Garlic gets most of its pungency from an organosulfur compound called allicin. While many laboratory studies hint at these compounds’ possible health benefits (lowering blood pressure and "bad" cholesterol), there is a dearth of good human studies. One undeniable fact is that minced garlic adds significant flavor to stir-fries, dips like hummus, and sauces. For a deeper and mellower flavor profile, choose powdered garlic.
Sure, onions give you gnarly breath. But this vegetable is also a great source of quercetin—an antioxidant that may help reduce plaque buildup in arteries—and organosulfur compounds that, according to some observational studies, may help decrease the risk of certain cancers when consumed frequently. Raw chopped onions go great in sandwiches and salads. For a sweeter and mellower profile, opt for caramelized onions.
Also known as a red hot chili pepper, this spicy member of the capsicum family of vegetables offers high amounts of capsaicin, which is responsible for its hotness. According to preliminary research, capsaicin can very modestly increase your metabolic activity, which may cause you to burn a few extra calories. A small amount of powdered cayenne pepper goes a long way. It adds a nice kick to steamed vegetables and soups.
Spicy and aromatic, ginger has some well-researched medicinal benefits; mainly it helps reduce nausea and vomiting among pregnant women. Some preliminary studies point to its possible role in fighting atherosclerosis and helping regulate blood sugars for individuals living with type 2 diabetes. Minced fresh ginger goes great in stir fries; powdered ginger gives oatmeal a zesty new flavor; and, juiced ginger makes for an invigorating shot.
Lemon and lime juice add a vital component to many recipes. A few drops can instantly enliven a salad dressing or pasta/rice dish and contribute some extra vitamin C to your diet. These fruits’ zest, meanwhile, adds a mellow and floral depth to a variety of dishes, from pancakes and cheesecakes to risottos and refreshing lentil salads. Next time you cook rice, add canned coconut milk and lime juice to the cooking liquid for tropical flavor.
A word of caution: There is a lot of fraudulent balsamic vinegar out there, so make sure you know how to spot the real thing. While balsamic vinegar does not offer much in the way of nutrition, it delivers plenty of flavor with little or no sodium. Apart from playing a vital role in vinaigrettes and marinades, it also pairs beautifully with sweets. Drizzle some over fresh strawberries or a high-quality vanilla ice cream (or non-dairy frozen dessert) and prepare to be delighted.
You'll come across many unsubstantiated claims about apple cider vinegar on the internet ("it detoxifies you"). One thing is sure: Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar contains the "mother," a cloudy substance largely made of an insoluble fiber known as pectin. Pectin may have some prebiotic potential, meaning it serves as a food source for friendly bacteria in the gut. From a culinary standpoint, apple cider vinegar’s high acidity makes it a great ingredient for tangy salad dressings.
This herb blend of oregano, rosemary, thyme, fennel, tarragon, bay leaf, and summer savory gets its name from the Provence region in southeastern France. Though these herbs are commonly used in Provence, the blends for sale at stores can contain herbs from any part of the world. Try them on roasted vegetables, stews, and grilled items.
Za’atar is a very common table condiment in many Middle Eastern countries, usually consisting of sumac (the powder of dried sumac berries, which have a mild citrus flavor), toasted sesame seeds, thyme, oregano, cumin, and marjoram. Some blends also contain salt, so be sure to read the ingredient list. Try it over homemade whole-wheat pita chips, hummus, or your favorite grilled dishes.
Oregano’s unique flavor is stronger when this perennial herb is dried. A staple in Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine, it commonly used in tomato-based sauces, sprinkled over pizzas and roasted vegetables, in spice rubs for chicken and fish, and in Greek salads, where it complements raw tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese. Oregano contains a variety of antioxidants known as polyphenols.
This fragrant herb is available in both fresh and dried forms. Fresh basil is the foundation for pesto. For an omega-3 boost, use hemp seeds or walnuts in place of pine nuts. Basil is also an excellent source of vitamin K, a crucial nutrient for healthy bones you can’t get in dairy products. Dried basil adds wonderful flavor to sauces and stews.
Cilantro is a mainstay herb in Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Thai cuisines. If it tastes soapy to you, blame it on your genes (and take some comfort in knowing roughly 10 percent of the population tastes it the same way). The dried version, known as coriander, is significantly milder. It’s a source of vitamin K (1/4 cup offers 15 percent of your daily needs), so why not add a hefty bunch to your next pesto recipe?
A member of the allium family, chives are related to garlic, leeks, scallions, and onions, albeit with a grassier flavor. They are also quite a kitchen-friendly herb; dried and fresh can be substituted in equal parts for recipes. Chives really shine as a topping, where their fragrance and aroma perfectly accentuate dips, soups, and baked potatoes.
Rosemary’s unique fragrance and pine needle-like appearance make it stand out in any crowd. Fresh rosemary leaves offer a stronger flavor than dried (storage tip: wrap in a slightly damp paper towel and refrigerate). Fresh rosemary pairs wonderfully with pork, chicken, roasted potatoes, and olive oil for bread dipping. Rosemary also helps prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines, potentially carcinogenic compounds that develop when meat is grilled.
This inactive yeast, grown on molasses, has a flavor best described as “nutty Parmesan cheese.” It’s a good source of protein, fiber, zinc, selenium, and blood pressure-regulating potassium. It’s popular in vegan circles since some varieties are also fortified with vitamin B12—a nutrient missing from plant-based foods. Try it sprinkled over pasta, stir-fries, or popcorn (spray a little oil first to ensure it sticks).