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SPICE Up Your Holiday Meals

The holiday season is upon us and that means many of us will be spending more time in the kitchen.

Add that extra-special touch...experiment with a variety of seasonal spices for your holiday meals. And, enjoy the flavors as the aromatic scents fill your home.

Add that extra-special touch…experiment with a variety of seasonal spices for your holiday meals. And, enjoy the flavors as the aromatic scents fill your home.

If you would like to make an impression with a less-than-ordinary meal, use traditional family dishes as a starting point for your special menu, then add seasonal spices to easy-to-prepare dishes to create a holiday feast that your family and friends will talk about for weeks. 

Spices are native to warm, tropical climates and are obtained from roots, flowers, fruits, seeds, or bark.  Adding “holiday” spices to your recipes will add just the right amount of Christmas charm along with a rich, warm flavor and aroma that enhances many dishes.

Spices do come with some health benefits, the greatest being that spices serve as flavorful alternatives to salt, fat, and sugar without adding any extra calories to meals. Instead of adding sugar to oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and desserts, try adding spices like cinnamon and allspice. For savory meals, replace salt with spices like black pepper, cumin, and dill seed. Try flavoring foods with spices instead of using breading, gravies, and sauces. Seasoning meats with spices and cooking them on the grill are healthy alternatives to frying and easy, flavorful ways to reduce fat intake. Adopting changes like these can help reduce sodium, fat, and sugar in your diet.

How long will these spices last in your kitchen?  Dried spices never actually spoil, but their flavor and aroma fade over time. They should be stored in a cool, dry place in tight containers and away from heat. When cooking, keep the container away from steaming pots to avoid exposure to moisture. Ground spices, such as paprika, cinnamon, and nutmeg, can be kept for 2–3 years. Cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and any other whole spices can be used for up to 5 years.  Always start with small amounts of spices. When adding spices to foods that are served cold, it is important to refrigerate the food for a few hours to ensure that the flavors of the spices are well absorbed.

Now you know using spices is a great way to reduce sodium, sugar, and fat in your diet while adding bold new flavors. It’s a good idea to plan your meals before going to the grocery store so you know which spices you will need. Use the advice above to keep seasonings fresh and flavorful. The examples listed above are just a snapshot of possible uses, so be creative! Follow these tips, and you will spice up your cooking in no time.

Here are few of the traditional holiday spices you may want to try this season:




Best used

Pair with


Dried bark of the cinnamon tree

Pungently sweet

Dried sticks or ground powder

Breads, cakes, chicken, coffee, cookies, pork, spiced beverages, sweet potatoes, squash, tea, yogurt (often paired with allspice, cloves, and nutmeg)


Seeds of the nutmeg tree

Warm, spicy, sweet

Freshly ground

Applesauce, baked goods, beverages, cheese dishes, cream dishes, desserts, ground meats, pies, sauces, soups, stews, and many vegetables


Roots of the ginger plant

Mix of pepper and sweetness

Dried powder or freshly grated from root

Beets, beverages, breads, cakes, cheese dishes, chutneys, cookies, curries, dipping sauce, dressings, meat, poultry, soups, stews, and yellow vegetables


Dried flower buds of the clover tree

Sweet or bittersweet

Dried and ground

Baked goods, beets, chili sauces, cookies, curries, fruit sauces/syrups, gingerbread, squash, and tomato sauces


Dried unripe berry of the Pimenta dioica plant (a tropical evergreen tree)

Pungent and fragrant (ground allspice releases aromatic notes reminiscent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves)

Dried, ground, and fresh leaves

Meats, jerk seasoning paste,  marinades for chicken and pork, stews, roasts, soups, barbecue and tomato sauces, roasted vegetables, rice, applesauce, fruit compote, oatmeal cookies

Be sure to add this spiced tea to your holiday table.  Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Mulled Holiday Tea


3 quarts simmering water

3 red fruit tea bags

3 regular tea bags

1 orange, cut in quarters and studded with 4 whole cloves

1 lemon, cut in quarters

1/2 cup fresh cranberries

2 cinnamon sticks


1. Simmer water in a large pot on the stove.

2. Add all ingredients and turn the heat to low.

3. Heat for a few minutes until the tea is steeped.

4. Remove the tea bags.

5. Serve hot to your guests.


Serves 12. Each 1 cup serving: 2 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans-fat, 0mg cholesterol, 10mg sodium, 0g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugars, 0g protein

Source:  Shopping for Health: Herbs and Spices, J. Norris, W. Dahl, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.


Author: Melanie Taylor – metaylor@ufl.edu

Living Well in the Panhandle

Permanent link to this article: http://jefferson.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2013/12/18/spice-up-your-holiday-meals/