What are Herbs and Spices

What Herbs and Spices Are and How They Differ:   Epicures distinguish between spices and herbs. They also group seasoning salts such as garlic, celery, onion, and chive salts separately. In the explanatory chart that follows they are all grouped together because that is the usual way that you see them on the store shelves and the manner in which the average American homemaker uses them.

Spices are the roots, bark, stems leaves, seeds or fruit of aromatic plants which usually grow in the tropics.

Herbs are the leaves of plants which usually grow only in the temperate zone.

Seed refers to the seed and sometimes the small fruit of plants which grow in both tropical and temperate zones. For example, anise, caraway, cardamom, and coriander are seeds. Strictly speaking mustard is a seed but it is usually thought of and referred to as a spice. The chart that follows indicates whether each seasoning is a spice, seed, or a herb.

In addition to the usual categories of spices and herbs there are also "blends" which refer to dry mixtures of spices and herbs such as fine herbs, poultry seasoning, chili powder, curry powder, and pumpkin pie spice.

Condiments are usually liquid or semi-liquid mixtures of spices and other ingredients such as prepared mustard, chili sauce, ketchup, etc.

Table salt is not a spice but a chemical as is monosodium glutamate.

Hints For Cooking With Herbs:  Since experience is obviously the best teacher, use herbs sparingly until you become acquainted with them.

The important thing to remember is that herbs never should dominate the foods with which they are used. Herbs are meant to season, to add flavor, to point up natural flavors.

Use ¼ teaspoon of dried herbs for a dish serving four unless you are sure you like more. Do not use over ½ teaspoon of mixed herbs in a dish serving four.

Do not use herbs in several dishes at the same meal - use them for variety and accent only.

Remember that there is a difference in the strength of fresh, dried and powdered herbs.

        Dried herb leaves are four times stronger than the same measure of fresh leaves.

        A powdered herb is two times stronger than the same measure of the crumbled dried leaves of the same herb.

        Since dried herbs tend to lose their fragrance, soaking them in a few drops of water or lemon juice for 15 minutes before using helps to point up the flavor.

Fresh herbs from the garden can be used just as successfully in cooking as freshly dried herbs, but you always use less of the dried than the fresh.

Always cut, crush, or mince fresh herbs before using to bring out the volatile oils and true flavors. For some purposes, grind them in a mortar. The more the cut surface is exposed the more completely the aromatic oil can be absorbed.

Blending or heating herbs with butter or other fats is a good way to draw out and extend the flavor of aromatic oils.

Remember that the strength of the flavor herbs give food is increased by the length of time they cook, by a cover on the pot, the freshness of the herb.

Herbs left too long in soups or gravies will impart unpleasantly strong flavors. They are best added a short time before the cooking is finished.

In uncooked foods, like tomato cocktail, herbs must stand overnight to release their full flavor.

Herbs, Spices and Seasonings

How To Start Herb and Spice Shelf:  Don't buy everything at once. The beginner would be wise to buy the most used and most versatile herbs and spices first and learn to enjoy them. When you are an expert in the use of these, add others to your seasoning shelf.

It pays to buy only small quantities of quality brands for full natural flavor. Among the herbs basil, marjoram, savory, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary are especially versatile. Less versatile but very popular is sage.

Herbs and Spices in Salt-Free Diets:  Pure herbs and spices (not blended mixes or sauces) are often allowed in salt-free diets to add interest and zest to bland foods. Many different flavors resulting from a variety of combinations of herbs and spices help cover up the lack of salt in most dishes. Note that celery and parsley flakes may contain too much sodium for inclusion in these diets.