I am decidedly not a collector of things especially nicknacks and the like. But, for whatever reason, my relatives and friends think otherwise. For example, I have been the recipient of a variety of salt and pepper shaker gifts over the years. From pigs to pirates to all manner of poultry, my spice cupboard is filled with these festive little figurines. But, bless their little ceramic hearts, I haven’t had the desire nor the inclination to fill them up as I’m not a big fan of salt and pepper on my food. If your table is beginning to look cartoonish, it may be time to spice up your plate and palate with healthy alternatives.
My palate was well-seasoned at an early age. Oregano, parsley, basil and garlic were the staples on one side of my family while cracked pepper, paprika, cumin and mint dominated the other. Interestingly, my families culinary history matches the rise and influence of spices in ancient cultures. Early Romans and ancient Greeks likely used spices as commerce. Later most spice imports into Europe were controlled by Arabian nations. Even the famous quests of Columbus & Magellan were launched in search of better spice trade routes with the far east.
Today with the barrage of pre-packed meals and fast food restaurants, salt is the seasoning of choice and it’s over-consumption may lead to health concerns and complications. Salt is actually not a spice, it is a mineral. As a mineral, it doesn’t loose its flavoring over time and its ability to preserve food, prevent decay and reduce spoilage has made it ideal for food preservation. Think of salt curing as in bacon or ham. While our bodies need sodium, too much may be harmful.
For the average healthy adult, daily salt intake should be about a teaspoon per day which is a maximum of 2,400 milligrams. Too much sodium in our diet may lead to high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis and digestive disorders including a link to stomach cancer. Here are five ways to eliminate the excess:
- Avoid processed and packaged foods & replace them with fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruits
- Cut out the cured meats like bacon, sausage and other smoked meats and fish — they are often preserved with nitrates or brined in salt baths
- Go for low sodium soups and canned goods like tuna — a better choice is to make your own soup and freeze individual servings for a quick and healthy lunch. Rinse canned goods in water before preparing to further reduce the sodium content.
- Read the labels — salt enhances flavor and aids in food preservation so foods can be loaded with it. Be sure to check the labels to confirm “percent daily value.” Remember to count your entire day’s intake of sodium from all of the foods you consume.
- Keep the salt shaker off the counter. The less often you reach for a pinch the more your taste buds will adjust to other seasonings and spices. Grabbing the shaker is often just a habit. Taste the foods you eat and prepare first as they may not even need that pinch.
Pleasing the Palate
Our tastes are most tantalized when we give our buds balance. In eastern Indian cooking, a variety of herbs and spices are used to satisfy our five basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and savory. Spices are substances derived from aromatic and pungent plants and have many origins like seeds, fruits, flower buds, bark and roots.
The following spicy alternatives may help kick the salt shaker habit, cut cravings, reduce inflammation and satisfy our senses:
- Garlic & Onion powder — avoid the “salt” version and look for granulated instead.
- Black Pepper — fresh ground peppercorns are a flavor bonanza not just for fancy restaurant service so grind away!
- Cayenne — if you like the kick, try red pepper flakes as well.
- Cinnamon & Cloves — not just for breads and treats, I even use them in my chili recipes.
- Cumin — common in eastern dishes and has a nutty flavor that warms any dish.
- Ginger — adds a spicy zip to any dish.
- Thyme — perfect on eggs and veggie dishes
- Turmeric — part of the ginger family, it has a distinctive yellowish color and is common in curries. Also great on chicken, fish and potatoes.
- Italian Seasoning — Basil, Oregano and Rosemary are my favorites — I add them to nearly every meal.
Beyond their culinary benefits, spices have remarkable healing and health benefits that we’ll explore next. In the mean time, dust off your spice cabinets and just maybe you’ll be able to repurpose those salt shakers — just don’t tell your relatives!
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“Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
Copyright © 2013 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.