10 Healthy Ingredients That Add Flavor to Any Dish
Enhance your meal without losing out on nutrition with these flavor-packed ingredients. By Elizabeth Laseter
May 05, 2015
1 of 11Photo: Brian Woodcock
Healthy food is often labeled as bland and boring, but this doesn’t have to be the case. With the addition of a nutritious, highly flavorful ingredient, a meal can easily go from ordinary to extraordinary. Pasta shines with a sprinkling of feta cheese and basil, while a garnish of fresh breadcrumbs over roasted asparagus lends a pleasing crunch. The key is balance, whether it’s in flavor (salty, sour, bitter, spicy) or texture. Our list proves that butter isn’t always the answer.
2 of 11Photo: Oxmoor House
A sprinkling of cheese can give pastas, salads, tacos, soups, and pizza a salty burst of flavor. Stock your fridge with cheeses that are naturally low in fat, such as feta, goat cheese, pecorino Romano, and part-skim fresh mozzarella. You shouldn’t need much more than a tablespoon per serving, since many cheeses tend to be higher in sodium.
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Give your meal a dose of healthy, unsaturated fats by using heart-healthy oils. Choose carefully, as different oils serve different purposes. For vinaigrettes, extra-virgin olive oil is best because of its smooth, delicate flavor. Olive oil is best for roasting, while canola oil and grapeseed oil stand up to sautéing because of their high smoke points.
Add complexity to scrambled eggs, avocado toast, pastas, salads, or garlic bread with freshly ground peppercorns. Black peppercorns are spicy and pungent, white peppercorns are also spicy (but more subtle), and green peppercorns have an earthy flavor.
5 of 11Photo: Oxmoor House
Fresh herbs (not dried!) are an extremely versatile ingredient and are valued for their ability to fill in nearly every flavor gap. Top pasta with basil, sprinkle chopped rosemary over roasted potatoes, garnish your tacos with cilantro, mix chopped dill into Greek yogurt for a quick sauce, and roast vegetables with thyme—you’ll taste the difference. Here are 11 herbs every cook should use.
Drizzle it over poached, hard-boiled, or scrambled eggs. Mix it with Greek yogurt for a spicy mayo. Or, whisk it with sesame oil and soy sauce for an Asian vinaigrette—this popular hot red chile sauce goes well on just about everything. It’s low in just about everything except sodium (1 teaspoon = 100mg), so be aware of your portion size. See our blind taste test picks for the best store-bought sriracha or make your own homemade sriracha.
7 of 11Photo: Ryan Liebe
Dress up pizza, pasta, salads, veggies, lean proteins such as chicken and fish, and even fresh fruit with a drizzle of this versatile tangy-sweet sauce. You can buy bottled balsamic glaze or make it from scratch—simmer 1 cup balsamic vinegar in a saucepan until reduced by half. Let cool to thicken, then drizzle over desired meal.
A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime adds pizzazz to tacos, pasta, stir-fry, curries, grilled fish or chicken, and steamed veggies. Acidic citrus juice cuts the richness of a hearty dish. Don’t let the zest go to waste—it lends a sweet lemon flavor without the juice’s tartness.
Spoon salsa over grilled chicken or fish and frittatas, pair with tortilla chips for a quick snack, or use as a dip for grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas. Keep your favorite jarred salsa on hand, or make your own salsa from scratch. Also try pico de gallo, which is made with fresh ingredients instead of cooked and has less of a sauce-like consistency than salsa.
A splash of red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or balsamic vinegar brightens sauces, soups, pasta salads, vinaigrettes, and more. A little goes a long way, so use vinegars sparingly, making sure to taste the dish before you add more.
11 of 11Photo: Anna Williams
Sprinkle crunchy breadcrumbs over creamy pastas, grilled or roasted veggies, broiled tomatoes, fish, or even salads. To make them, toast panko or shred hard sliced bread (not stale!) with a food processor. Spread the panko or breadcrumbs on a sheet tray and toast at 400 degrees until golden brown. Season with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon zest, or parsley.