A great number of seasonings are used in preparing food, to enhance or add flavor and not usually for their nutritional value, since such small amounts are generally eaten. But many of the herbs and spices, ginger, for example, are used for medicinal purposes, such as stimulating the appetite or aiding digestion. These seasonings vary throughout the world, each culture having its favorites and traditions, but the basic flavors?salty, sweet, spicy, sour, and bitter?seem to cover the common uses.
As common table salt or as soy sauce, salt is definitely the most widely used seasoning. In fact, in many cultures, especially the Western ones, salt is much overused and may f contribute to such problems as hypertension, fluid retention, electrolyte imbalance, and difficult pregnancies. Most salt is sodium chloride, though potassium chloride is also now common, as are other "salt" substitutes. Salt is mined from the earth or taken from the sea. Soy sauce is made through a fermentation process with soybeans. Salt is commonly used in cooking foods, adding flavor after preparation, or in preserving foods. (For more on salt, see the Sodium discussion in Chapter 6, Minerals.)
Peppers seem to have a marriage to salt in many cultures. Black pepper is most frequently used, especially in our culture, in cooking, fresh ground in salads, or sprinkled with salt on eggs and other dishes. Even though black pepper has some good minerals, such as chromium, zinc, and selenium, it may be a little irritating to the digestive tract in many people. Red pepper or cayenne is a berry that is dried and ground and used on foods for a spicy taste. I feel that cayenne is a much healthier pepper, and it and chili peppers are much better for us to use, even though they are a bit spicier. The red peppers help the digestion, warm the body, and herbally act as a mild diuretic and are thought to cleanse the blood. Cayenne is one of the true natural stimulants and is also high in vitamin C and vitamin A.
Herbs and Spices
These seasonings come mostly from plants?from seeds (mustard, caraway, poppy), leaves (basil, oregano), tree bark (cinnamon), berries (cayenne, black pepper), roots (ginger, licorice), or bulbs (onion, garlic). These and many other herbs are best used fresh, and some of them can be easily grown at home. Their flavors vary widely, and the more aromatic, the less stable they are? that is, the more easily they lose their potency. Most herbal seasonings should be stored in tightly sealed jars or kept in the refrigerator and certainly out of direct sunlight.