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Curry Powder Power

An Indian food staple, curry is a blend of spices that can bring the heat depending on the type. Try curry in scrambled egg whites, brown rice or quinoa, and tuna salad. It can even liven up sautéed vegetables and baked chicken. Spices are a great way to add flavor without extra calories, fat, sugar, or salt.

Rosemary Is for Roasting

Its pine-like flavor goes great with roasted chicken, lamb, pork, and salmon. It adds a fresh tang to raw or cooked mushrooms and pumpkin or butternut squash. Or try it baked in whole-grain breads. Sprinkle rosemary in olive oil to flavor the oil. Then use the infused oil as a rich marinade.

Sweet, Spicy Cinnamon

Cinnamon works in both sweet and savory dishes. Sprinkle on cereal, toast, and yogurt or in smoothies, tea, and milk to give you a hint of sweetness without sugar. Or try it in a wheat berry or barley salad, couscous, or quinoa.

Garlic Powder Is a Go-To

Powdered garlic is an easy swap for fresh. It adds flavor to sauces, soups, chili, and hummus. Use it as a rub for meats and in the slow cooker for rich stews and roasts. Lightly mix garlic powder with chili powder, paprika, and other spices for a zesty popcorn topping. If you’re watching your sodium, just make sure you don't use garlic salt. That's more salt than garlic.

Zingy Ginger

Woodsy, zippy ginger is key in pumpkin pie and ginger snaps. Ground ginger adds an Asian flair to dressings, sautéed vegetables, marinades, and stir fries. Use it in cereal, yogurt, smoothies, and breads. You can find ginger in dried, ground, fresh, and candied forms. Ginger may also help ease nausea.

Hot Red Pepper Flakes

Add an extra layer of heat to a dish -- and a dash of color. Red pepper flakes pair well with grilled vegetables like asparagus and are super with chicken, guacamole, and soups. They add a kick to sour cream dip and pizza. But they may be a bit overpowering for fish. Red pepper flavor gets stronger during cooking, so add it slowly.


Add earthy cumin to any chicken or pork dish and you instantly have zesty Latin flavor. Try it in dips and sauces, black bean salsa, taco stuffing, and refried beans. Cumin also adds a warm, toasty flavor to seafood, cauliflower, potatoes, avocadoes, tomatoes, curries, and chili.

So Many Salts

The key -- for both your heart and your palate -- is to use just a pinch of salt, not a teaspoon. You've got lots of choices: Go gourmet with sea salt for an extra crunch on steaks. Kosher salt works on fries. Don’t forget that flavored salts can pack a punch in a pinch! You can find everything from lime to sriracha to mushroom flavors.

Pick the Perfect Pepper

Add a little heat that doesn't compete with other spices by adding a dash of pepper. You can find it made from black, white, pink, or green peppercorns. Black pepper usually has the strongest taste. You get even more flavor if you freshly grind pepper. White pepper is handy for white sauces, fish, chicken, and creamy soups -- where you don't want little black flecks to show.

Make Time for Thyme

Earthy thyme is perfect as a rub for meats and fish or as a seasoning on beans and roasted veggies. It teams up well with oregano, sage, and rosemary to add richness to soups and stews. Sprinkle it on egg and potato dishes. Or, try it on fresh heirloom tomatoes topped by a little buffalo mozzarella.

Oh Yeah, Oregano

Spiciness with a touch of sweetness is what you'll get from oregano. It's a staple in Italian dishes, especially pizza, pasta, and sauces. Add it to grains like rice, quinoa, and millet for a unique taste that lets you use less salt. Or mix veggies and a dash of oregano into scrambled eggs.

Pow! Onion Powder

Good for nearly all savory cooking, onion powder is ideal when you don't have onions or don't want onion bits in your food. It's easy and tasty in fish, chicken, red meat, pork, soup, and dips. Again, make sure you use onion powder and not onion salt. One tablespoon of onion powder equals 1/2 cup chopped fresh onion.

Time Your Spice Right

When should you add herbs and spices to your dish? While you’re cooking or as a finishing sprinkle? It depends on how delicate your herb is and how strong you want the flavor. Herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme can be added during the last 20 minutes of cooking or earlier. Toss in more delicate herbs, like basil, parsley, and mint, about a minute or two before you finish cooking.

How to Store Spices

Keep dried spices someplace cool and dry and away from direct light. Check expiration dates for the best flavor. Generally, powdered spices last about a year, while whole or leafy dried herbs can last 1-3 years. To check for freshness, put a little bit in your palm and rub with your finger. You should smell a full aroma. If not, it's probably lost some of its spicy power.

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Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on March 27, 2014