Cooking with culinary herbs

by Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator

This article was originally published in April 2013

Cooking with culinary herbs is a wise and easy way to boost both the flavor and health benefits of your meals. Many herbs boast long histories of traditional medical uses and have deeply influenced global cuisines. The aromatic oils found in most fresh and dried herbs contain the unique compounds responsible for their healing properties. Pretty much all culinary herbs offer some form of nutritional benefit, but here are a few standouts:

Parsley is a great source of vitamins C, K, and folate, just like other green culinary herbs. Parsley also contains antioxidants, and fresh parsley provides some iron and calcium. No wonder it’s a common ingredient in so many sauces, marinades and seasonings around the globe.

Rosemary helps battle cancer (as do many other herbs). Rosemary contains a unique type of fat (terpenes) that kills cancer cells in the lab and also imparts the herb’s signature soothing aroma. Rosemary also is an excellent addition to grilled meats, as its powerful antioxidants block the production of carcinogens in grilled food. Rosemary also boosts memory and brain function.

Thyme contains terpenes and thymol, two cancer-fighting compounds that also are responsible for the characteristic aromas of this fragrant herb that boosts immunity, supports the lungs, and pairs well with rosemary and oregano in the kitchen.

Oregano is especially high in antioxidants, fights bacteria and inflammation, and boosts both your immune system and the flavor in your marinara sauce.


How long do herbs last?

Buying dried herbs in bulk is a great way to try new flavors in your cooking because you can take home just enough for each recipe. It is best to refresh your herbs and spices every 6 months to ensure peak health and aromatic benefits of your herbs.


Why buy organic?

Buying organic herbs and spices ensures they have never been exposed to high intensity radiation, a common practice used to “sterilize” dried herbs. Irradiation likely damages many of the therapeutic nutrients found in these delicate herbs (none of the organic or conventional herbs sold at PCC are irradiated).


Fresh or dried?

Fresh herbs offer the most intense flavors and health benefits, but you can substitute dried herbs by adding roughly 1/3 of the amount called for. When substituting fresh herbs for dried in a recipe, triple the amount. Crush dried herbs between your fingers for greater flavor and add toward the end of cooking to preserve their flavor.


More fresh herbs than you can use?

Wash and chop fresh herbs and place in ice cube trays with water. Add these fragrant ice cubes whenever you want to add some flavorful, herbaceous nutrition to your cooking (or beverages).

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