For as long as cooks have been putting food to flame, herbs and spices have been there, adding complex flavors and aromas. Without them, food would be bland and unmemorable. No wonder they're our constant kitchen companions.

Spices in jars
Photo by Meredith

Along the way, spices and herbs have helped build empires – and been the cause of wars. Serious stuff for something that literally grows on trees!

Spice or Herb?

We often say these words together: "flavored with herbs and spices." But what's the difference between them? Both are seasonings, of course. But of the two, spices are generally more pungent and often stronger-tasting. Spices typically come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds, or stems of plants and trees; while herbs are the more gently fragrant leaves of plants.

Cajun Chicken Pasta
Cajun Chicken Pasta | Photo by Tricia Winterle Jaeger

Cooking with Herbs

When do you add herbs and spices? It depends on the kind of herb or spice you're using and the dish's cooking time. Herbs with mild flavors, like basil and parsley, work best when added right at the end; strong-flavored herbs, like bay leaves and sage, work best over the length of the cooking.

Compared to whole spices, the flavor of ground spices is more concentrated. Hence, ground spices will infuse sauces with flavor faster than whole spices. If you have a short cooking time, add ground spices at the start. If your recipe calls for a slow simmer, it's okay to add them towards the end of cooking. Long-simmering stews and soups are also great for whole spices, whose flavors will release at a leisurely pace.

When working with leafy herbs, take the time to release their oils. To do this, place the leaves in the palm of your hand and rub them gently with your fingertips to help release flavors and aromas. Toasting seeds and certain spices (like cumin) in a dry skillet will also enhance flavors and aromas.

Dijon-Tarragon Cream Chicken
Dijon-Tarragon Cream Chicken | Photo by LynnInHK

Converting and Doubling

Here's an easy trick for converting dried herbs into fresh. If the recipe calls for teaspoon amounts of dried herbs, simply convert to tablespoons of fresh herbs. One teaspoon of dried basil is equivalent to one tablespoon of fresh. Just remember to add fresh herbs toward the end of a recipe's cooking time. And, of course, it works the same way in reverse: 1 tablespoon of fresh basil becomes 1 teaspoon of dried.

If you're doubling a recipe, you'll want to more than double the herbs and spices. Start with one-and-a-half times the amount, then taste, and add more as needed.

a baked tilapia fillet topped with lemon slices and a fresh dill sprig on a plate with tartar sauce
Baked Tilapia with Dill Sauce | Photo by LynnInHK
| Credit: LynnInHK

Caring for Herbs and Spices

Store dried herbs and spices in a cool, dark place. Dried leaves and ground spices will keep for about six months. Whole spices can last a bit longer.

You can tell if a dried herb is still useful for cooking by rubbing a small amount between your fingers and smelling. If the herb gives off a strong scent, it's good. A weak or faint smell means it's probably time to replace it.

Fresh herbs will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about five days. If you need to store fresh herbs longer, arrange them in a bouquet and place them stem-end down in a tall glass of cold water. Change the water every two days to maintain freshness. They should keep for about 10 days.

Finally, avoid introducing moisture into your dried herbs and spices. Always use a dry spoon to scoop them out of the bottle. When adding herbs and spices to a steaming pot, pour them first into a measuring spoon or the palm of your hand. If moisture enters the bottle, it can tamp down flavors and reduce the life of dried herbs and spices.

Which Herb Goes With Which Meat?

Want to know which herb adds savory, robust flavor to beef? How about lemony tartness to subtle fish flavors? Consult the wheel!

Which Herbs Go With Which Meat?
by Allrecipes

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