The Difference Between Herbs And Spices

“There is no flavor. There are no spices. Where are the chips?” —Nacho Libre (2006)

In a Nutshell

Although herbs and spices tend to be used interchangeably, they do have important differences. Herbs are only obtained from the leafy part of a plant while spices can come from any other part of the plant. Salt, even though widely used with food, is neither an herb nor a spice as it is an inorganic mineral.

The Whole Bushel

Humans have been using herbs and spices for a variety of reasons for thousands of years. While they are mainly used today for flavoring food, some herbs and spices boast medicinal properties and are also sometimes used for creating perfumes and essential oils. They were even once used as currency in many parts of the world. Nutmeg was once literally worth its weight in gold, and Attila the Hun requested a ransom of pepper when he besieged Rome in the fifth century.

Herbs are the leafy parts of a plant that die down after each growing season. Many plants are technically herbs, but only some of them are used for food and medicine. They can be used fresh or dried, the dried form generally lending a much stronger flavor. Herbs are typically used in larger amounts than spices, which tend to pack quite a bit more punch.

Spices, on the other hand, have a much broader spectrum of origin and can be utilized from any other part of a plant such as the roots, bark, flowers, fruit, and seeds. Spices are always used in dried form and have also traditionally been used as a preservative, as there are several spices that are known to have antimicrobial, antiseptic, or antibacterial properties. Archaeologists have found evidence of spices used for embalming in Egyptian tombs dating back to 3000 B.C. Cinnamon, cloves, and mustard are examples of spices often used in preservation, while ginger has strong anti-nausea properties.

Herbs are thought to have originated in temperate climates, but today can be found mostly anywhere. Spices, however, are native to tropical climates and most of them are still concentrated in those areas today. Spices have played an important role in the development of several countries within those areas.

Sometimes a single plant can be the source of both an herb and a spice, or more than one spice. Nutmeg and mace (both spices) for example, are both derived from the seed of the fruit of the Myristica fragrans, or nutmeg tree. The seed has a waxy red outer layer (called the “aril”) which is carefully removed, dried, and ground to make mace. The rest of the seed is then dried out and sold whole or ground to be used as nutmeg.

Coriandrum sativum, the coriander plant, is another example of a plant that produces both an herb and a spice. The leafy green part is known as coriander leaf (typically known as cilantro in the Americas), while the dried seeds are sold whole or ground as coriander.

Contrary to common belief, Pimenta dioica, or allspice, is not a blend of spices but a single spice. The unripe fruits of the Pimenta dioica are harvested, dried, and sold as allspice. It is called allspice because of its unique combination of the flavors and aromas of the spices cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.

Show Me The Proof

Iowa State University: Herbs vs. Spices
Antimicrobial Effects of Spices and Herbs
Missouri Botanical Garden: Coriandrum sativum
Kew Royal Botanical Gardens: Pimenta dioica
Ancient History Encyclopedia: Pepper

  • Lisa 39

    I never thought about the difference before, this article is awesome, i did know about salt tho, we have a salt mine under lake erie.

    • lbatfish

      So . . . you were f—t again, eh? 🙂

      • Lisa 39

        Well yes i was! At first i thought you meant fat, i had to think about that for a minute lol
        So i have an off topic question for you, do you stay current on politics?

        • lbatfish

          Usually, yes. Especially leading up to elections, and the passage of “major” legislation.

          • Lisa 39

            Cool, now i’m going to bug you all the time with questions, starting now, but first a short explanation, i don’t know if i’m a democrat or whatever else, my moms 3rd husband said i was a democrat and my ex said i was a republican, i’ll figure that out on my own lol, in the meantime its difficult to know where to get my news and know who’s lying, don’t make me a list tho, i’ll forget lol,
            Q: i get newsmax emails, i usually just read the headlines but not 99% of the articles because they look like they’re a rag magazines like the national enquirer, is newsmax a rag mag?

          • lbatfish

            One good way to get some idea of which news sources are reliable — and which aren’t — is to start at Google News (news.google.com). They don’t write their own articles — they just provide links to articles from a wide variety of sources, including those on both the left and the right, and from foreign sources as well as U.S. sources. The exact method that they use to pick the articles that they show you is known only to Google, but does include a fairly-balanced mix of viewpoints.

            When you read articles, make a note of what publication (and writer) wrote it, and over the course of time, keep track of which sources gave you info that turned out to be correct, and was also genuinely “news” (and not just stupid issues that end up not leading to anything that really matters). Also note which sources are often wrong, and ignore real issues while they waste your time with articles about bullshit issues.

            Another thing to look for is bias. Sources whose articles mention the arguments on both sides of an issue are usually better than those that don’t. However, “bias” isn’t always a bad thing, because some sources try too hard to be “in the middle” of every issue. This has the desired effect of making them look “neutral,” but also results in them often being WRONG. For example, if there was a controversy about whether the earth is round or flat, CNN (for example) might decide to say that it’s curved (instead of being completely round or completely flat). And if they did, they’d be wrong. In many issues (especially politics), the truth will be more on one side than the other, and our duty as responsible citizens is to figure out which side that is.

            On the topic of which political party would be a better fit for you, I think you’d be happiest as an “independent” who votes for whichever candidate in either party best represents your own views. BTW, saying “I’m an independent” will also avoid some arguments with people who are very tiresome to argue with. 🙂

            Based on what I’ve read of your comments, my GUESS is that you’d end voting for more Democrats than Republicans. But that would depend on who’s running for the offices in your area, plus your attitudes on many issues that I don’t know how you feel about.

            On the last thing that you asked about, yes, Newsmax has many of the characteristics of a “rag mag.” It’s not the worst, but there are a lot of others that will leave you better informed, and would be a better use of your reading time. If you do want to keep reading their email headlines, it might be a good idea to balance what you’ve read with something that would give you some opposing views. Salon.com, for example. I mention that one because they have a lot of writers that I’ve found to be quite good. It’s usually the first places that I go to after Google News, even though (as you can tell from reading it), it definitely has a liberal bias.

          • Lisa 39

            Thank you lbatfish, you know, this whole not being oppressed and crap anymore and having to think for myself has been a very trippy experience, i agree about the democrat thing but i also agree with a lot of tea party stuff, but the stuff i think they take to far is borderline nutty lol i’m definitely going to check out those websites tho, according to newsmax fema is planning for billions of deaths soon and i’m waiting for something big and bad to happen this month, i only read the headlines cause it sounds like hooey, i hope i’m right lol so on to the next question, is it true that they’ve finally started the paperwork to impeach?

          • lbatfish

            LOL! I’d guess that it’s probably “true” . . . but keep in mind that you or I could “start the paperwork to impeach” if we had enough time that we wanted to waste. 🙂

            Let me guess . . . a Newsmax headline? Or a Tea Party email?

          • Lisa 39

            Umm i think a link on fb, so when can we start the paperwork lol

          • lbatfish

            Unless something that’s truly major becomes known (meaning “not birth certificate, Benghazi, IRS, Fast-and-Furious, etc.”), impeachment is only a right-wing wet dream.

            As for my assistance in filing our own articles of impeachment, I have more important things to do. Like writing comments for zero pay. 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            What about this? It was on fb and i saw michelle give a speech and call kenya his homeland.

          • lbatfish

            It’s about Facebook users’ reactions to articles that people have reposted from The Onion (who aren’t aware of what kind of website The Onion is — if it LOOKS real, they believe it). 🙂

            BTW, less than an hour ago I posted a link in the “Amazing Stories of Love” list (in reply to Bob Long) to an article about a man/dog wedding. It’s from a similar type of website called the National Report, and I’m curious what the reaction to it will be. 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            Damn it, i wanted to believe it, it brought me great joy, now i’m sad :(, i’m going to check that out right now!

          • lbatfish

            LOL! I didn’t see your pic when I made my last reply, because I hadn’t refreshed the screen. But yeah, the person who made that comment above the pic is EXACTLY what literallyunbelievable.org is all about.

            Hmmm . . . I’ve never done this before (not at LV or KN at least) . . . but now I’m toying with the idea of replying to one of TheStupidityOfLiberal’s comments with a link to some other Onion article, and see what happens from there . . . ? 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            Please do! That would be awesome!

          • lbatfish

            Okay, my mentor — it shall be done! 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            Now how did i become your mentor lol you have to let me know what list that happens on if i’m not there, i think this makes us partners in crime, back here plotting and planning lol

  • UN

    to the white people wondering spices are things added to the food to enhance the flavor

    • TheMadHatter

      Was that supposed to be clever?

      • Lisa 39

        I had a retort for un but the racist undertones made me uncomfortable 🙂

        • UN

          if u and madhatter were offended i remove my comment i remove it and apologize to both of u…i must add that it was just a joke not meant to be offensive

          • Lisa 39

            Hi un, i’m glad it wasn’t meant to be offensive, sometimes there’s so much racism going on here and everywhere its makes everyone defensive, thank you for explaining and apologizing 🙂

          • TheMadHatter

            I don’t really know where you were coming from in the first place, but I am thankful that you get how your comment sounded. I hope. Being a genuine southerner (southern USA, that is) my family can sure spice up the food. And any country folk will tell you the same. Quick history lesson- the extensive use of spices in the south here is a direct result of the fact that the hot climate made meat spoil faster, so spices were used to cover up the unpleasant taste of rotting meat. And now we seem to have developed a keen taste for it. The more you know *ding*

        • TheMadHatter

          I had to run a few retorts through my head before settling on this one in order to refrain from being as… Well, racist as the original comment.

          • Lisa 39

            I was so happy when un explained and changed it, and i was really glad that i refrained from being mean, i see that you were awesome about it also 🙂 where are you from in the south?

          • TheMadHatter

            The Carolina’s. Family in both.

          • Lisa 39

            Awesome! Beautiful states! I’ve been to sc twice to watch my boys graduate from marine bootcamp! And i drove one boy from my home to nc for his mct, i need to move south, i’m so tired of snow, we got 8 inches overnight, no school today so i have a house full of kids driving me crazy today lol

          • TheMadHatter

            Got more snow here than we usually get in 5 years, it’s been a weird winter.

          • Lisa 39

            Yes it has, we had 3 arctic blasts in january, we don’t usually get that many lol and the snow is up to our butts, did i mention how much i hate to be cold?

          • TheMadHatter

            The cold is not my friend either. Brrr. Class started, I should wrap up my conversations. Ttyl!

      • UN

        sorry…

  • TheMadHatter

    If salt isn’t included I can’t seem to care. I love salt. And would that be spices in Cajun food? Cajun food is the best! Because they use a lot of salt. And things that taste like salt. Or that I can put salt on. I’m going to die a young death. Yup. Diabetes. Heart attack before thirty. #worth

    • Doone00

      #sad. If you must eat salt, at least get something like himalayan rock salt, which has minerals.