The Surprising Truths About the Difference Between Spice vs Herb vs Seasoning That Will Change How You Cook

spice vs herb vs seasoning

According to celebrity chef Batali, “Spices come from plant parts like roots, seeds, fruits and bark, while herbs are leafy parts.” 

While this distinction is simple, there’s more to know about maximizing flavors in dishes. 

keep reading to discover secrets from first-hand experience on how strategically using spices and herbs can boost cooking to create truly memorable meals.

Key Takeaways

  • Spices come from any plant part other than the leaves, such as roots, stems, berries and bark. Common examples are cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg.
  • Herbs are the leafy green parts of plants, like basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano. They are more delicate than spices and are usually used fresh or dried.
  • Seasonings are mixtures that contain both herbs and spices, combined with other ingredients like salt, oil or citrus zest. Seasoning blends like taco seasoning or pumpkin pie spice contain a combination of dried herbs and ground spices.

What are spices, herbs and seasonings?


Spices come from various plant parts like roots, seeds, fruits, flowers, or bark. Some common examples of spices include black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic (1).


Herbs refer to the green leafy parts of plants such as basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, and oregano (2).


Seasonings are combinations of flavors that are used to enhance food. They can involve mixtures of spices, herbs, salt, and other ingredients like acids or sugars. Popular seasoning blends include garam masala, chili powder, and herbes de Provence (3).

Differences between spices, herbs and seasonings

Plant source

Spices come from any plant part except the leaves. Some common spice plants include cinnamon, which comes from the bark, ginger from the root, and peppercorns from berries. On the other hand, herbs are solely the leaves of plants like basil, thyme and cilantro.

Any plant part except leavesLeafy parts of plants
Cinnamon (bark)Basil (leaves)
Ginger (root)Thyme (leaves)
Peppercorns (berries)Cilantro (leaves)

Uses in cooking

Through cooking with herbs and spices daily, I’ve found some key differences in how they’re used. Spices are usually dried and added whole or ground to dishes for complex flavors. 

Herbs are best used fresh or dried right before serving for bright tastes. Seasonings like taco mix are premixed blends added during preparation.

FormWhole, groundFresh, driedBlended mixture
TimingThroughout cookingFinal stages, garnishingDuring preparation

Flavor profile

I’ve learned that though spices add depth, too much can overwhelm a dish. Herbs contribute a pop of freshness. Seasoning blends provide balanced savoriness throughout. Let’s look at how they each contribute:

ProfileComplex, boldBright, delicateWell-rounded, enhancing
Effect in excessOverpoweringDiminishedBalanced
YouTube video

Credit : MIgardener

Cooking with spices, herbs and seasonings

Application methods

Through years of experimenting in the kitchen, I’ve learned various techniques for applying spices, herbs and seasonings. 

Whole or ground dry spices are commonly used. Fresh or dried chopped herbs are also great options. Seasoning blends make handy rubs or can be mixed right into recipes.

FormsWhole, groundFresh, dried choppedRubs, blended in recipes

Tips for using

Some tricks I’ve picked up include toasting ground spices to enhance flavor and adding fresh herbs at the very end of cooking to preserve their vibrancy. Balancing various flavors is also key.

Toast spicesDry heating spicesIntensified flavor
Herbs at endAdd fresh herbs lastPreserved freshness
Balance flavorsVary herbs, spices, saltWell-rounded taste

Popular combinations

I’ve enjoyed experimenting with classic seasoning blends. Some top combinations include Italian seasoning for pasta, taco mix for fajitas, and herbes de Provence for roasted vegetables. They add excitement to tried-and-true recipes.

BlendCommon herbs and spicesUses
Italian seasoningBasil, oregano, thyme, rosemaryPasta sauce, pizza
Taco seasoningCumin, chili, oregano, garlicTacos, dip
Curry powderTurmeric, coriander, pepper, cuminCurry dishes
Pumpkin pie spiceCinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clovesPies, muffins
Herbes de ProvenceThyme, rosemary, lavenderRoasted meats, veggies

Storing spices, herbs and seasonings

When it comes to making meals, spices and herbs can really make or break a dish. That’s why it’s important to keep these flavor powerhouses fresh and ready-to-use. Here are some of my tried and true methods:

spice vs herb vs seasoning


I like to use airtight glass jars or bottles for storing my spices, herbs and seasonings. Things like cinnamon sticks, peppercorns or dried chilies also do well in small paper bags or muslin pouches that allow air circulation. This helps everything stay fresher longer.


I keep my containers in a cool, dark cupboard away from direct sunlight and heat sources like the stove or oven. Heat and light can cause rapid deterioration. Out of sight of youngsters is also a good idea!

Replace Ground Spices Every 6 Months

Did you know ground spices start losing potency after about 6 months? Whole spices last about a year. So I make sure to date my jars and replace anything that’s getting older. It really makes a difference in flavor!

Use Fresh Herbs Within a Week

Fresher is always better when it comes to herbs. I try to use anything leafy like cilantro, parsley or basil within 7 days. If they’re looking tired, I’ll toss them and start again.

Dry Your Own Herbs

Drying is a great way to preserve leafy herbs’ flavors during other seasons. Just tie bundles of fresh herb stems and hang them in a warm, dry place out of direct sun. Once crispy, store dried herbs like spices in airtight jars.

Keep Jars in the Fridge

For any open jars of dried seasonings like oregano or chili flakes, I pop them in the fridge. The cool temps help keep contents fresher longer once the seal is broken.

Lists and Uses

Here’s a chart to help remember which containers and techniques work best for different herbs and spices:

ItemContainerStorage LocationShelf LifeNotes
Leafy Fresh HerbsPerforated plastic bagsCrisper drawer1 weekWash and dry before storing
Dried HerbsAirtight jarsCabinet6 months – 1 yearCool, dark area
Whole SpicesGlass jars, muslin bagsCabinet1-2 yearsWhole last longer
Ground SpicesAirtight jarsCabinet6 monthsDate containers
Cinnamon SticksMuslin bagCabinet1-2 years
Salt, PepperTheir containersCabinetLongest lastingTight lids help

I hope these tips help extend the lifespan of your pantry staples! Experimenting with different herbs and spices allows for new recipe discoveries too. Please let me know if you have any other questions.


After years of exploring new flavors in the kitchen, I’ve come to truly appreciate the wide array of ingredients that spices, herbs and seasonings provide. 

Whether adding a last-minute pop of basil or simmering a stew with a spice blend, these items are invaluable for taking dishes in exciting directions. 

While they each offer unique qualities, together they form the foundation of world cuisines both familiar and undiscovered. 

As with any art, playing with new combinations keeps things interesting. By understanding basic distinctions like plant source and timing, home cooks can feel confident to experiment. 

Whether highlighting regional specialties or putting their own creative spin on classics, spices, herbs and seasonings continue to bring endless enjoyment to mealtimes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the intricacies of spices, herbs and seasonings! Cooking is such a personal journey, and I’d love to hear about your own favorite ways to utilize these flavorful ingredients. 

Have you discovered any combinations that have become staples in your kitchen? Any tips you’ve learned through trial and error? 

Feel free to share your experiences below – it’s always inspirational for me to learn from others’ culinary adventures. Bon appétit!



Related Article

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!