Parsley, oregano, and cilantro are all herbs, the same way that cumin, paprika, and coriander are all spices. It’s incredible to know the fact that many cultures use these spices and herbs in their cooking. Yet, have you ever given it any consideration as to why herbs and spices are what they are? Let’s find out in the discussion about the difference between herbs and spices below.
Spices Vs. Herbs: A Quick Comparison
Prior to understanding the significant differences between spices and herbs, we ought to know the primary difference. As we all know, herbs and spices are produced from part of plants. But which one is which?
Herbs often refer to an entire or part of a plant used as a flavoring agent in cooking. They are usually the plants’ leaves or softer stems and could sometimes be sold as a whole, fresh, dried, or even ground for ease of use.
Meanwhile, a spice comes from a dried plant that is added to any food to enhance flavor and texture. Also, spices are generally distributed in powdered or ground forms; however, they may be sold as whole seeds in certain situations.
That’s the difference between herbs and spices at a glance. Now, let’s break down the difference between the two in a more comprehensive discussion below.
Spices Vs. Herbs: 5 Major Differences
There are currently only five significant differences between spices and herbs that usually only experts are aware of. Ready for these revelations? Let’s jump right in!
1. Plant part
As briefly mentioned above, herbs and spices are derived from different parts of the plant.
Herbs are produced from the leaves or softer stems of herbaceous or non-woody plant types. The easiest examples of these are the green leaves of oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, dill, and basil. Other sources mentioned that the word “herb” also refers to the whole plant, and it’s reasonable.
Spices are obtained from the dried part of a plant’s bark, seeds, fruits, flowers, or roots. Great examples include pepper, cinnamon bark, cumin seeds, and ginger root. What about vanilla? You may be surprised to learn that the spice is produced from the unripe fruit of an orchid scientifically called Vanilla planifolia.
While generally herbs vs spices are produced from different plants, there are several exceptions. One of which is the plant scientifically called Coriandrum sativum or what we know as coriander. The plant’s leaf is used as a herb called cilantro, and the seeds are used as a spice as what we all know as coriander or coriander seeds.
The majority of herbs and spices are produced from entirely different plants. This means they also grow in completely different environments where the climate of the origin becomes a crucial factor for the plant’s growth.
According to an article published in Horticulture and Home Pest News’ Iowa State University, most herbs originate from moderate climates, such as France and Italy. This is also the primary reason these regions heavily use rosemary, sage, and parsley in their recipes.
Meanwhile, spices tend to grow in warmer areas of the planet Earth. Therefore, it’s understandable why South East Asia, India, and South America are the biggest spice producers. It’s also understandable that these regions are best known for their rich-spiced dishes.
The next thing to know about the difference between herbs and spices is, of course, the flavor. Herbs are known to have a mild flavor, even much milder than spices. They also can be used in large quantities without making the food over-flavored. For instance, lots of basil is used in the popular Italian sauce pesto along with nuts, salt, pepper, and oil.
On the other hand, spices have a considerably more substantial and pungent taste. For best flavor, it’s advised to only use them in the right amount according to precise measurements of the recipe. If you have ever eaten a dish with too much black pepper, you will know how essential it is to keep the spice you add to your cooking in check.
Besides flavoring agents, herbs and spices can also be utilized for other applications, including natural food preservatives and coloring. Think about yellow rice that is served in various cultures. The yellow color derives from fresh or powdered turmeric.
Meanwhile, herbs like mint are used as a natural remedy for digestive conditions in addition to being a flavoring. Another example is a vanilla extract, often used in perfumes as a fragrance component.
In addition, herbs and spices have also always been known for years to have the ability to delay the rot of fresh food ingredients, such as meats, vegetables, and fruits. Ancient civilizations have used rosemary oil, cloves, mustard, pepper, and nutmeg to this effect.
Another apparent difference between herbs and spices is their shelf life. Herbs are likely to last way shorter than spices. Even if they are both available in dried forms, herbs typically have a shelf life of only two years, much shorter than spices which can last for four years. More importantly, when they are kept in as a whole.
While herbs are also dried to provide ease of use, they still contain a more significant percentage of moisture. The water content suggests a much faster rate of degradation. The good thing is that it can be delayed by adding spices that work best as natural preservations.
Spices Vs. Herbs: What They Have in Common
First and foremost, herbs and spices are both flavoring agents that can improve the taste of many dishes. The interesting point about them is when they are combined together, they become what we all know as seasoning.
Secondly, herbs and spices can both be dried to extend their shelf life. This is the best option for those with a lot of fresh herbs that they do not want to waste. Thirdly, spices and herbs are more than just flavorings; they have beneficial properties that can do the body good.
To Wrap Up
That’s all about the difference between herbs and spices. If you have come this far, you may consider yourself aware of your way around herbs and spices. On that note, it’s time for you to restock your kitchen’s spices and herbs. Want to have something different? Head to Spices and Co. to open new doors to the world’s best spices and herbs.