Herb vs. Spice

by zesty on April 24, 2009 · 16 comments

We made it!  Friday is upon us and ummm.. lets just say it has been somewhat of a crazy week.  So crazy that I have something to confess to you.  This week has thrown some curve balls that I was not ready for.  As a result, the breakfast for 50 had to be outsourced to my favorite bakery.  I know I am somewhat disappointed but some things are out of my control.  The selection from the bakery was a combination of all homemade baked goods both sweet and savory.  I also used a lot of your suggestions when choosing the platters.


What I thought would be fun today is to go over the difference between a herb and a spice and some storage tips.  Let me know what you think.

What is a herb and what is a spice?

Anything with a leaf and a mild flavor that’s grown in a temperate climate is an herb. Everything else (including seeds, bark, berries and underground roots and shoots) that has a stronger flavor and grows in tropical climates is considered a spice.


Storing Herbs
Store dried herbs in small glass jars with airtight seals or screw tops in a cool, dark cupboard away from the heat of the stove.

Store fresh herbs in the refrigerator. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them because they quickly go bad. If herbs are wet, shake off excess moisture, then wrap in paper towels or keep at room temperature until the leaves dry.

To dry fresh herbs for longer storage, several methods can be used:  (I never do this as I just buy them already dried or fresh but I have seen this done and seems to work effectively)

  • Air – Remove all soil and roots, then wash and gently dry. Hang in bunches upside down in a paper bag with air holes in a well-ventilated area.
  • Microwave – This is the best way to preserve an herb’s colour. Spread between layers of paper towel and heat on high (100%) for about 2 minutes, checking every 30 seconds and removing herbs as they dry. Leave on counter to cool and dry completely before storing.
  • Oven – Spread herbs in a thin layer on baking sheet with sides. Bake at lowest heat in oven, without stirring, until leaves are dry and crispy. Do not over dry.

Freezing Fresh Herbs
For this I like to just wash and chop the herbs and place into plastic ice cube trays. Fill trays with water and freeze. Remove cubes and store in freezer bags for up to 6 months. Drop a cube, as needed, into your latest culinary concoction.


Storing Spices
Keep freshly ground spices chilled rather than storing them at room temperature. To keep them fresh longer, grind and make them into a paste by adding just a bit of olive oil. Store in small sealed containers or freeze for up to 6 months.

Keep ground spices in small glass jars with airtight seals in a cool, dark cupboard.

I think the biggest thing with spices as we take for granted that they do expire and lose their pungency and flavor.  A rule of thumb for me is rotate your spices at least every six months to ensure quality and freshness.  I apply the same rule usually for dried herbs as well.

That was kind of fun

I hope you have a great weekend – I am somewhat excited as it is supposed to be sunny and somewhat warm here this weekend.  Outside and fresh air here I come!  Talk to you on Monday.

Take care


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 VeggieGirl

Zesty, no worries – you do so much!! It’s time to let the bakery stress out. Don’t feel bad. TAKE CARE AND ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!! :-)


2 meg

Love this post! I learned a lot! Enjoy the sunshine this weekend! :)


3 Lara (Thinspired)

This is so very useful! Thanks, Zesty!


4 Pearl

sorry to hear that you weren’t able to cook for the 50-people breakfast – there’s always next time!

and thanks for the cool information regarding herbs and spices.. i never actually thought of the difference between the two!


5 Jo

nice! thanks for the info :)


6 Shannon (The Daily Balance)

I LOVE the ice cube trick — GENIUS!!!


7 Mara @ What's For Dinner?

Thanks for all the info! I’m planting my herb pots next weekend, and these tips will come in handy!


8 Hillary

Thanks for clearing up our confusion! Great post! Keep ‘em coming :)


9 K

Very interesting! Thanks for the info!!


10 Bunny

great information Zesty!! Have a great weekend!!


11 Foodie (Fab and Delicious Food)

Thanks for the tips!


12 Laura (On the Threshold of Greatness)

I hope you’re able to relax and enjoy the weekend!

Thanks for the herb v. spice info! I never knew herbs could be dried in the microwave.


13 elise

i had no idea the shelf life on spices was so short! i have duplicates of several frequently used ones that i havent even opened up yet that have probably reached their expiration! also, i store everything at room temp. lets be real. new york sized apartment? a smaller fridge that only holds enough food for 4 days…somethings gotta give (and sadly the spices are the first thing to sacrifice).


14 Oh She Glows

Wow I had no idea I should be storing my spices in the fridge?

I have a question- how do you know if your herbs and spices have past their fresh date? I know most people have them in their cupboards for YEARS sometimes. How long do they last?

Great post!


15 ZestyCook

@OhSheglows – You should store your fresh herbs in the fridge for sure…. you can store your spices in a cool dark cupboard. As to know when they expire – it is a general rule of thumb that dried herbs and spices lose a lot of their pungency after 4-6 months. It is better off to buy in small quantities and use often.


16 Rod Newbound, RN

Thanks Zesty.

Useful and fun-to-know information, although I’m way too thrifty to throw out old spices and herbs. If I think they are using their flavor (the taste test), I just add more.


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