The Difference Between Herbs and Spices

Both herbs and spices make cooking tastier and more fun.

By Karen Berman


What’s the difference between an herb and a spice? Some people think they mean the same thing, but technically, they don’t.

Both are used to add flavor and aroma, as well as nutrition, to all kinds of foods, but herbs are typically leaves, stems or flowers that are used to season foods, while spices are usually seeds, barks, pods or rhizomes. (This is true in the United States, at any rate. In some places, certain terms are used to refer to both the herb and the spice; coriander, for example, is understood to mean both the seed and the leaf. In the U.S, though, coriander is the spice and cilantro is the herb.)

You can buy herbs fresh or dried — or you can grow fresh herbs yourself in your garden or in a flowerpot. There’s nothing like fresh herbs to add a fresh, lively note to your cooking, and they make lovely garnishes, too.

A few jars of dried herbs in the pantry can be a lifesaver when you can’t get fresh. Some dried varieties, such as oregano, have a more intense flavor, so some cooks prefer to cook with those. (Measure 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every tablespoon of chopped fresh.)

Spices are sold ground or whole. They don’t go bad, but they do lose their potency over time, so they shouldn’t be kept for more than a year, at most. You can grind whole spices yourself in a food processor or spice grinder. Or you can buy a coffee grinder and use it exclusively for spices grinding. A mortar and pestle requires a bit more elbow grease but works well, too.

Storing Both Herbs and Spices
You should store your spices and dried herbs in tightly sealed glass containers and keep them in a cool, dry, dark spot. Dampness, light and heat are the enemies; the first can cause spoilage; the second and third can rob your seasonings of flavor and aroma.

Both herbs and spices make dishes sing with flavor and aroma. Use them judiciously but often. You won’t be sorry!