Tag Archives: difference between herb and spice

Herbs and Spices: What’s the difference?

I love to cook.  When I cook things, I get to add the flavor profile I enjoy the most by adding herbs and spices (specifically cumin, a favorite of mine).  Generally when discussing cooking, these two terms get thrown together: Herbs and Spices.  I want to know: what is the difference?

According to the definition found at dictionary.com an herb is:

a flowering plant whose stem above ground does not become woody.

Likewise, at dictionary.com, the definition of spice is:
any of a class of pungent or aromatic substances of vegetable origin,as pepper, cinnamon, or cloves, used as seasoning, preservatives, etc.
Well, this gives us a place to start.  But unless you are intimately aware of the plant form of your seasonings, these definitions are not very useful. It’s true, we all know certain herbs that grow in our garden; such as basil or parsley.
A general rule of thumb is to think about the color of the seasoning you’re using.  If it’s green, and leafy, it’s probably an herb.  If you have it growing in your garden and you use the leaves or the green parts (as in chives), it is probably an herb.  Examples of herbs include: oregano, sage, rosemary, cilantro (the leafy  part), and thyme.  While oregano, rosemary, and thyme have woody stems, we are using the leafy green part for our culinary creations.
Spices are more pungent than herbs, and come from other parts of the plant.
For example:
Cumin – seed
cinnamon – bark
ginger – root
cardamom – seed
Pepper(corns)  – fruit of the pepper plant
Cloves – flower pod
Some plants are both an herb and a spice.  For example: Dill.  Dill weed is an herb which come from the plant’s green stem and leaves.  Dill Seed is a spice.
So while this won’t change any of my cooking habits, some of my curiosity has been satisfied.