Having the right spices in your kitchen makes it super easy to add flavor and even some health benefits to your recipes. Keep these 10 basics on hand and use these RD-approved ideas to get you started.
Rack 'Em Up
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When you're just getting your first place set up and learning your way around the kitchen, having the right spices and herbs on hand is key. In addition to adding flavor, there are lots of spices that boast a range of health benefits. If your idea of seasoning is salt and pepper to taste, branching out might seem a little overwhelming, but fear not. These 10 basics will have you covered, and the dietitian-approved recipe ideas will get you started. Bon appétit!
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Turmeric has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions such as arthritis, joint pain, diabetes, digestive issues, and cancer. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric can be sprinkled into grain dishes (this freekeh pilaf from dietitian Cara Harbstreet of Street Smart Nutrition looks totally delish), sauces, curries, or even smoothies like this piña colada–inspired sipper from registered dietitian Shahzadi Devje. This spiced carrot cake smoothie (pictured) from EA Stewart of The Spicy RD also packs a zing from the ginger. Turmeric can also be used to make tea or golden milk, a traditional Ayurvedic healing beverage. It lends itself well to chia pudding, as in this recipe by registered dietitian Dixya Bhattarai.
Photo: EA Stewart: The Spicy RD
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Black pepper stimulates the digestive enzymes of the pancreas, which enhances food absorption (meaning you'll take in more nutrients). Black pepper has also been found to have anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties—it protects against oxidative damage by free radicals thanks to its antioxidant activity. Yes, all that in humble black pepper! Grind and use to add depth to soups, salads, meat, grain dishes, and more. In this delicious potato dish from registered dietitian Stephanie McKercher of the Grateful Grazer, it adds flavor and ups the absorption of the turmeric.
Get the recipe: Roasted Turmeric Black Pepper Fingerling Potatoes
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Although not technically a spice, garlic (or garlic powder) is an easy way to dress up your food with added benefits. Different compounds in garlic have been shown in a variety of clinical and experimental studies to benefit cardiovascular disease risk. For example, garlic supplements are sometimes used to treat high cholesterol and have shown promise in blood pressure management. It's also been studied for potential anti-tumor and anti-microbial effects, as well as a possible role in blood sugar management. Ancient Egyptians even used it to treat digestive issues. Garlic is best enjoyed cooked to take the edge off its pungent flavor. These garlic Parmesan smashed potatoes from registered dietitian Julie Harrington of RDelicious Kitchen are a perfect combination of mashed potatoes and french fries, marrying garlic and rosemary flavors.
Get the recipe: Garlic Parmesan Smashed Potatoes
Photo: RDelicious Kitchen
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Rosemary is a fragrant, versatile herb that's related to mint. For any apartment dwellers looking to develop their green thumb, it's very easy to grow indoors and may be used in cooking in its dried and fresh forms. Rosemary oil is also popular. Rosemary extract contains polyphenols that have been associated with anti-cancer effects, among other health benefits such as improved digestion, stable blood pressure, and memory preservation. This herb also contains antibacterial and antioxidant rosmarinic acid. This pea soup recipe from Real Living Nutrition highlights rosemary and thyme and is ready in almost no time at all! Instant comfort food.
Get the recipe: Pea Soup with Rosemary and Thyme
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Oregano might seem unassuming, but it packs plenty of nutrients. It contains vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as a little fiber, folate, vitamin B6, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It's also rich in antioxidants and has been studied for its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Oregano and oregano oil have been linked with anti-cancer qualities as well. This healthier take on mushroom and sausage stuffing from registered dietitian Tawnie Kroll features rosemary and oregano and is perfect for Thanksgiving—or any time of year!
Get the recipe: Mushroom Sausage Stuffing
Red Pepper Flakes
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This pizza parlor staple is more than meets the eye. Capsaicin, the active compound in red pepper, has been studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It's also been shown to enhance absorption of certain nutrients. It has been associated with improved gastrointestinal health, weight management, pain relief (usually through topical applications), and possibly cancer prevention. It's a quick and delicious way to add heat to a recipe. How about using it to make your own taco seasoning? Registered dietitian Emily Kyle has a great recipe. In this recipe from registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, red pepper flakes brighten up polenta.
Photo: Emily Kyle Nutrition
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Paprika is part of the Capsicum family of peppers, which includes sweet bell peppers, hot green peppers, hot red peppers, and several other varieties. Peppers are noted for antioxidant activity, and paprika packs a potent punch. If that isn't impressive enough, a teaspoon of paprika has 37 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and it also contains some iron (about 1.4 milligrams per teaspoon, which may not sound like a lot but goes a long way toward the recommended daily 8 to 18 milligrams). Enjoy it in soups and stews to add a smoky note or as a garnish for foods like deviled eggs or potato salad. It's also great in a marinade or spice rub. Registered dietitian Holly Grainger has a recipe for smoked paprika hummus that will be a hit at your next party. Looking for a main dish? This paprika chicken from registered dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus of Nutrition Starring YOU is a healthy take on a family favorite.
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Cinnamon has been used as a traditional remedy for a variety of ailments, ranging from digestive issues to diabetes, infection, and more. Recent research has shown promise in its ability to help manage blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Because of its impact on blood sugar, it may also be helpful in weight management. Its anti-microbial properties have also been studied, but more research is needed. Enjoy cinnamon sprinkled over oatmeal, toast, or plain yogurt. It's also delicious added to ground coffee when you're brewing a pot. We often think of cinnamon as a spice for sweet foods (check out this gluten-free zucchini banana bread from registered dietitian Julie Harrington of RDelicious Kitchen), but it also works great in stews and soups, like this carrot cauliflower soup by registered dietitian Amy Gorin.
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Everyone's favorite winter spice has various components that have been studied for their possible role in managing and preventing disease, thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger has been used therapeutically since ancient times and is a common remedy for nausea and gastrointestinal discomfort. It's been used to treat morning sickness and chemotherapy-induced nausea. It has also been studied as a possible aid in weight management for its potential to increase satiety. Ginger works equally well in sweet and savory dishes. Try it in baked goods like this cranberry ginger quickbread from C It Nutritionally's Chelsey Amer. Ginger is also a great way to add a kick to juices and smoothies like this wild blueberry avocado ginger beet smoothie from registered dietitian Lauren O'Connor of Nutri-Savvy Living. This pomegranate ginger salad dressing from registered dietitian Jessica Fishman Levinson of Nutritioulicious is perfect for cold winter days when you need to warming spices to perk up your salad—and yourself.
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Often described as that spice that makes Mexican food taste like Mexican food, cumin can actually be used in many types of cuisines, depending what you mix it with. This Indian-inspired vegetable and barley soup from registered dietitian Caitlin Perez of Nourished Nutrition Counseling and Education is a great example. In a study of overweight individuals given cumin capsules, weight-loss drug Orlistat, or a placebo for eight weeks, those given the cumin had weight and BMI changes comparable to the Orlistat, and improved insulin response when compared to the Orlistat and the placebo. Cumin has also been studied for use in conditions like diabetes and cancer. Its medicinal properties are thought to come from phenols and flavanols present in cumin. This aromatic chicken dish from registered dietitian Roxana Begum of The Delicious Crescent combines cumin, rosemary, and other spices for a comforting, invigorating meal.