of fat, protein, and carbohydrate by weight. However, when used in larger quantity, spices can also contribute a substantial amount of minerals and other micronutrients, including iron, magnesium, calcium, and many others, to the diet. Most herbs and spices have substantial antioxidant activity, owing primarily to phenolic compounds, especially flavonoids, which influence nutrition through many pathways, including affecting the absorption of other nutrients.

At present the top three spice producing countries in the world are India, Bangladesh and Turkey, India produces 75% of the world spices, the number one producer in the world! Indian spices include a variety which are grown across the Indian subcontinent. With different climates in different parts of the country, India produces a variety of spices, many of which are native to the subcontinent, while others were imported from similar climates and have since been cultivated locally for centuries. Surprisingly, cumin is the most popular spice in the world, and coriander, also known as cilantro is the most commonly used herb. In Europe and Africa, garlic is the most common among all dishes considered, and with no surprises, oregano is common in the Mediterranean regions.

Going forward my vision is to highlight one herb and/or a spice with detailed information of its history, nutritional value, tips for cooking, its best pairing foods, proper storage, and shelf-life with a yummy recipe. Stay Tuned!

Sheetal Parikh, MS, RDN, LDN is specialized in Plant-Based Nutrition and has been vegetarian all her life. She brings unique versatility in the nutrition world blending eastern and western cultures and traditions. She believes that “You are what you Eat”. Currently she is an Author for Vegan/Vegetarian diets in Nutrition Care Manual, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Florida State Coordinator and Diversity Liaison for Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, Advisory Board Member for Keiser University and she loves to create new recipes and cook healthy and yummy plant based meals for her colleagues, friends and family. 

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