The Difference between Herbs and Spices

Frankly I had never given this much thought until a few days ago. I was surprised at some of the information I found. For instance I had always thought of Thyme as a spice, when in fact it is a herb.While there are some similarities between herbs and spices, there also are subtle differences.

Herbs are obtained from the leaves of herbaceous (non-woody) plants.

Spices are obtained from roots, flowers, fruits, seeds or bark.

In some cases both a herb and spice may come from the same plant. Dill is an example of this. The seeds from the Dill plant are spices, while the stalk of the plant is a herb.

While both herbs and spices may be used for the purpose of flavoring food, spices are generally stronger in flavor so a smaller quantity is needed for flavoring. Spices can also used as preservatives.

From the definition of a spice Chemically, the qualities that make a spice a spice are its rare essential oils and oleoresins, highly volatile compounds that impart to spices their flavor, aroma, and preservative properties.

Spices and herbs also seem to have some medical value, which I intend to write about in more detail in a few days.

Here are a few herbs that I had always thought of as spices.
* Thyme
* Sage
* Oregano
* Parsley
* Marjoram
* Basil
* Chives
* Rosemary
* Mint

A few common spices.
* Cinnamon – bark of the cinnamon tree
* Ginger – root
* Cloves – flower bud
* Saffron – stigma (female reproductive part) of saffron crocus
* Nutmeg – seed
* Vanilla – undeveloped fruit of an orchid
* Cumin – seed

I read a lot of resources in writing this article. I drew heavily from an old paper published by the Iowa State University, Department of Horticulture titled Herbs vs. Spices

Here are some links that you might also find helpful if you want to read more about the differences between Herbs and Spices.

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June 2007

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