Around the World in Three Spices

Around the World in Three Spices

Spices and herbs make for delicious, multicultural, and sodium-free seasoning.

Each day, the average Canadian will consume 3,400 mg of sodium. This is more than double the amount that our bodies actually need—and this puts us at risk for a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. Although it is unrealistic (and unhealthy) to avoid salt entirely, reducing our intake when possible can make a world of difference in regard to our health.

However, cutting back on bad stuff doesn’t mean having to load up on bland stuff. For centuries, spices and herbs have been used around the world to infuse any dish with salt-free flavour that excites and surprises the taste buds—but don’t worry if you don’t have time this summer to make a pit stop through several continents to try them out. This miniature world tour will have you springing to go salt-free and spice-heavy, regardless of what’s on the menu.

Morocco: Ras El Hanout

Ras El Hanout (translated as “top of the shop”) is a versatile and salt-free Moroccan spice blend. Every shopkeeper is said to have their own special recipe, but the streamlined version tends to consist of coriander, cumin, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, paprika, and cayenne pepper.

Its slightly curry-like flavour makes it perfect for enhancing chicken dishes or cooking traditional tagines and couscous, and it’s well-suited as a dry rub for barbecue-bound veggies and proteins. Check out the alive-approved version of this mystic mix, used in this case to flavour vitamin-packed Moroccan Stuffed Red Peppers.

France: Tarragon

Although probably not the first type of international cuisine that comes to mind when thinking of herbs and spices, tarragon is a wonderful herb often used in French salads, soups, and sauces such as tartar and béarnaise. Its flavour is often described as bittersweet and elusive, and is best used with a light hand to avoid overwhelming the other elements of a dish. Tarragon is a wonderful match for fish and can also be used to infuse both vinegar and butter.  

Intrigued? There’s no need to go out and yell for the garcon at your local French restaurant just yet—tarragon can easily be incorporated into your home cooking, and its strong presence negates the need to reach for the salt shaker. Try out a fresh and easy Tarragon Spring Chicken Salad, perfect for a lunch out in the open air.

China: Five-Spice

Five-spice powder is an integral part of Chinese cooking. Although star anise is often the leading actor, cinnamon, fennel, Sichuan peppercorn, ginger, cloves, and fennel seeds play supporting roles.  Five-spice is thought to have originated as a powerful flavour manifestation of the five basic elements—wood, earth, metal, fire, and water, and is often used for braising meats such as pork and duck, adding depth to stir-fries, and “flavour potting,” a process where meat is stewed on low heat for hours in a thick, rich sauce.

Give all the elements a try with this Asian-inspired take on a traditional chicken noodle soup, best made with low-sodium or salt-free chicken broth.  Pre-mixed versions of the spice are available at many Asian supermarkets.

Besides helping us cut back on added salt, certain spices may possess additional health benefits. Research has suggested that cayenne pepper can provide pain relief, while turmeric is believed to act as an anti inflammatory, improve cognitive function, and reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes. So hop on board the cultural whirlwind of spice—your body and your taste buds will thank you.

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