What's the Difference Between Herbs and Spices?

We often hear the term "herbs and spices". As any amateur chef knows, herbs and spices are vital ingredients in many dishes. They add flavor, aroma, color, texture and even nutrients.

But have you ever stopped for a moment to think what the difference is between the two families of food flavor enhancers?

Both spices and herbs are parts of plants (fresh or dried) that are used to enhance the flavor of foods. They’ve also been known to preserve foods, cure illness and enhance cosmetics.

The difference between the two is where they are obtained from a plant.

Herbs come from the leafy and green part of the plant.

Spices are parts of the plant other than the leafy bit such as the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds.

Examples of herbs include basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley and mint. They are usually grown in more temperate areas than spices and have great medicinal value and are also used in the preparation of cosmetic products.

Spices are usually dried before being used to season foods. Some examples are cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper. Unlike herbs, they are grown in more tropical countries. They’ve also been known to preserve foods and some have medicinal value, such as turmeric with its anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal properties.

Despite the above clarification, according to the American Spice Trade Association, spices are defined as “any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes”. This really broadens the definition of spices, allowing it to include herbs, dehydrated veggies, spice blends and spice seeds.