Spices are a good choice to replace salt in your diet
By Kathy Kolasa
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Q: My doctor told me to use spices and herbs instead of salt in my food. I looked at the spice section of the store and really didn’t know what to choose. What is your favorite one? FG, Greenville
A: That’s a simple question for me to answer — it is dill. A jar sits on our dining table. Although I would prefer fresh dill weed, it’s fairly expensive when you buy the package found in the refrigerator case in the grocery store.
I used to grow dill when I lived in Michigan but I haven’t been very successful in my backyard garden here. Every now and then my good friend will bring me a live dill plant from the Raleigh Farmers Market (although they don’t always have it) or she’ll start a plant from seed for me.
I love the fragrance of fresh dill and the feathery leaves. Dill sprigs also look great as a garnish.
Why dill? I learned to love it as a child. Dill is the principal flavor accent in many Polish dishes. If you look in the recipe index in a Polish cookbook you will see a long list of dill recipes including, but not limited to, Polish-style poultry stuffing, sliced cucumbers and sour cream, warm eggs, fish Polonaise, dill soup, and cooked cabbage. It is sprinkled on new or mashed potatoes. My husband, Pat, teases me about my “green” potatoes. And I grew up snacking on dill pickles.
I have quite a collection of cookbooks created for fundraising projects by many Greenville and Pitt County groups. I thumbed through the recipes to see what spices and herbs were enjoyed by the locals, only to find that very few recipes listed any seasoning besides salt and pepper. There was an occasional recipe that called for basil, garlic, or parsley. And in one recipe collection I found a dill potato salad.
Many recipes had hot sauce or vinegar as a seasoning. And of course, many vegetable recipes had a seasoning — meat like lean or pig tails or ham hocks. Keep in mind that if your doctor wants you to cut back on salt, she probably wants you to use less seasoning meat as well!
I also checked out the index in N.C. famed chef Vivian Howard’s cookbook of foods of eastern North Carolina and dill was not included. Yet, in Vivian’s rules, she says she “is into” fresh herbs. She says she will freely swap fresh cilantro, mint, tarragon, basil, dill, chervil (her favorite herb) and parsley for one another.
Vivian also enjoys swapping rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, oregano and marjoram for one another. Swapping is a good (and cost-effective) idea since it can be quite expensive to buy containers of fresh herbs and spices for use in recipes that only call for one-eighth or one-quarter of a teaspoon.
The small packages or fresh bunches found in grocery stores typically cost anywhere from $2.50 to as much as $5 or more.
If you are trying to eat more healthfully, you might want to look at the website Medinsteadofmeds.com. The recipes on this website were created by North Carolinians and encourage the use of a variety of interesting seasonings. And for those of you who love taco spice, there is a great recipe for a low-salt version on that site.
Back to dill. I want to share with you some things people are posting on the web. Here is one description of its supposed health benefits:"Boosts digestion, provides relief from insomnia, hiccups, diarrhea, dysentery, menstrual and respiratory disorders.” Someone else claims that dill boosts your immune system, protects you from bone degradation, protects you against arthritis and reduces excess gas.
Wow — that’s unbelievable. I just like the taste and if there happens to be a health benefit, great.
What is true is that dill weed, like most herbs and spices, provides a very small amount of nutrition. Dill is recognized for its contribution of calcium, manganese and vitamins A and C, fiber, and phytonutrients.
Since spice and herb jars aren’t required to carry Nutrition Facts labels, I went back to my old food composition tables to look up the nutritional value. According to the chart, per 100 grams or 3.5 ounces, dill provides 154 percent of an adult’s daily need for vitamin A. I weighed out just half an ounce of dried dill weed and found that to be the equivalent of about 15 teaspoons which would give you 22 percent of your daily need.
As much as I love dill, however, I wouldn’t use that much in a meal. Rather I might use 1/8 teaspoon which would put the daily need percentage down to less than 1 percent (and contain virtually no calories). So, don’t count on spices to give you a lot of nutrition.
My hope is that you will start experimenting with herbs and spices to replace salt. I recommend following the advice of professional recipe developers. They usually start by adding one teaspoon of a mild dried herb or spice such as oregano, basil, cumin, or cinnamon per six servings. Use only 1/4 teaspoon of a strong dried herb or spice such as rosemary, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, mustard, or allspice) per six servings. You can always add more.
If using fresh herbs or spices, a good rule of thumb is to replace 1 teaspoon dried (or ½ teaspoon ground) with 1 tablespoon fresh. Enjoy your new flavor adventure!