A rich pumpkin pie, silky butternut squash soup, or warming mug of apple cider - they’re all perfect ways to celebrate fall’s culinary offerings. And all of these treats can be enriched with the right addition of herbs and spices.
Using herbs and spices is a smart way to add flavor to your food without adding extra calories or sodium. And some studies have shown various health benefits for the herbs and spices on this list (although you should note many studies use herbal supplements, which are not regulated by the FDA).
Learn more about five of the best herbs and spices to try this fall. We’ve also selected the best recipes to showcase each ingredient’s unique flavor.
Cinnamon is a popular spice for a reason: It’s versatile enough to be used in everything from breakfast treats to roasts to desserts.
According to Johns Hopkins, cinnamon can provide several heart-healthy benefits, like lowering high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It can also help lower blood sugar, good news for people with Type 2 diabetes.
There are two types of cinnamon, which can be found in both ground and stick varieties. There’s cassia, which is most of what’s sold in the U.S. as cinnamon. That’s because it’s cheaper to produce and has a bolder flavor. “True” cinnamon has a subtler flavor and may be harder to find.
Either way, this spice offers a distinctive flavor and aroma that comes from cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil. You’ve probably taken advantage of the flavor in dishes like pies or pumpkin-spice drinks (and by the way, pumpkin pie spice is mostly cinnamon).
Recipe: Cinnamon can be used in a sweet or savory dish, but there’s no better way to taste it than in classic cinnamon rolls.
Sage - the muted-green herb with fuzzy leaves - is most commonly known for its role in Thanksgiving stuffing. And while it’s delicious there, it doesn’t always need to play second fiddle to other flavors.
For centuries, sage has been used in traditional remedies. Today, scientists know it has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. It’s been used in studies that have shown its usefulness in preventing and treating certain types of cancer, diabetes, excessive weight gain, and more.
This herb’s savory, earthy taste makes it suitable for not only turkey, but other meats, roasted vegetables, and rich pasta. And it makes a delicious, interesting garnish for soups and other dishes when it’s fried. To fry sage:
- Clean and dry the desired number of leaves.
- Heat an inch of olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat.
- Drop the leaves into the oil and fry until crisp - and watch closely, because they only need a few seconds.
- Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, place on a folded paper towel to drain, and enjoy them on soups or pasta dishes.
Recipe: Hungry for more? Get a taste of autumn in this creamy pumpkin-sage lasagna.
In its raw form, ginger is a knobby, brownish root that’s not much to look at. But this humble spice can be used in so many ways - from stir-fries to cookies to soda - that you won’t want to miss out.
Ginger is commonly used medicinally, too. It can help calm nausea and an upset stomach, and you can find it in candy and tea form. Check with your doctor before trying ginger if you’re on chemotherapy drugs, though, since the two can interact.
If you like the taste of ginger ale or dark gingerbread, you’ll probably enjoy ginger in other dishes. And even if you aren’t the biggest fan, you can use ginger in a supporting role to add a spicy, fresh flavor to your recipes.
Recipe: Fresh and ground ginger have different flavors that are suited to different uses. Try these ginger-scallion ramen noodles to enjoy a bright pop of flavor.
If you think of a particular scent associated with the holidays, you may be thinking of cloves. They come from the dried flower buds of tropical trees and have a distinctive smell along with a bold taste.
Cloves possess antibacterial properties and can promote good breath (that’s why some mints and gum contain cloves). And although the studies are still limited, some scientists think cloves can help prevent cancers, reduce stomach ulcers, and improve liver health.
Most recipes for baked goods call for ground cloves, but some dishes - like roasts - call for whole cloves to be stuck directly into the food. And you can always crush whole cloves for use in baking. Find both types in the spice aisle of any grocery store for these recipes.
Recipe: Fans of deep, dark, warm flavors will enjoy the taste of this spice in molasses clove cookies.
One of the more unusual spices in this list, cardamom is commonly used in Indian cooking. It’s related to ginger and comes in whole pods, seeds, or ground powder.
While more research is needed on cardamom’s health benefits, some studies have shown it to have anti-inflammatory properties, the ability to lower high blood pressure, and more.
There are two types of cardamom: green and black. Green is the “classic” flavor, with notes of eucalyptus, mint, and pepper. Black has a flavor that’s not as strong and smokier.
Both types are becoming easier to find and may be purchased at a well-stocked grocery store or online. Cardamom pairs well with sweeter spices like cinnamon and also with savory spices like turmeric, making it ideal for all kinds of dishes.
Recipe: Cardamom is a staple in curries and other Indian dishes. Try it in this cardamom butter chicken recipe.
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Whether you stick with a classic or try something new, you’re sure to enjoy any fall dish with these herbs and spices.
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Note: The information in this article shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. We aren’t doctors, so always consult with your physician if you have health and wellness questions.