What is the difference between an herb and a spice? Why do we have herbs in our spice sections at the grocery store? Is there really a difference? Yes and no.
Originally, and thought by some to be the solid truth, herbs were the leaves and flowers of various plants. Spices were the seeds, roots, and stems (or barks) of various plants. Where does rosemary come from? What is harvested for oregano? What part is used for our cinnamon? Herbs were the leaves while spices were the harder substances. This really becomes apparent when you look at a little bit of history.
Why was Columbus trying to get to India? To find a quicker Spice Route. Spices were not to be found native in Europe. They are mostly found in tropical climates. Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices around the world. You will not find it growing in England or Spain. It needs the hot, moist climate to flourish. Europeans travelled to India to acquire these items through hostile territory. They needed a faster and safer route.
Herbs could be found native all over Europe and were prized. It was just that spices were so unique. Europeans had never seen anything like them. Suddenly, foods took on whole new personalities.
For hundreds of years, this distinction between herb and spice was obvious and recognized. It was in the Twentieth Century that we find the world changing and interchanging “herb” and “spice.”
Grocery stores became the new way to get food items including herbs and spices. Dried oregano could be found alongside salt. Cinnamon was available for the consumer in Toledo, Ohio. A middle class person could purchase items that were once reserved for the rich. This was a huge step in getting herbs and exotic spices to the general public. As time went on, the aisle that you found these items at the grocery store became known as the “Spice Aisle”.
Now, “spice” began to be used for rosemary, basil, and other herbs. It was not that they made the food hot to taste. It was that both the spices and the herbs flavored the food and gave the cook creativity.
Today, you can find the word “spice” used for many herbs. You can also find in herbal remedy books many spices that are used. The terms “spice” and herb” have become synonymous over time.
Is there really a difference? Yes, but are they similar enough to be the same? To the general public, yes. To those in culinary specialties, maybe not. Spices and herbs both give us a chances to use our creativity in cooking, cleaning, and other areas in our lives.