We all remember being in the kitchen as a child and Mom or Grandma tasting something on the stove. It seems they always said, needs more salt. Why is salt our go to seasoning to add to food?
Salt is used as a flavor improver and can affect other flavors such as sweet and bitter. When small amounts are used it will reduce bitterness and increase sweet. There is a role for small amounts of salt in a heart healthy diet, you just have to make sure your daily intake from all sources (processed foods, ready-made products, etc.) are within your doctor’s recommended range.
There are many great alternatives to adding salt while cooking or at the table. Salt is not the only thing that improves flavor. Herbs and spices can liven up your food and add variety, plus they are better for your heart health than salt.
Below we will offer some common herbs and spices that are easily found fresh in most grocery store produce section and in the spice aisle.
A popular herb with a hint of sweetness and a little spiciness. A member of the mint family, basil has incredible flavor with a floral aroma. Fresh basil leaves are delicate, and it is best to tear it or use a sharp knife.
Basil can be used during the cooking process or added to a dish right before serving. Basil pairs well with tomatoes and tomato based dishes. It will also add great flavor to vegetables, fruit, eggs, chicken, and fish dishes. You can use basil along with garlic, balsamic vinegar, mint, lemon, and oregano for different flavor combinations.
One of the most well-known dishes with basil is the Caprese Salad. Layer basil leaves over tomato slices and mozzarella cheese and lightly drizzle with olive oil for a delightful summer salad.
Mint is a bright and refreshing herb that works in sweet and savory dishes. It is similar to basil and can be prepared the same way.
Mint is great in salads, pasta, couscous and tasty with carrots, peas, and broad beans.
For simple refreshing snack chop up melon and drizzle the fruit with a mixture of mint and low-fat vanilla yogurt.
Oregano is a popular herb in Greek, Italian, Mediterranean, and Latin American cooking. It has an earthy, aromatic and slightly bitter taste.
Oregano can be used in marinades for meats, poultry, and seafood. Use in egg dishes, breads casseroles and sauces. It pairs well with basil, lemon, or mint in marinades, on vegetables or sauces.
Try sprinkling a little oregano on hamburger, chicken or baked potato add to soups and sauces for extra flavor.
Rosemary is an aromatic herb with a woodsy and lemony flavor. Use sparingly, it can overpower other flavors.
Rosemary pairs well with soups, stews, and other comfort foods. Whole sprigs baked with poultry or fish adds wonderful flavor. Rosemary if very versatile and can be used with other herbs and spices and in most dishes. Meats, vegetables, sauces and grains all pair well with Rosemary.
Rosemary, garlic, and pepper added to brown rice while cooking adds wonderful flavors, one of our favorite uses for rosemary.
Thyme has a very pronounced and robust taste. It could be described as sweet; however, it shouldn’t be used in desserts.
Thyme is a versatile seasoning to use in cooking. It is a sodium free way to boost flavor in roasted vegetables, meats, soups, stews, and sauces.
Try adding whole sprigs to slow cooked meals and casseroles and remove at the end. Tuck sprigs inside a chicken along with fresh lemon before roasting. Thyme is one of those herbs that can up to long cooking times.
Dill has a strong taste and is often compared to fennel, star anise and celery. Best used fresh if possible and use only the leaves and discard the stems.
While many people associate dill with pickled cucumbers, it is a very versatile herb. It pairs well with chicken and fish dishes, potato salads, noodle, or tomato-based salads.
Add a dill sprig to roasting chicken or fish with a little lemon or lime juice.
Sage is like Rosemary with more lemon and eucalyptus. The flavor can be quite strong making it a good substitute for salt.
Sage is delicious in savory autumn dishes such as roasted squash, sweet potatoes, and sauces. Add it to flavor meats, bean dishes and other grains either on its own or paired with other herbs.
Sage is another herb that does not lose its flavor with long cooking, perfect for adding to a simmering sauce or higher temperature dishes.
Garlic is often associated with Italian dishes but can be used almost on anything. It is a pungent relative to onion and adds tons of sodium free flavor.
You can cut back on salt and the double the amount of garlic in recipes for tomato sauces and marinates. Garlic is great in soups and stir fries.
Garlic is a staple in many households and works with so many herbs and spices. Don’t be afraid to add a little to soups, salads, vegetables, and sauces. A little roasted garlic added to twice baked potatoes, and you will not miss the salt, cheese, or bacon!
The minute you hear pepper you think salt, but pepper has enough flavor to stand on its own. It does not need salt add depth and flavor to dishes. Almost every household has ground black pepper in the kitchen and most likely in a shaker on the dining table.
Black pepper is a great addition to soups, roasts, pastas, and other savory dishes. Added to eggs, grains, or vegetables. Some people like a little pepper on their watermelon or other fruits. It is worth experimenting with. Adding whole peppercorns to a simmering or roasting dish will add a lot of flavor and look nice when serving the dish by spooning some the roasted peppercorns over it.
Pepper can add a little kick to your dish, best to start with less and add to find your perfect “kick level”. You can also try white pepper, peppercorn mixtures, or pepper alternatives like chili peppers and cayenne peppers for some added spiciness.
The bottom line
Salt has always been the go-to seasoning in most kitchens, but we consume too much of it.
Be mindful of your intake of higher-salt foods like processed meats, canned goods, sauces, soups, and condiments. Choose salt free or reduce sodium when possible. Use the seasonings mentioned in this article to replace added salt in the kitchen and at the table. Use different herbs and spices to take your familiar dishes in a whole new direction. Not only will you discover new flavors, but your heart will thank you.
For more herbs and spices to use instead of salt the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute published this handy guide – Use-Herbs-and-Spices-Instead-of-Salt.