Many of the world’s greatest culinary discoveries were made serendipitously. But very few had greater impact than the discovery of using spices to flavor and preserve food.
Anthropologists have shown that thousands of years ago, our hunter-gatherer ancestors would often wrap their kill in leaves and bark to preserve and transport the contents inside. Only later did they discover that this method of preservation could also improve the taste of their food.
And so the worlds’ love affair with spices began…
Spices & Herbs: The Culinary Curatives
As civilization advanced, the use of spices became ubiquitous in culinary tradition. But it wasn’t just for their ability to enhance flavor. It was also for the health-promoting properties they possessed:
- Texts from Ancient Egypt (1555 BC) deemed coriander, fennel, juniper, cumin, garlic and thyme as powerful medicine. It is also known that the laborers who constructed the Great Pyramid of Cheops (using advanced alien technology, of course) consumed onion and garlic as a means to promote health.
- Black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom have been used by Indians for thousands of years for both culinary and health purposes.
- Hippocrates wrote extensively about spices and herbs, including saffron, cinnamon, thyme, coriander, mint, and marjoram. Of the 400 herbal remedies he created, at least half are still used today.
- Theophrastus, the “Father of Botany”, authored two books summarizing the knowledge of over 600 spices and herbs.
- Dioscorides, a Greek Physician of the 1st century, authored De Materia Medica – an extensive medical and botanical guide that was used for over 1,500 years.
- In the Middle Ages (600-1200 AD), European apothecaries used herbs and Asian spices including ginger, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron and cardamom in their remedies.
- Plants were used as the primary source of medicine in the United States from the time of the Mayflower (1620) until after World War I (1930).
Science now proves that the instincts and knowledge of our ancestors were correct: Spices and herbs are powerful medicine.
Countless studies show that herbs and spices possess a wide range of phytonutrients that can kill bacteria, viruses and parasites. They also act as powerful antioxidants and can promote cellular health, reduce inflammation, and more.
And one of the most convenient ways to harness the health-and-flavor enhancing power of herbs and spices is a homemade dry rub.
Five Chef-Inspired Dry Rubs: Potent Flavor – With Benefits
Complimenting just about every kind of food – from meat, chicken, fish and vegetables – a dry rub is a combination of herbs, salt and spices that is applied before grilling, broiling, baking or roasting.
As you know, there are many commercial seasoning blends available. However, these often contain chemical preservatives, MSG, anti-caking agents and other unsavory additives.
By creating your own custom combinations at home, you can ensure a higher quality, additive-free product that is personalized to your tastes.
Using just one or two spices and herbs can produce delicious results. But if you really want to elevate your food to new heights, don’t be afraid to experiment with new ingredients and unique combinations. You can make a dry rub from nearly any combination of herbs, spices and salt. Here are four chef-tested dry rubs to try in your cooking:
- Use On: This exceptionally versatile Middle Eastern spice mix can be used on every kind of meat, fish or vegetable.
- The Blend: ¼ cup sumac, 2 Tbsp. dried thyme, 1 Tbsp. roasted sesame seeds, 2 Tbsp. dried marjoram, 2 Tbsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. sea salt
- Yield: ~2 Tbsp.
Ras El Hanout
- Use On: The name of this Moroccan spice mix translates to “head of the shop” – as it often includes the best spices the purveyor has to offer. Try on grass-fed steaks, wild salmon and chicken.
- The Blend: 2 tsp. ground ginger, 2 tsp. ground coriander, 1½ tsp. ground cinnamon, 1½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 1½ tsp. ground turmeric, 1 tsp. ground nutmeg, 1 tsp. ground allspice, ½ tsp. ground cloves
- Yield: ~¼ cup
Mediterranean Dry Rub
- Use On: This classic blend goes with just about anything – from pastured pork, lamb and chicken to wild seafood.
- The Blend: ¾ cup dried basil, ¼ cup dried thyme, 2 Tbsp. dried sage, 2 Tbsp. fennel seeds, 1 Tbsp. sea salt, 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
- Yield: ~1¼ cups
BBQ Dry Rub
- Use On: A classic BBQ favorite that complements pastured chicken, ribs, and brisket
- The Blend: ¼ cup paprika, 2 Tbsp. granulated garlic, 2 Tbsp. granulated onion, 2 tsp. black peppercorns, 1 tsp. dry mustard, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 Tbsp. cumin seed (toasted), 3 Tbsp. coriander seed (toasted), ¼ cup sea salt, 2 Tbsp. coconut sugar
- Yield: ~1¼ cups
Tips For Using Dry Rubs
Now that you have a few flavor combinations to start with, I’d like to share how you can maximize the seasoning power and life span of your dry rubs:
Toast to Get the Most: Many spices – especially cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander and cumin – benefit from a little heat. A brief toast in a dry skillet will coax more flavor out of these, in particular.
Grind Fine: Finely milling your spice and herb blends allows more surface area to come into contact with your food and your taste buds, producing deeper flavor. Use a spice mill or coffee grinder to powder your dry rub to a uniform consistency.
Prepare The Canvas: For each pound of meat, poultry, or seafood coat the entire surface with 2 to 3 teaspoons melted lard, tallow, duck fat, avocado or coconut oil. Then apply one to two tablespoons of dry rub.
Coat Well: When using dry rubs, coat the entire surface of the food, ensuring it sticks. Not only will this ensure you get the full flavor, but it will also produce a beautiful crust. To produce a stronger flavor, cover pre-rubbed meats or chicken and refrigerate for up to 24 hours to allow the flavors to penetrate. Then cook as desired.
Store Properly: Spices and herbs lose potency over time. Light, heat and oxygen accelerate the process. Store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Use within six months or sooner for best results.
Adding dry rubs to your cooking repertoire won’t just add more flavor to your food, but also more health-promoting nutrients. So season often and liberally with these flavor-packed dry rubs, and change up the spices and herbs you use to get the full-spectrum of their healing powers.
Written by Kelley Herring, Healing Gourmet