Image Credit: Image by Monika from Pixabay

February 19, 2024
By Laura Wormuth

Peek into a household spice cabinet and you’re likely to see everyday seasonings like salt, pepper, oregano or onion. Look deeper, and you may notice dozens of other barely opened spices used once in an adventurous dish cooked long ago. Beverly Jackey, MS, RDN, LDN, University of Maryland Extension (UME) Family Consumer Sciences (FCS) Senior Agent wants you to resurrect the power of those unique spices and homegrown herbs to level up your home cooked meals, and better understand issues related to food storage and safety. The McCormick Science Institute has granted more than $90,000 to Jackey and the health and nutrition team with UME to revise and expand their Capture the Flavor: Herbs and Spices program and introduce it to a national audience.  

Currently offered in Maryland, the program features a 75-minute interactive workshop that teaches participants about the history, use, storage, safety, and health benefits of using herbs and spices in their cooking. Culinary dishes from fish to meatloaf and green beans to carrots can be more visually appealing, flavorful and healthy by replacing less nutritious ingredients with herbs and spices.

“The real purpose of herbs and spices is to enhance flavor, so it’s important that people know how to use them to replace sugar, salts, and fats,” said Jackey, a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Using Herbs and spices could make foods and beverages healthier and therefore, help people improve their management of chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes.”

The Capture the Flavor program aims to assist people in creating combinations that pair well with different meats and vegetables. “People are interested in using different herbs and spices when they cook, but they don’t know which ones blend well together, for example, what’s a good seasoning blend for chicken? What can I use on potatoes other than salt?” Jackey said. “And there’s a lot of interest in cultural cuisines. People have expressed that they bought a container of spice for a particular dish, and then they’re not sure how to use it in other dishes, or what to do with the rest of it.”

Jackey will also work with other colleagues in UME’s health and nutrition programs to build out the Capture the Flavor curriculum, including Senior Agent Dr. Shauna Henley, who is also an affiliate agent in the University of Maryland’s, Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, to teach proper storage and the elements that affect quality. “There are four things that impact storage – light, humidity, moisture, and heat. We ask our program participants questions such as, ‘Are you keeping herb and spice containers near your sink where there’s dampness?, or by your stove where they’re exposed to the heat of cooking?’”  Jackey said. “If you’re not sure whether the herb or spice is still good to use, the best thing to do is err on the side of safety and discard it.”

Over the next year, the UME Capture the Flavor team will partner with Virginia Cooperative Extension to survey and assess data from current participants to learn what information resonates and what new knowledge is implemented at home. From that data, Jackey and her team will build out a trainer guide and presentation materials that they will present to cooperative Extension units during the 2025 National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences annual conference for the purpose of making this program available to other Extension Educators across the U.S.

For people who have received doctor’s orders to reduce salt or sugar, or those who are just interested in experimenting with new flavors at home, Jackey has expert advice on getting started. “It’s all about small changes – what do you think you can change today? What change do you want to focus on happening right now? When you see the success of making those changes, you feel confident about making another change, leading to new habits and behaviors.”

Learn more about health and nutrition programs at the University of Maryland Extension at, and find classes or your local agent in your county at