MUNDANE MYSTERIES: The Difference Between Herbs & Spices

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We all know of that one particular brand of chicken made with its “famous blend of 11 herbs & spices”. But, have you ever stopped to think not what those exact herbs & spices are, but what herbs & spices exactly are?

Herbs & spices have a lot in common. Both should have dinner guests begging for the recipe after they reach for their 2nd & 3rd helpings of each dish on the table. But, herbs & spices can also completely change your mind about Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or other not-as-widely-loved veggies (y’know…the ones we’ve all hated since we were kids).

While herbs & spices both come from plants, they don’t all come from the same parts of plants. Herbs are the leaves of a plant (think parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, etc.). Spice, however, is any seasoning harvested from any other part of the plant (roots, bark, seeds, rhizomes, bulbs, buds, and others). Some spicy examples: Cinnamon sticks are really bits of Cinnamon Tree bark, while Cloves are dried flower buds from the Clove Tree.

Some plants can be both an herb and a spice, which can make things a bit complicated when it comes to naming those products. The leaves of the Coriandrum sativum plant are known as cilantro, which is definitely an herb. But, we call the seeds of the same plant coriander, which is a spice. However, cilantro & coriander are both common names for the whole plant (since “cilantro” is really just the Spanish word for coriander). Dill is another example: dill weed refers to dill leaves (an herb), while Dill Seed (which is actually not a seed, but the tiny, brown fruit of the dill plant) is a spice.

If you find yourself talking about herbs with a botanist instead of a chef, however, they won’t refer to just the leaves of the plant as an herb. Botanically speaking, herbs are whole plants with no wooden parts like trees & bushes. But, let’s hope you’re cooking with a chef, and not a botanist, to at least keep things as simple (and delicious) as possible.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected].