Herbs and spices – how are they different from one another? Why does it matter to gardeners and anyone who likes cooking?
Herbs and spices have been used in cooking since prehistoric times. Apart from cooking, they were also a valuable currency for trade during those times.
However old and popular herbs and spices may be, people often get confused by the terms used for them. Although they have many similarities, they are not the same.
They are different not only in the scientific world but also in the culinary world. Obtained from different sections of a plant, different herbs and spices are prepared in different ways. So, they offer different kinds of flavors.
Knowing what makes them different might not change the way you cook. However, it can come in handy at times you may least expect it to.
Also, once herbs and spices are dried, they can never go bad. You do not need any preservatives to store them. They simply lose the intensity of their flavor over time.
Do you want to learn about the differences and similarities of these items in your kitchen cupboard. Read on to get a rundown of herbs vs. spices.
1. What Is A Herb?
Herbs are the leafy parts of a plant that have rich aromatic and medicinal properties. They are used to add to the fragrance and flavor of food.
For example, cilantro or coriander is a herb that refers to the stalks and leaves of the plant Coriandrum sativum. It is not used as the main ingredient in any of the commonly prepared dishes.
On the other hand, spinach and lettuce are green parts of a plant as well. However, they have not been considered herbs because they are not used as mere ingredients to add flavor.
Spinach is considered a vegetable, whereas lettuce is the main ingredient when you make a salad. So, they are not a herb like a cilantro, bay leaf, or rosemary.
Hence, in the culinary world, herb refers to any leafy or green part of a plant. It is used for seasonings as well as adding more flavor to a recipe. So, it is not often used as the main ingredient.
2. What Is A Spice?
A spice is a part of a plant used to add flavor or fragrance or coloring to food. It can be a seed, root, fruit, or even bark of the plant.
In other words, any part of a plant that not a leafy or green part that can be used for seasonings is known as spices.
Spices are often used for more than cooking. This includes the production of cosmetics, perfume, and medicine. They are also used in religious rituals in various parts of the world.
For example, cinnamon is a spice obtained from tree bark, clove is a spice obtained from dried buds of flowers, cardamom is a seed pod, black pepper is a fruit, and allspice is a dried berry.
Also, while cilantro leaves are herbs since it is the green part of the plant, coriander seeds are spices that are dried and used for seasoning.
They belong to the same plant. While they are very distinct, they are herbs and spices. Additionally, they are very different, even in terms of taste and nutrient profile.
Herbs Vs. Spices: What’s The Difference And Why Does It Matter For Gardeners?
Now, let us discuss the difference between a herb and a spice from a gardener’s perspective. Herbs are leaves harvested from an immature plant, whereas spices are roots, woody bark, and other non-green parts.
The Difference In Growing Herbs Vs. Spices
The ways to grow herbs and spices are very different. Moreover, their differences increase when it comes to harvesting, even if they are from the same plant.
All the conditions from water and fertilizer requirement to harvest time vary. So, here follows a guide on harvesting herbs and spices in the simplest ways.
1. How To Grow Herbs?
Herbs are easier to grow since all you need to know to grow herbs is some basic gardening. You will only have to know when to plant them and provide them with a little care.
Once the herbs grow, you will have to harvest the tender leaves carefully. Be mindful of not cutting off too many leaves, so you do not end up killing the plants.
Herbs also require a lower commitment on your part than spices. Growing herbs do not require too much time as well. Also, you do not need to have more knowledge about the plants when tending for herbs in your garden.
For example, young leaves of coriander herbs are easy to grow indoors and outdoors. You will only need four to six inches deep soil rich in compost. You can grow these plants as microgreens and eat them regularly to improve your health.
2. How To Grow Spices?
Growing spices may not be as effortless as growing herbs. You must know more than basic care requirements. It ranges from knowing about pollination, time of flowering, and time to harvest.
You must also know about the day length of harvest as well as soil temperature. There are nuanced specifications involved when it comes to harvesting spices.
Harvesting spices requires a longer time commitment than herbs. There are many risks involved, and there are many ways things can go wrong even after days of caring.
If you have excellent gardening skills or if you want to advance your gardening skills, you can start growing spices.
They need to be grown to maturity. Hence you may require a longer time to yield a harvest. Additionally, you can learn a lot about plant lifecycles by growing spices.
For example, coriander seeds or dried fruits can be harvested in eight to twelve inches deep soil. You will have to grow the plants in patches, but you can also grow twenty to thirty plants together.
It will take about three months before the plants can produce flowers and grows green fruits. It will take an additional one month for the fruits to mature sufficient enough for harvesting.
Commonly Found Herbs And Spices
To make things clearer for you, here are few examples of common herbs and spices.
Oregano– It is a herb made from the herbaceous plant oregano. It belongs to the mint family. Oregano was first used in the Mediterranean region, whereas it is now used all over the world.
Lemongrass– It is a popular herb that cooks very well with most of the food recipes. It is also used to make tea.
Dill weed– Dill weed or dill weed herb is a part of the Apiaceae family. They have slightly broad leaves that are commonly used in Eurasia.
Rosemary– Rosemary is an aromatic herb that belongs to the mint family. Rosemary is used in cooking as well as perfume manufacturing.
Bay leaf– It is one of the most commonly used herbs that also have numerous medicinal benefits. The leaf is used for cooking after drying. Also, its distinction is in the strong aroma.
Coriander– Coriander is a herb belonging to the family Apiaceae, like dill weed. They are widely used in Eurasia for cooking many food recipes.
Thyme– Thyme is a herb belonging to the mint family. Like other mint herbs, thyme also has numerous health benefits. Thyme is also one of the commonly cultivated herbs.
Cinnamon– Cinnamon or Cinnamon sticks are spices made from the woody bark of several trees belonging to the genus Cinnamomum. This bark is known for its use in sweet recipes and its excellent cinnamon aroma. Cinnamon is widely used in breakfast cereals and tea.
Paprika– Paprika is a spice obtained from dried and ground red peppers. Paprika is obtained from varieties of annuum capsicums. However, these pepper are thinner and milder in form.
Turmeric– It is a spice that is made from the turmeric plant. This spice is obtained from the ground root of the plant. This spice tastes excellent in curry and is commonly used in Asia.
Ginger– It is the root of the plant species Zingiber officinale. This spice is native to southeast Asia. Ginger is used in the preparation of tea as well as cooking purposes.
Cloves– They are the flower buds of an evergreen tree known as Syzygium aromaticum. They are harvested in various countries during different seasons.
Fenugreek– It is one of the most popular spices that is derived from the seeds of fruits of a species named Foenum graecum. It is widely used in Asia and Europe. However, it is used widely in the western hemisphere as well.
Saffron– It is the most expensive one in the spice category weight in the world. This spice is derived from the flower of Crocus Sativus. Saffron spices are also used for coloring purposes in adding flavor to food and for seasoning.
Allspice– It is a spice obtained from dried fruits of a plant belonging to the myrtle family. It is popularly used in the Caribbean and Middle Eastern cuisines to add extra flavor.
A sprinkle of herb and spice blends can add the best flavors to your food. They elevate the taste and aroma of the dishes within minutes.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand the major differences between herbs and spices. So, go ahead and add some piquancy in the kitchen!
James Fields is the founder of Gardener to Farmer. His passion for gardening goes back to his childhood days when he would visit his grandfather during the holidays and help him with the plants in the backyard. This has now translated to creating a dependable resource for gardening.