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6 New Spices and Herbs You Should Be Using

WebMD Expert Column

Gone are the days of seasoning food with just salt and pepper while jars of herbs and spices collect dust in a kitchen cabinet.

The exciting era of herbs and spices has begun. And you can either let it boost your home cooking to a new level of flavor and health or be left behind clutching your jar of Old Bay Seasoning.

There’s a whole world of herbs and spices that you might not know about yet because they aren’t called for in Grandma Martha’s recipes. You might have not even seen the following up-and-coming herbs and spices in magazine and cookbook recipes. But there are many exciting herbs and spices available to you now over the Internet or waiting for you to find them on the shelves of specialty shops.

Herbs and spices aren’t just about adding flavor. They may also have health perks that are related to their antioxidants. And using herbs and spices in your foods may help you cut back on fat, sugar, and salt, which could help your waistline, blood pressure, and overall health.

Here are six herbs and spices that you probably aren’t using yet, but should.

1. Smoked Serrano Chili Powder

Serrano chili peppers are known for their bold, spicy heat. Now you can find serrano chilies that are smoked and ground into a fragrant powder.

How it improves dishes: Smoked serrano chili powder adds a rich, smoky flavor and lively heat to your favorite dishes, including a variety of Mexican and Southwestern dishes, stews, casseroles, egg dishes, and chili.

2. Turmeric

Turmeric, a favorite ingredient of cooks since ancient times, is the root stalk of a tropical plant in the ginger family. It adds a bright golden color and a pungent flavor that's found in everything from Indian curry powder to traditional American mustard.

How it improves dishes: Turmeric can be added to Southeast Asian recipes, including curries; soups; rice and pilaf dishes; and vegetable, chicken, or lentil dishes. It can also be used to add punch to relishes and chutneys.

3. Saigon Cinnamon

Cinnamon is not a new spice, but Saigon cinnamon, prized for its sweet and spicy taste and aroma, is considered the finest and most flavorful cinnamon in the world.

How it improves dishes: Cinnamon is an old favorite called for in fancy coffee drinks, hot oatmeal, cookies, and fruit crisps. It's also a popular spice for main dishes (including chicken, seafood, and lamb) from international cuisines such as Indian, Greek, Mexican, and Middle Eastern. Saigon cinnamon is an important ingredient in the popular Vietnamese noodle soup called pho.

4. Vanilla Paste

Vanilla extract is ubiquitous in dessert recipes. But the next generation of recipes might start calling for vanilla paste instead. Vanilla paste is preferable to vanilla extract because of flavorful flecks of vanilla bean dispersed throughout its syrup consistency. Vanilla paste has the same benefits that come from using the actual vanilla bean where you cut the long, thin bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the center. But it is so much easier to use.

How it improves dishes: Vanilla paste has a more concentrated flavor than extract, and the flecks of vanilla bean can be particularly appetizing when used in single-color dishes such as ice cream, sugar cookies, and vanilla frosting. It’s a treat to see and taste those flavor-packed little black dots.

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