Spice It Up

Before coming to the whole foods, plant-based way of eating, my abilities to cook and combine foods into flavorful combinations was fairly limited (and some who have tasted my cooking now might say that it is still so). My food combinations were more like bacon goes with eggs in the morning and baked potato with a lot of butter and sour cream goes with steak for dinner. I knew nothing at all about spices beyond the salt and pepper shakers, which seemed to work well on everything.

When I first started cooking WFPB foods, I didn't use any spices in the foods that I created. I would use spices in those dishes that I made from recipes (because the recipe would call for it), but for the most part, I didn't use recipes. I would just throw whatever I had together into a pot with some broth and heat it up until everything was cooked. That was the early days of my plant-based attempts at eating whole foods. And it's still somewhat the case now with one big exception.

That exception is that I use spices now. I'm not an expert on spices, but I'm learning to try different combinations of them. And I have a book now that I use to help me match spices with other foods. That book is called The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page, and it's excellent for creating my own recipes. With it, I can figure out what foods go with other foods in order to create great combinations.

For example, if I look paprika up in The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, I will learn that it is "bitter/slightly sweet and sometimes hot, depending on the variety." I will also learn what it is from, what its botanical relatives are and some tips for using it. But best of all, I will learn the foods that paprika goes well on. They include, but are not at all limited to black beans, chili, vegetarian ghoulash, stuffed mushrooms, potatoes and more. And even better still, I can learn which foods some of the top chefs in the world will put paprika on. And I will also learn what other spices go with paprika.

I love that book because it's so good at helping me to create my own recipes. But I advocate it here for the purpose of learning spices to use. And spices are important because they impart flavor to our foods, and as argued in The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker, another book that I will write more about later (probably), flavor is how nature communicates to us the foods that we need in order to get the right nutrients.

Okay, I hear you arguing already that there's few nutrients, if any, in a doughnut, but the flavors are so good that once one is eaten, we'll want another. And that's true, but those flavors are not nature-made. They are man-made. That doughnut flavor did not evolve over millions of years in conjunction with our own evolution. It evolved in a laboratory or in an oven over a very short period of time.

But among whole foods created by nature, we know what to eat (or what our bodies need) by the flavors we like. And spices give a whole lot of flavor to our foods. And guess what? They are medicinal. And each one is different in its medicinal and health benefits. Therefore, just as Dr. T. Colin Campbell advises us to eat a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods, the same is true with spices.

We all have our favorite spices that we like, but it can become a mistake to always go back to those same spices. We should be spicing it up and trying new spices and varying the spices that we do eat. That way we get the full benefits of the different spices For example, in The Dorito Effect, it tells us that coriander inhibits pro-inflammatory foods that we may eat. Fennel also inhibits inflammation. Ginger is known to to kill cancer cells and to help with blood sugar. Dill will keep our skin elastic. Basil can kill viruses. Cinnamon will decrease blood glucose levels. Turmeric improves cognitive functions.

So, the message is to not ignore spices. And to not limit our spice usage to just a few favorites. We need those spices, all of them. They don't get talked about a lot, but they are essential for promoting good health and a longer life. And they add a lot of flavor to our food. So, let's get out and spice it up a little.