Let’s dive into a hands-on learning experience that’s sure to spice up the culinary adventures of high school students. We’re talking about herbs and spices – those little kitchen companions that hold the power to transform ordinary dishes into extraordinary ones. Teaching herbs and spices is a favorite of mine because of the way it blends history and culture with culinary arts.
In this blog post, we’re going to share practical tips and engaging activities to introduce high schoolers to the world of herbs and spices. No gourmet expertise is required, just a dash of curiosity and a sprinkle of enthusiasm.
Printable Herbs and Spices Chart
Giving students a visual of the types of herbs and spices that are used in cooking is a good way to start. A printable herbs and spices chart can be used to hand in your culinary or FACS classroom or printed as an ongoing guide for students. Here is a free printable herb chart and spice chart. It includes the name of each as well as a picture of various herbs and spices, their flavor profile and common dishes that they are used in.
You can even consider making a matching game with the information in the chart to have students match the herb or spice with it’s description.
Having these charts on hand can help when you are making recipes. For instance, if you are making Mexican dishes, students can refer to the chart to see the common spices used, and if you are making Italian dishes, students can look at the chart for a common herb to add to their recipe. When baking, you can allow students to explore different baking spice combinations such as cinnamon, ground cardamom, nutmeg, and more.
Herbs and Spices Activities
Let’s take a look at some engaging teaching activities for herbs and spices.
Herbs and Spices Digital Escape Room
Students are trapped by a mad food scientist and must display their knowledge of herbs and spices to be released! In this fun herbs and spices digital escape room activity, students move through 8 clues about the health benefits of herbs and spices, cooking uses, and international uses, and they even drag and drop pictures of various spices in a spice cabinet to match a recipe they could see in everyday cooking! It also involves reading nonfiction text about herbs and spices and answering questions.
These make great sub plans for your family consumer science or foods class or a great review activity for students to complete independently or with a partner. This activity also comes with a printable PDF version.
By the end of this 40-minute activity, students will have a better understanding of the bay leaf, spice blends, saffron, Italian seasonings, cooking tips, cayenne pepper, curry powder, and so many more. My favorite clue involves students matching recipes with lists of ingredients with the type of spice mentioned.
Not sure how to assign digital escape rooms? Check out our how to use our digital escape rooms YouTube video explaining how. This particular escape room also comes in a printable version if you can’t access Google in your school!
Herbs and Spices Unit
If you are looking for a full culinary arts curriculum unit on this topic, check out our Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, and Spices Unit. It includes editable lesson plans for 14 days as well as editable assessments, activities including the digital escape room, Webquests, bell ringers, and more.
With over 100 pages of resources, this will have you covered for over 2 weeks, and your students will better understand the plants that grow to ensure that humans never have a bland meal!
The slideshow includes the difference between an herb and a spice and popular herbs and spices and their uses. The student assignment included questions that followed along with the presentation, a crossword puzzle, and a unit test to check for understanding. You could also do the included food lab with students making salsa using some spices they have learned about. There are also videos included in the unit that give students visuals of cooking herbs and spices in regional dishes.
A video on the history of spices is an engaging way to get your students thinking about the flavorful little things. This one isn’t too long and has some humor that keeps students interested. We have video questions for this in the full unit as well.
Herbs and Spices Tasting Activity
The best way to teach this than to have them actually taste individual spices and herbs! If you are looking for a reasonably priced set, this herbs and spices set on Amazon is the best that we have found. Here is how to set it up:
1- Place cups that hold small quantities such as a portion 2 oz. cups half full of a variety of herbs and spices around a large table for students to match. If you can get a hold of some fresh herbs, that would be a bonus!
2- Have a box of disposable tasting spoons, for students to use a new spoon at each cup.
3- Have water in Dixie cups available for students to cleanse their palates between tastings.
4- The next step is to have them guess which herb and spice it is using the list.
5- They will also write down a description of the taste and can use the description words list included in this activity.
6- Students will write down which dish they would use the herb or spice in if they had the chance.
7- Have students discuss in small groups what answers they got and why they thought that way. They have fun comparing answers and arguing about what they think is right!
8- Reveal the answers and have them compare how they did!
Students enjoy this activity because they get to taste the things they are learning about. Some of them may taste gross to them, but when you point out that it is added in their favorite dishes, they will be surprised. Even if you can only have them taste 5 or 6 herbs and spices, it is worth the experience!
Cooking Challenges Incorporating Herbs and Spices
Have students participate in a cooking challenge and make one of the criteria that they have to use an herb or spice in the dish! A few of our favorite cooking challenges include:
Teach about the Medicinal Properties of Herbs and Spices
Food is nutrition, and herbs and spices contain healthy properties that many people don’t often recognize. Have your students research the different healthy and possibly medicinal properties of the many herbs and spices that grow on this earth.
For instance, the spice Garam Masala is known for its digestive and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger, used in many countries, including Asian cuisine, also has digestive aid properties and an arthritis treatment. With its active compound, curcumin, turmeric boasts potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s utilized in traditional medicine to treat conditions like arthritis and support overall immune health.
Peppermint, known for its refreshing flavor, is a natural antispasmodic and can relieve digestive discomfort and headaches. Garlic, a culinary staple, contains allicin, a compound known for its antimicrobial properties, making it an effective ally in boosting the immune system and fighting infections.
These are just a few examples of the diverse array of herbs and spices that contribute to the world of natural medicine, offering a holistic approach to health and well-being. Always consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating them into your wellness routine.
Have students choose an herb or spice, create a presentation about their medical properties, and present it to the class!
Expanding on the comprehensive approach to teaching herbs and spices in an Intro to Culinary Arts course offers budding chefs a rich tapestry of learning experiences. The unit plan, with a dynamic slideshow, thoughtfully designed guided notes, and insightful questions, provides a structured roadmap for students to delve into the intriguing world of herbs and spices. This multifaceted approach encourages active engagement, allowing students to absorb the practical applications and the historical and cultural contexts that shape these culinary essentials.
The inclusion of a digital escape room further amplifies the learning experience. By immersing themselves in this interactive challenge, students are prompted to apply their newfound knowledge in a creative and engaging setting. This strengthens their retention of information and hones their problem-solving and critical thinking abilities—skills that are invaluable in the culinary arts and beyond.
Moreover, incorporating a video detailing spices’ origins enriches the educational journey. It transports students across time and space, offering a vivid panorama of the global spice trade and its profound impact on cuisines worldwide. This historical backdrop deepens their appreciation for the ingredients at hand and fosters a broader cultural understanding that informs their culinary endeavors.
The pièce de résistance, of course, is the herbs and spices tasting activity. This sensory exploration allows students to not only identify and savor distinct flavor profiles but also discern the ways in which these ingredients can transform a dish, including some of their favorite foods. It’s a hands-on experience that bridges theory with practice, enabling students to translate their newfound knowledge into delectable creations.
In summation, this comprehensive approach to teaching herbs and spices in an Intro to Culinary Arts course transcends rote memorization. It cultivates a holistic understanding of these culinary treasures, empowering students to create dishes that are delicious and imbued with a nuanced appreciation for flavor and healthful benefits. Through this immersive journey, students emerge not only as proficient chefs but also as informed and discerning culinary enthusiasts.
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