Best Herbs for Cooking

Favorite herbs add a punch of flavor.

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Ask twenty people the best way to add flavor to their burger, steak, or pasta, and nineteen are apt to choose the grains of that ubiquitous white chemical compound – salt (NaCL).

While I agree that salt can perk up just about any dish, we sometimes go overboard in the salt area. There are other food enhancers out there, like herbs and spices, that will take your red sauce or steak from flat to fantastic with just a few sprinkles – and won’t leave you bloated from too much salt.

Few restaurants or food manufacturers use these herbs and spices though because quite honestly, salt is cheaper. Luckily. WE can add our own herbs! Here are some of my favorites – the herbs and spices I keep on hand all the time to use when cooking from scratch or when a purchased dish needs a little more flavor.

Basil: Especially good added to any tomato dish like pizza sauce, marinara sauce, tomato soup, and even canned vegetable soup. Dried basil is less flavorful than fresh, but still adds a nice summery taste.

Bay Leaf: Bay is actually the leaf of the Laurel tree. It adds a complex, woodsy flavor to soups, meats and fish. Add a whole leaf to simmering soups, sauces or stews. Don’t forget to remove it before serving though!

Crushed Red Pepper: Sometimes called chili flakes, crushed red pepper are the seeds of mildly hot peppers. Adds a spicy pick-me-up to pizza, pasta, stir-fries, vinaigrettes, and soup.

Ginger: Use either fresh (gingerroot), dried, ground, or candied. I like to keep ground ginger on hand for baking gingerbread or ginger cookies, and dried ginger on hand for Asian style stir-fries. Fresh ginger adds flavor to green juices and bean dishes. Candied ginger is excellent in fruitcakes and cookies.

Marjoram: An herb often overlooked in favor of its more popular cousins, basil and oregano. Marjoram’s flavor is similar to that of oregano, but more complex and less sharp. It is especially good in soups, cheese dishes, and vegetable dishes. I use marjoram along with basil when making marinara sauce or a soup from scratch. Add a sprinkle of marjoram to scrambled eggs or stuffed eggplant to enhance, but not overpower its delicate host.

Paprika: Most of us know paprika as the red sprinkle on deviled eggs. But good quality paprika adds more than just color. Its deep, rich flavor enhances long, slow cooking meat dishes and sauces. Look for Hungarian sweet paprika and keep it in the refrigerator for freshness.

This post is an excerpt from I Want My Dinner Now! – Simple Meals for Busy Cooks. Originally written for my children, it solves the “what can I fix for dinner that’s quick, good tasting, healthy, and budget-friendly” question with flavoring suggestions, semi-homemade recipes, grocery lists and more. Order your copy from our Etsy store while supplies last!

by Renee Pottle

Renee Pottle, a freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

May 13, 2020

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