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What's The Difference Between A Spice And An Herb?

Jun 19, 2023

What's The Difference Between A Spice And An Herb?

Although the terms ‘herb’ and ‘spice’ are used interchangeably, they are in fact two distinct types of seasonings. They are made from different sections of plants and processed in different ways. Read on to learn more about the similarities and differences between herbs and spices. 

The biggest similarity is that both come from a plant: 

  • An herb is the green, leafy part of the plant. Examples are basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, and oregano.

  • A spice can come from the root, stem, seed, fruit, flower or bark of the tree or plant. Examples are cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, star anise, and turmeric.

In broad terms both herbs and spices come from plants but herbs are the fresh part of the plant while spice is the dried root, dried stalk, seed or dried fruit of the plant and is almost always dried not fresh. Both herbs and spices add flavour to the dish, however herbs are more subtle while spices have stronger flavour.

When it comes to usage during cooking, herbs are preferred to add a delicate, light flavour compared to spices. When using dried herbs, it’s best to add them towards the end of cooking to maximise flavour. 

Whole spices such as cinnamon sticks and cloves will retain their flavour and potency significantly longer than herbs or ground spices. The moment that a spice or herb is ground, its surface area is increased and exposed to oxygen. Grinding releases the spices’ volatile oils and what is exposed to the air will begin to break down faster and lose its potency much faster. So if you want to have the most potent version of a spice, it’s best to buy your spices whole, store away from heat and grind before use.