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So You Wanna Get SPICY With Me?

September 20, 2013

Our resident Holistic Health and Nutrition Counselor, Sarah Jacobs, tell us why you may want to spice it up in the kitchen.

Aside from kicking up your food to a much more enjoyable experience, herbs and spices have a whole list of awesome things going for them including phytonutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. It pays to get a little spicy!

I often talk about getting creative in the kitchen, but it's hard to know where to start when it comes to ingredients. Do you find yourself standing in front of your open cabinet, holding a jar of oregano in one hand and thyme in the other, cursing the meal ahead of you?

Read on...

First. What the heck is the difference between an herb and a spice? Well, here's the jam: Herbs are usually from the leafy part of the plant and Spices are from everything else (seeds, bark, etc.). Though, nowadays, I think people use the terms interchangeably. Kind of like “ocean” and “sea”...

Anyhow, lets talk about getting past that make-it-or-break-it moment in front of your spice rack.

Some basics:

Generally going by cuisine is a good start:

  • Italian? Go with Basil, Garlic, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Red Pepper Flakes, Rosemary
  • Mexican? Try Cayenne, Cinnamon, Cumin, Garlic, Lime, or Oregano
  • Greek? Dill, Garlic, Lemon, Mint, Nutmeg, or Oregano
  • Indian? Black Pepper, Cardamom, Chiles, Cilantro, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Curry Powder, Garlic, Ginger, Nutmeg, Red Pepper, Saffron, Turmeric (Indian's a spicy genre!)
  • Chinese? Cloves, Coriander, Garlic, Ginger, Star Anise

Other basics:

  • Salt and pepper do wonders. Roast just about anything with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and you've got something delicious on your hands.
  • Add one or two other spices to kick it up if you want. Don't feel like you need to go cray-cray. Just a hint is enough to add life to your dish.
  • Pay attention to what you eat when you go out to restaurants. Many menus have the spices in the dish descriptions (I like to write down combos that taste yummy on my phone's handy notepad).


Dried herbs and spices are more pungent (because the water has been sucked out). If a recipe calls for 1 Tbsp of fresh herbs and you only have dried, cut it down to 1 Tsp. If you're cooking on the fly, I generally use fresh when the cooking time is short. If it'll take time to cook (like a simmering sauce), I use dried. And, don't forget to crush the dried stuff between your fingers, too. This releases oils and really gets the most flavor from your ingredients. At the end, fold or sprinkle the fresh stuff in to give it an extra zing along with a textural difference. Not to mention it just looks pretty.

Some of my fave combos?

  • Garlic and Ginger (well, garlic and just about everything... but careful if you have a sensitive stomach)
  • Rosemary and Thyme
  • Cinnamon and Cumin
  • Nutmeg and Sage (delicious on butternut squash or in a stuffing)

Get ready for the next bit of instruction! It's very technical. This is what the pro's do...

Step one - Grab a few spice jars or bunches of fresh herbs together in your hands

Step two – Shove them up in your face and take a giant whif

Step three – Assess. Does it smell funky? - Not a good combo. Does it smell amazing? - You win!

Herbs and Spices are great additions to your meal. They can change things up and immediately alter the flavor. In addition, you get a healthy kick of nutrients and antioxidants.

So, spice up your life! ...turns out that terrible 90's girl band was onto something...

About Sarah: Sarah E. Jacobs is a certified Holistic Health and Nutritional Counselor and the co-founder of The Wellness Project NYC, which provides NYC businesses with a fun and creative new take on Corporate Wellness. She's also an award winning Actress and writer of the widely popular blog Acting Like Sarah. She believes in making holistic health approachable (no kumbaya necessary!) and thinks that laughter is critical to total body wellness. After auto-immune conditions broke down her usually very active body, she sought alternative treatments and was able to heal herself through diet and lifestyle changes. She's a fitness freak and can often be seen double fisting an almond milk latte and a green juice. Connect via Facebook with The Wellness Project NYC or follow her on Twitter

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