Nutrition Corner: Herb or spice? Is there a difference?

March 31st, 2016 9:49 am

Is it an herb or a spice? Does it matter? Most foodies like to be correct when referring to intricate parts of their cooking skill. Here is the answer: yes!

Herbs and spices are both from plants. It’s the part of the plant that we need to remember when differentiating. Herbs are the leaves of plants. We often use them in larger amounts than spices. The word herbs also means an herbaceous plant that dies down at the end of the growing season.

Spices can be from any other parts of the plant: the root, flower, fruit, seed, or bark. They are usually more potent and stronger in flavor than herbs.

Some plants yield both herbs and spices. For example, the dill plant gives us both herbs and spices. The seeds of the dill plants are the spice dill seed, however, the dill weed is an herb from the plant’s leaves. Another example is coriandrum sativum. The herb is cilantro and the spice from the plant’s seeds is coriander.

Both herbs and spices give flavor to our foods. Their flavors can replace the traditional salt shaker and maybe even replace butter or margarine on top of vegetables. Here are a few hints to get you started using herbs and spices.

If this is your first time using herbs and spices, start sparingly.

If a recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon of a powdered herb, you can use ¾ to 1 teaspoon crumbled or flaked, or 2 teaspoons fresh.

Add whole spices during cooking, ground or cut herbs and spices midway or towards the end. For cold foods, add the herbs several hours before serving.

Meats may be seasoned before, during, or after cooking.

Herbs and spices enhance the natural flavors of vegetables.

For vegetables, add seasoning to the cooking water or mix herbs with vegetables before roasting.

To release the flavor of dry herbs, crumble them in your palm before adding them to your dish.

Start with vegetables to give them a new flavor. For potatoes try basil, dill, chives, oregano or thyme to replace salt and butter. On green salads, sprinkle basil, chives or dill to reduce the amount of salad dressing that you normally use.

Next try using herbs and spices on meats instead of high salt spice blends. To flavor beef, use marjoram, rosemary, thyme and tarragon. To flavor pork, try, ginger, cloves, basil and nutmeg. For chicken, try fennel seed, savory, saffron and sesame seed. For seafood, red pepper, poultry seasoning, anise seed and curry powder.

Be creative follow these tips to give your foods and extra secret flavoring without adding salt.

Baked Chicken and Herbs

4 chicken breasts

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon parsley flakes

1 teaspoon sage

½ teaspoon tarragon

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bake chicken in roasting pan for 45 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, onion powder, parsley, sage, tarragon, pepper, garlic powder, and water. Pour yogurt mixture over chicken. Reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 20 minutes or until chicken reaches 160 degrees.

Serves four.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford Counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at