Feb 28, 2014

Herbs and Spices

Herbs are only obtained from the leafy part of a plant while spices can come from any other part of the plant. A single plant can be the source of both an herb and a spice, or more than one spice.

The coriander plant, is an example of a plant that produces both an herb and a spice. The leafy green part is known as coriander leaf (typically known as cilantro in the Americas), while the dried seeds are sold whole or ground as coriander. Nutmeg and mace, both spices, are derived from the seed of the fruit of the myristica fragrans, or nutmeg tree. The seed has a waxy red outer layer (called the “aril”) which is carefully removed, dried, and ground to make mace. The rest of the seed is then dried out and sold whole or ground to be used as nutmeg.

Culinary herbs are the leafy portions of a plant that die down after each growing season and can be used as dried or fresh. Examples include basil, bay leaves, parsley, cilantro, mint, rosemary and thyme.

Spices have a much broader spectrum of origin and can be utilized from any other part of a plant such as the roots, bark, flowers, fruit, and seeds.  Examples come from berries (peppercorns), roots (ginger), seeds (nutmeg), flower buds (cloves) or the stamen of flowers (saffron). Spices are always used in dried form and have also traditionally been used as a preservative.  Archaeologists have found evidence in Egyptian tombs of spices used for embalming, dating back to 3000 B.C.

Allspice is not a combination of anything. It is the dried unripe fruit of Pimenta dioica tree. The name allspice was coined by the English, who thought it combined the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Black pepper is a flowering vine, cultivated for its fruit, which is dried and used as a spice and seasoning. Salt is neither an herb nor a spice, because it is an inorganic mineral.