This post may contain affiliate links. Click here to see what that means.
“Oh, better no doubt is a dinner of herbs,
When season'd with love, which no rancour disturbs
And sweeten'd by all that is sweetest in life.”
~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton
What Herbs and Spices are Allowed on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)?
Curry Leaf (not the powdered curry blend)
Kaffir Lime Leaf
Vanilla (alcohol-free only)
Why the Confusion Between Blogs and Books?
The AIP is an evolving protocol. What started as a few general recommendations from Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf (to avoid eggs and nightshades), expanded into a complete protocol contained in the book, The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne, and summarized here. She spent years delving into the scientific research to determine what foods might be inflammation triggers for people with autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, many spices made the list. She separates them into 4 categories:
- Safe Spices (Leaves, Flowers, Roots and Barks) – listed above.
- Mild Caution Spices (Fruits and Berries)
- Moderate Caution Spices (Seeds)
- High Caution Spices (Nightshades)
Originally the “mild caution” spices were considered optional exclusions. These included things like black pepper, so many AIP bloggers continued to include them in their recipes. However, with the publication of The Paleo Approach, she moved all the cautions onto the “foods to avoid” list. She didn't want to sabotage anyone's healing by allowing foods on the protocol that had the potential to increase inflammation. All of the Paleo Approach Approved bloggers are aware of the change, and you can trust their recipes to be strict AIP. If you find AIP-labeled recipes on other blogs or books that include forbidden spices, it's simply because those recipe authors haven't stayed up-to-date with the protocol.
The good news is that Strict AIP isn't meant to last forever. Fruit and seed-based spices are among the first foods to try reintroducing, after completing your elimination period. In the meantime, experiment with the safe herbs and spices listed above, and keep reading for lots of great ways to add flavor to your recipes.
How Can I Add Heat to My Recipes?
Losing both nightshade spices (cayenne, chili, paprika, curry blends) and fruit-based spices (which contain peppercorns) can be a huge blow, especially if we love fiery flavors. But all is not lost. The AIP is a chance to explore new flavors, and some of them deliver heat as well:
- Fresh ginger: This is one of my favorites, and if you add a lot of it to a dish, it will bring heat along with it. The key is to grate it very finely, and there are two ways to do this. One is to use a ceramic grater designed for grating fresh ginger. The other is to freeze your ginger, and use a microplane to zest it.
- Horseradish: This is one of my husband's favorite flavors. Storebought brands, unfortunately, contain additives. However, it's pretty easy to make your own.
- Wasabi: This is another AIP-friendly hot condiment, but check ingredient labels carefully. Storebought brands are usually full of ingredients not allowed on the AIP. Sushi Sonic is pure freeze-dried wasabi. Just add water.
- Garlic: In addition to its classic flavor, garlic can add a kick to a meal. The finer the mince, the more intense the heat, especially if you smash the clove first. So practice your knife skills. Bonus Tip: If you heat garlic immediately after mincing, it destroys its ability to produce allicin (the healing compound in garlic). However, if you mince your garlic and wait 10 minutes before cooking with it, plenty of allicin is created, and it's not destroyed by heat. Garlic cooks fast, though, so watch it closely. Burnt garlic tastes bitter.
What Are Other Ways to Add Flavor?
- Be generous with herbs. Experiment with using far more than you'd ever imagine. Angie at Autoimmune Wellness sent me a pork loin recipe to test for her new cookbook. She used so much thyme, I thought it was a typo, but she said, “Trust me.” She was right. It was delicious and soooo flavorful!
- Try these AIP-friendly spice blends: (1) Herbamare Seasoned Salt. (2) Primal Palate AIP Spice Pack.
- There are two sauces you'll want in your pantry: coconut aminos and fish sauce. The coconut aminos add a sweet-savory flavor to a dish, and is often used as a substitute for soy sauce in stir fries. The fish sauce adds a salty-savory flavor, and a little bit goes a long way, so often just a tablespoon or two is added to boost the flavor of a recipe. Bonus Tip: Kat at The Primordial Table combines coconut aminos and fish sauce 50/50 and says it's a much closer substitute for soy sauce than coconut aminos alone.
- Have fun with vinegar: Most of us are used to the basic vinegars: balsamic, wine, and apple cider vinegar. And they're wonderful! But there's a world of vinegar out there, and each one imparts its own flavor. I can recommend three to try: coconut, sherry and ume plum. A note on the ume plum vinegar: Dora at Provincial Paleo calls it sweet, salty and sour at the same time. When you experiment with it, start with small quantities and remove the salt from your recipe. Soon, you may be in love with a new condiment. Bonus Tip: If you brew kombucha, try brewing it 30 days to make kombucha vinegar and experiment with that in your salad dressings and other recipes.
- Try some AIP condiment recipes: I've rounded up 50 for you, everything from mayonnaise to ketchup to salsa to salad dressings. And KC Natural is a store-bought brand of AIP condiments and sauces.
- Enjoy an AIP curry: In my recipe for Curried Chicken and “Rice” Stew, I have two options for nightshade-free curry blends. One is strict AIP. The other is a good choice when you're ready to reintroduce seed-based spices. And Paleo on the Go now sells a pre-made AIP curry powder.
- Watch the weekly AIP Recipe roundtable: Every week, creative bloggers are coming up with delicious and flavorful recipes for all of us to enjoy. If you subscribe to my blog, you'll receive an email each time a new roundtable is posted. Believe me – you can eat varied and delicious food on this diet!
When It Comes to Reintroducing Spices, Where Do I Start?
Reintroduce fruit-based spices first. If that goes well, reintroduce seed-based spices. They are both considered stage one reintroductions, and many people with autoimmune disease find they tolerate them very well. Nightshade spices are a different story; it's rare (although not impossible) to tolerate them. For that reason, they're a stage four reintroduction: one of the last foods recommended to reintroduce. You can find the list of spices in each category on Sarah Ballantyne's website, in her book The Paleo Approach, or in my guide Reintroducing Foods on the AIP.
When you reintroduce an individual spice, or a blend within a spice category, just add it to your recipe and then the recipe itself becomes the reintroduced food. Black pepper is the easiest spice to reintroduce, because you can just sprinkle it on your meal at the table.
Looking for More Paleo AIP Spice Ideas?
Check out this fabulous kindle e-cookbook, called SPICE. It has over 90 AIP-friendly recipes, including Indian Curry, Thai and Chinese-inspired dishes.
I've written a series of articles to guide you through the autoimmune protocol, step by step. It includes my experience with the AIP, mistakes to avoid, book reviews, and more. Click here to see the whole list.
Photo credit: Wikimedia (creative commons).