Top 9 Spices For Plant-Based Cooking
Prior to starting my plant-based journey, I would cook relatively basic and uninspired meals. To be completely honest, I didn’t care too much for spices… I didn’t really care too much for getting too creative. Food was fuel for my body, and more than anything I liked to minimise the time I spent in the kitchen. Oh, how times have changed!
In those days, I shared the cooking role with my husband. He was creative in the kitchen, he rarely used a recipe and his meals were amazing! He used to go to the cupboard and pull out random spices that seemed to just take each dish to a new level. I didn’t really get it until I started exploring with plant-based foods.
As I learned how to create interesting plant-based meals that would satisfy my own desires, as well as those of my kids and not-so-enthusiastic husband, I started to realise the important that herbs and spices play in cooking.
Spices can add depth and flavour to your meals, and can turn an average dish into something that will really impress.
Herbs and spices are very different things. Herbs are the leaves and stems of a plant, whereas spices are the dried seeds, roots or bark of a plant. Herbs are generally best fresh, whereas spices are purchased whole or ground, stay fresh for longer, and are really handy to have in the pantry.
Spices usually need a little fat to develop their flavour, so it is best to heat them in a little oil, being careful not to burn them. Heating them will release their aroma and flavour and gives the maximum effect in your dish.
The following 9 spices are my absolute must-haves for your pantry!
Cumin has a distinctly warm and earthy flavour with a strong aroma. It is an excellent source of iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B1. It is also rich in protein, amino acids, carbohydrates and dietary fibre. Cumin has many health benefits, the main one being to regulate digestion. It also helps to boost immunity. Cumin is great for Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes, as well as stews and soups.
Cardamom is regarded as the queen of spices and it is quite expensive. Cardamom is rich in vitamins and micronutrients including niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Cardamom has many health benefits including protecting heart health, improving mood, preventing gastrointestinal diseases and reducing inflammation. It is perfect for Indian dishes and desserts.
- Cayenne Pepper:
Cayenne pepper belongs to the capsicum family. It is rich in vitamins E, C and K, carotenoids and the complete B complex. It is also a great source of calcium, potassium, manganese and dietary fibre. The benefits of cayenne pepper including weight loss, healthy digestion, improved immunity, improved blood circulation and reduced inflammation. It is ideal for use in Indian and Mexican dishes, soups and sauces.
- Chilli Flakes:
Chilli flakes are an absolute necessity in my opinion. My kids don’t mind a little spice but when I would like some extra, flakes are my ‘go to’! Chilli is a potent antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory effects. It also contains vitamins A, C, and D, as well as folic acid. Chilli will stimulate the immune system, relieve stomach issues, clear sinus congestion, reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. Chilli flakes are used in a wide variety of dishes from curries and soups, to baking.
Cinnamon is one of the most recognised spices in the world and is extremely versatile as it can flavour both sweet and savoury dishes. It is a bit of a wonder spice in all honesty. Cinnamon contains calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamins K and E among others. It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It can also help manage diabetes, protect against fungal and bacterial infections, increase brain function, prevent cognitive disorders, improve digestion and boost the immune system. Cinnamon is ideal for Mexican dishes, baked goods, breakfast dishes, and desserts.
- Ginger Powder:
Ginger is one of the most ancient spices and is well known for its health benefits. Ginger contains potassium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C, and B6, niacin, phosphorus, and iron. Ginger is widely known as an antioxidant and for its anti-inflammatory properties. It can also improve bone health, strengthen the immune system, aid digestion and increase appetite. It is great for soups, curries, baked goods and drinks.
Nutmeg is a delicate and slightly sweet spice that is widely used around the world. Nutmeg is one of the few spices that is used sparingly in dishes due to its distinct flavour. It contains a variety of nutrients including dietary fibre, manganese, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, and copper. Nutmeg is known to relieve pain, promote digestion, improve brain health, treat insomnia, is an antioxidant and regulates blood pressure. It is great in small quantities used in breakfast dishes, desserts, baked goods, soups and goes perfectly with potato, sweet potato, pumpkin or mushroom dishes.
- Smoked Paprika:
Paprika is another spice from the capsicum family. Just one tablespoon of paprika contains 71% of your RDI of vitamin A, as well as carbohydrates, protein, vitamin B6, C, E and K, iron, riboflavin, niacin, and potassium. Paprika is rich in antioxidants, aids in the treatment of autoimmune conditions, useful in the treatment of diabetes, and good for your eyes and heart. It is ideal for Mexican dishes, soups, rice dishes, and sauces.
Turmeric is the main spice in Indian curry dishes and is argued to be the most powerful herb on the planet in terms of fighting and potentially reversing disease. It contains protein, carbohydrates, manganese, iron, potassium and vitamin C. Turmeric has the amazing health benefits of reducing inflammation, healing wounds, improving skin health, protecting cognitive abilities and easing menstrual difficulties. It can also aid in improving mood, alleviating pain, protecting the digestive tract and slowing the ageing process. Turmeric is most commonly used in South Asian, Middle-Eastern and Indian dishes as well as in plant-based egg dishes (i.e. scrambled tofu) to add colour.
These spices have completely changed the way I approach food. If you haven’t yet started exploring spices then I urge you to do so. What are your favourites?
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