use spices for your cooking and your health

During my cooking over the years, I have come to enjoy experimenting with spices and herbs in my laboratory kitchen … my Power of 5 Test Kitchen. From that experimentation, there are 12 spices that I recommend in my most recent cookbook,  Power of 5 Test Kitchen Cookbook, Your Guide to Healthy Cooking and Eating.  

Why? Because herbs and spices provide health benefits when added to foods while also enhancing tastes. Medicinal values go back centuries from all parts of the globe and influence the herbs and spices we use today.

Top 12 Spices and Herbs for Powerful, Science-backed Health Benefits!

1. Basil   
Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, shown to protect liver health 

2. Black pepper 
Anti-inflammatory, powerful antioxidant, promotes brain health, improves blood sugar control, and anticancer

3. Cayenne pepper 
Powerful antioxidant, promotes cell health, protects your heart, improves digestion, lowers blood pressure, and anticancer

4. Cinnamon 
Helps to lower blood sugar, anti-diabetic effect, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood; cinnamon has antioxidants to help fight inflammation

5. Garlic 
The smell is from the compound allicin; it is well-known to combat sickness and even the common cold; garlic is an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and contributes to cardiovascular health

6. Ginger 
Anti-nausea, strong anti-inflammatory properties, can help with osteoarthritis, helps to fight infection, anticancer, may improve brain function, and helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease

7. Nutmeg 
Powerful antioxidant, antibacterial, promotes heart health, and may improve blood sugar control 

8. Peppermint 
Anti-nausea and improves pain management in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

9. Rosemary 
Rich source of antioxidants, boosts immune system, and improves blood circulation

10. Sage 
Improves brain health and memory and is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant 

11. Turmeric 
Anticancer; curcumin, found in turmeric, has special anti-inflammatory powers

12. Cumin 
Promotes digestion, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, controls blood sugar, and helps to lower cholesterol 


My Go-to Spices & Herbs and How I Use Them

Spices and herbs that I use most in my cooking depend on the dish and region of the country it comes from. There are 5 that are constants in my cooking with amounts in varying degrees based on how spicy, sweet or savory I choose for the dish.

Here are my 10 favorites and how I use them in cooking.

Basil Sweet, savory and can be used in a variety of dishes: vegetables, pasta, chicken or fish meals, tomato sauce, and salads. Use at the end of cooking time or once it is prepared.

Black pepper Ground or peppercorns add flavors to just about any recipe. Soups, dressing, sauces, vegetables, poultry, seafood, stir fry, pasta, eggs, and avocado toast.

Chili pepper Ground, whole, and fresh can be mild to very hot. Use in soups, stews, sauces, poultry, seafood, or any dish to give it a more subtle kick of heat.

Cayenne pepper Ground cayenne pepper powder is much hotter than chili peppers. Sometimes it includes a blend of cumin, paprika, garlic, and onion powder. Use in soups, stews, sauces, poultry, seafood, or any dish to give it a big kick of heat.

Cinnamon Sticks, bark or ground cinnamon have a sweet yet strong flavor. Use in cookies, baked goods, protein shakes, sauces, vegetables, apples, pumpkin, and squash. I love to add it to soups as it adds a lovely flavor.

Garlic Cloves, minced, or  garlic powder are great in everything. From cooked to  raw garlic, it adds flavor to soups, stews, poultry, seafood, casseroles, and Italian recipes. I use a lot of garlic in various forms. 

Ginger – Fresh, dried or ground ginger is great in Asian dishes, seafood, poultry, soups, vegetables, baked goods, and beverages (teas or protein shakes).

Paprika – Red mild, smoked or spicy powders typically. However, I bought infused paprika oil when I was in Hungary. I learned they infused the seeds in oil to make a delicious paprika oil. Just a few drops is all you need for quite a spicy hot flavor!

Turmeric Orange power with a mild flavor used in curries, soups, stew, casseroles. 

Cumin Seeds or ground, cumin has a very bold, distinctive flavor. Use cumin in chili and Mexican dishes such as tacos and fajitas.

Curry A potpourri of several spices, curries vary based on regional cooking (Indian, Asian, Japanese). Curries may include cayenne pepper, chili powder, turmeric, cumin, paprika, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, fennel seed, and black pepper.

To Healthy Cooking & Eating!


Spice it up!

Taste Test Herbs and Spices with White Rice!

Not sure what spices to use when you're cooking or what they even taste like? Try cooking up some rice and do some taste testing. The whole family can participate!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Let rice steam… 10 minutes
Calories 206 kcal


  • 8- or 9-quart pot to cook on stovetop OR
  • Rice cooker, if you have one OR
  • Instant Pot, if you have one
  • Small bowls – the number of bowls you'll need will depend on how many spices you are taste testing
  • Forks and/or spoons
  • * Pencil & Paper To take notes of what spices you like and which ones you do not for future cooking!


  • 2 Cups Rice white dry
  • Dashes Spices and herbs of your choice to test


  • Cook a big batch of white rice as directed on the package, any white rice will do.
  • Set-up your mise en place of spices you want to try and bowls where the rice will be placed once cooked.
  • Scoop a small amt of rice into each bowl. Organize your small bowls of white rice to taste test.
  • Try one spice at a time. Make your notes, then try the next spice. You may want to take a sip of water in between tastes to clean your pallet.


More from Melissa

Knowing what a spice tastes like, if you have never used it in cooking, is a must! There are so many spices to choose from, especially considering the cuisine you are preparing. This fun kitchen activity can be very helpful in cooking and choosing the right spices for your health as well. 
Using white rice to taste spices and herbs before you use them can give you a tasty heads-up on pairing the right spices when you prepare a recipe. 
You may be wondering do I have to buy a whole container of the spice to test? What if I do not like it? 
You do not have to go out and buy a bunch of spices that you may never use again. Instead, check for a spice shop nearby. It’s fun to go there and do some taste testing in the shop. You can purchase a small amount to do your testing on the rice in your kitchen. A national online example is The Spice House.   
Experiment with some herbs and spices that you haven’t ever cooked with. Hopefully you will discover some new flavors to add to your cooking repertoire!
Spice it up for the health of it!


Serving: 1cupCalories: 206kcalCarbohydrates: 45gProtein: 4.3gFat: 0.4gSaturated Fat: 0.1gSodium: 2mgPotassium: 55mgFiber: 0.6gSugar: 0.1g
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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