Herbs vs. Spices: Do You Know The Difference?

Anyone who has ever made a meal probably knows the importance of herbs and spices. They add texture, flavor, aroma, color and are basically the soul of a dish. Herbs are not necessarily overpowering and strong and spices does not mean the food is hot or spicy. Both herbs and spices can be paired together to create a symphony of flavors. You need not be limited to conventional pairing, think beyond the salt shaker and cook with herbs and spices. It is easier to cook if you understand your ingredients and the subtle and sometime not so subtle difference between them.




Is a plant or part of a plant that is used as medicine or to give flavor to food. Botanists describe herb as a small, seed bearing plant with fleshy, rather than woody, parts.


“ Herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.” – Charlemagne




Spices are usually dried part of the plant, used in cooking to add flavor to food. A small amount of spice goes a long way as it is packed with flavor.


The word “spice” comes from the Latin species, which means an item of special value, as compared to ordinary.


Difference and similarities between herbs and spices.


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 flavor to the dish, however herbs are more subtle while spices have stronger flavor. You can add a small bunch of basil to your pesto, however you cannot add more that a few peppercorn to it. With spices less is often more.


Herbs and spices can not only be paired with each other but you can use a combination of two or more herbs or multiple spices. In order to create a flavor profile, you need to understand the texture, flavor, aroma and taste of each. It is like painting, too many colors mixed together and you have a muddy brown. Layering is very important in cooking. The French have always used multiple herbs in their cooking – bouquets garni ( The bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string and mainly used to prepare soup, stock, and various stews). While the Indian cuisine is famous for its spice blends like the garam masala. The trick is to get the right blend, in either case so that no one herb or spice, dominates the dish. While the spice blend is stronger the bouquet garni is often subtle.


Some classic combinations* are :


Chinese five spice : star anise, cinnamon, cloves,szechuan peppers, and fennel seeds.


Herbs de Provence : rosemary, fennel seed, dried savory,marjoram, tarragon, thyme, oregano, and lavender

Italian seasoning – (more of an American creation than Italian) – basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme,


Jerk Seasoning : (Caribbean) – allspice, cloves,cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, and the super hot scotch bonnet peppers.

Indian Garam Masala – coriander seeds, cumin seeds,black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, red chili, turmeric


These combinations are just an example of how multiple combinations of herbs and spices can be layered to create a flavor profile.Balance is the key word. While the spices add bold strokes of flavor the herbs add a subtleness to it.


Herbs are not only used for flavoring but are also used as a garnish, not only adding flavor but visual appeal to the dish. Spices could be used for garnish but are not as popular as herb.