By Nereesha Patel; Photography by Joanna Kosinska/Unsplash
Don’t be salty. Variety is the spice of life …
It’s easy to reach out and grab a salt shaker when you’re cooking. After all, salt is known for being a great flavouring agent, and it enhances the texture of sweet and savoury dishes. Also, it’s an essential nutrient that your body can’t make itself. Sodium plays a vital role in regulating your body’s water content; it controls your taste, smell and tactile processes; importantly, the presence of sodium ions encourages the contraction of muscles, including your heart.
However, consuming too much salt can have adverse effects on your body: you start to retain water, causing you to feel bloated. That can reduce your kidneys’ ability to function as they remove less water. Then your blood pressure can increase, which puts you at risk for having a stroke or heart disease.
So it possible to swap out salt for something that’s healthier yet still boosts the flavours of your food? But of course! Read on to find out which of these 12 substitutes is worth your salt (no pun intended).
Made from ground sweet and hot fried peppers, paprika is a spice that goes with just about any dish – literally. Lamb, chicken, eggs, potatoes, rice and even popcorn can benefit from a generous sprinkle of paprika. It contains a whole host of nutrients including Vitamins A, E and B-6, and capsaicin, the latter which relaxes your blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Be warned, though: paprika may taste sweeter and milder than cayenne peppers, but it’s still quite spicy on the tongue.
If your dishes are tasting a bit flat, try adding freshly squeezed lemon juice. Its acidic properties are responsible for its refreshing flavour, which can do wonders for salads, seafood, steamed vegetables and fish. Marinades and light pasta dishes can also do with a little lemony zest. Other citrus fruits that you can try include lime, orange and grapefruit. They contain different antioxidants including Vitamin C, which neutralises free radicals before they damage healthy cells. Be sure to add the zest when you’re nearly done cooking so as to avoid a bitter taste that results from overcooking.
Like lemon juice, vinegar is high in acid and can give your foods a flavoursome tang. Savoury dishes such as salads, fish and coleslaw, plus sauces like chutney, marinades and salsa, pair so well with vinegar, you won’t miss salt at all. Vinegar is instrumental in helping to control your blood glucose levels, showing potential as a treatment to slow the progression of diabetes. There are different types of vinegar out there – balsamic, red wine, white wine and apple cider among others – so you definitely have a fair share of flavour enhancers to choose from and experiment with.
Looking to give your Italian dishes some gusto? Basil is your go-to ingredient. It gives pastas, pizzas and pesto sauces a sweet, peppery taste and a pleasant aroma. Not only that, basil contains antioxidant-rich volatile essential oils which help to combat stress, lower inflammation and promote healthy blood pressure. For any dish that needs a finishing touch, drop a few fresh leaves of basil on top and enjoy!
Fragrant with a pine-like scent, rosemary can be quite overpowering if it’s not used sparingly. At the same time, it’s a herb that is synonymous with sumptuous Sunday lunches, going well with roast or grilled meats, lamb, potatoes, carrots and eggs. Rosemary has its fair share of health benefits, too: it boosts the production of red blood cells and blood flow, and its anti-inflammatory properties can help regulate your bowel movement. If you’re using dried rosemary, crush it first before adding it your dishes. Also try roasting whole rosemary sprigs with root vegetables.
A popular popcorn seasoning, chives have a delightful onion-like flavour that’s just as great on fish, mashed or baked potato, low-fat cream cheese and salads. They’re also packed with nutrients including Vitamin K, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. Working together, these nutrients promote digestion, soothe upset stomachs and lower blood pressure. Whether they’re chopped or you only use the stems, chives can vastly improve the flavour of your favourite foods.
Cayenne Peppers And Chilli
Nothing packs a spicier punch more than cayenne peppers. With a smattering of this red-hot spice – especially in powder form – your Indian-based meat dishes, roast vegetables, soups and nuts will deliver a fiery yet delicious wallop to your taste-buds. Likewise, chilli in various forms (fresh, dried ground or flakes) can just as easily put the “zing” back in “amazing” when added to your food. Both cayenne peppers and chilli are pretty effective detoxicants, as they help to remove waste products from your body. They also aid the digestive system by stimulating gastric juices which helps the body to metabolise food and toxins. Guess the phrase “feel the burn” doesn’t only apply to exercising!
Cinnamon isn’t only used on pancakes anymore. Known for its earthy flavour, this spice is mostly used in baking. But in Turkish and Middle Eastern cooking, it’s used to flavour chicken and lamb dishes. Other meals you can use cinnamon on include cottage pie, stewed fruit, curries and bolognese sauce. The benefits of cinnamon are practically endless: from containing anti-inflammatory properties to raising HDL cholesterol (the good kind) in the body, there’s no doubt that cinnamon is a much healthier substitute for salt.
The leaves of this Mediterranean herb can be chopped or added whole to give your food a warm yet strong flavour. According to Medical News Today, research shows that oregano contains the active ingredient known as beta-caryophyllin (E-BCP), which may help treat disorders such as osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis. To bolden your meat or chicken dishes, give the oregano a go by sprinkling it on top. You can also use it in marinades, spaghetti bolognese and breads to get that herby essence. Remember to start with a small amount at first as you cook – too much oregano can make your food bitter.
Onion And Garlic
Cutting onions can be a tear-inducing ordeal. On the other hand, when added to food in lieu of salt, you’ll be giving your taste-buds a reason to jump for joy. Onions are bested suited for savoury dishes like meat, stir fries, pizzas and soups, giving them all a distinct sweet-yet-sharp flavour. Meanwhile in your body, the chromium content of onions is working its magic, helping to regulate your blood sugar levels. Garlic, which has a strong and delicious taste, complements soups and sauces. Its sulfur compounds also help to protect your body against heavy metal toxicity, signs of which include headaches and rising blood pressure.
Mushrooms are extremely versatile. Whether you stir-fry, grill, sauté or bake them, they can bring out the flavours of almost any dish, especially if it’s vegetarian or vegan. What’s more, mushrooms are naturally low in sodium, fat and cholesterol. They’re packed with Vitamin D – which inhibits the growth of cancer cells – and selenium, which improves the body’s immune response to infection. So if you’re looking to add some flair to your food, you can always make room for mushrooms.
Yup, mint. This leafy herb is not only used in teas, syrups and ice creams – you can also use it in salads, pastas and couscous, along with carrots and broad beans. Its aromatic flavour can freshen up any sweet and savoury dish from fruit-based desserts to fritters. As a natural stimulant, mint reduces depression and fatigue, promotes weight loss by turning the fat you consume into usable energy, and helps to treat nausea and headaches.
Looking for more? Here are 5 foods that’ll give you a major energy-boost before a run.