I find the meaning of the word 'seasoning' slightly elusive. Before I started to take cooking seriously, I'd have said that any herb or spice used in cooking could be called a seasoning.

Without having had it spelled out to me, I'm now under the impression that seasoning refers only to the addition of salt and pepper during cooking. Some recipes will simply say "season to taste"; the implication being that salt and pepper will be used for this. Needless to say, not all recipes are consistent in this usage.

Does anyone have a definition of 'seasoning' that disambiguates it from the more general 'flavouring'?

  • This is the perfect example of a question that fits a terminology such as we use on many other SE sites. I see we use language for similar purposes here. Maybe they could be tag synonyms. – hippietrail Sep 6 '13 at 9:52

The problem is, both Sarge's and Carmi's answers are right depending on who is using the word. Some people use the word seasoning to just mean salt, some mean salt and pepper, and some mean "anything you want to use to bring the flavor to the desired point, including salt, pepper, lemon juice, spices, herbs, etc." If you are dealing with someone in person, it is best to ask. With a cookbook, sometimes you can figure it out from context or from other recipes. Otherwise, you'll have to make your own best call. In my own recipes, I will generally write "taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and/or more lemon juice as needed".

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Seasoning to the serious chef means salt. Thats it. Just salt.

Pepper is a spice and and as such would be spicing.

Unfortunately, there is nothing that makes the people who write the cookbooks use any consistent terminology, so actual usage varies. There is a difference between "season to taste" and "salt and pepper to taste" and that difference is pepper.

Salt affects so much in cooking that it developed it's own terminology and I'm sure that since English is a constantly changing language, eventually the word will grow to mean something else, but for now, salt.

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  • +1 for another simple and unambiguous definition. I only wish there was something in the etymology of the word to help me decide between this and the 'finishing touch' definition. – Chris Steinbach Feb 6 '11 at 20:10

I would define seasoning as the salts, herbs, spices and other flavours used to give a dish its finish. This as opposed to the main flavours of the dish, which come form the basic ingredients. For instance, if I season mashed potatoes with salt, pepper and nutmeg, they are still potato flavoured at the base, with a salt/pepper/nutmeg finish to them.

Flavouring would refer to the adding of any flavours, be they basic, finishing, or enhancing. The word flavouring also has a sort of artificial connotation to it. True story: I once tasted strawberry flavoured pineapple. This was dried pineapple that was soaked in fake strawberry flavouring.

Due to the problematic availability of spices in the cradel of the English language, there is a tendency for seasoning to be construed as only salt and black pepper, particularly in older cookbooks, though not only there.

Lastly, it is important not to mix up seasoning of a recipe with salt with a use of salt for a different purpose. Salt is often used for its chemical properties (it will draw water out of foods, has an effect on dough etc.) as well as its flavour.

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  • +1 for your definition of seasoning as a finishing touch. There may also be something in what you say regarding older cookbooks. – Chris Steinbach Feb 6 '11 at 19:08

Agree with all answers here for a predominately Anglo-Saxon cooking approach. However, I've noticed that seasoning when talking about Thai food (for example), is often defined as a combination of fish sauce, palm sugar, lime juice, and sometimes chili - all added to taste at the end of the cooking process.

I'd suggest different cultures have different definitions for 'seasoning'.

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  • The thai definition is similar to my theory of "seasoning messes with taste (5 basic tastes minus bitter, plus heat), flavouring with flavour/aroma"... – rackandboneman May 17 '15 at 23:22

Spices are basically ingredients derived from various parts of plants like root, bark seed etc and have a typical odour profile characteristic of the plant. Spices can be used singly or in combination of various spices to make a homogeneous blend. Seasonings differ from spices significantly as there are various functional ingredients like acidulents, salt, Flavour enhancers, gums and stabilisers, sugar, etc are added in various combinations along with spices to impart special characteristic to the blend. One can say that spices are a subset of seasonings.

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Seasoning means enhanced the natural flavors of a food without significantly changing the flavor. And flavoring means adding a new flavor to the food, per the definition in Wayne Gisslen's book Professional Cooking 7th Edition (a college book for culinary arts).

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