What is the difference between an herb and a spice?

I would think an herb is from a plant, but then I have no idea what specifically a spice is. Not being much of a cook, they all seem related to me, and I often hear them referred to them all as "herbs and spices".

2 Answers 2


From fooducate.com

The difference between the two is where they are obtained from a plant.

Herbs come from the leafy and green part of the plant.

Spices are parts of the plant other than the leafy bit such as the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds.

Examples of herbs include basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley and mint.

From spice-racks.com

Herbs are obtained from the leaves of herbaceous (non-woody) plants.

Spices are obtained from roots, flowers, fruits, seeds or bark.

In some cases both a herb and spice may come from the same plant. Dill is an example of this.

  • Some examples of spices are cinnamon, pepper, sesame seed, mustard seed, cloves, ginger, anise, paprika, saffron, turmeric, etc. Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 4:46
  • Counterexample: (bulb) garlic is sometimes called a herb, but rarely if ever a spice. Also Herbs are obtained from the leaves of herbaceous (non-woody) plants. would be tidy if true, but it's not - see for example rosemary (your own suggestion), bay, and lavender (some species) which all come from shrubs
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 8:10
  • Other examples of single source, dual product - coriander [or US cilantro/coriander] & fenugreek [methi] - each has a use as herb [leaf] and spice [seed].
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 8:24
  • Hi, it appears that you copied this answer from two websites. You're using someone else's work without giving the author credit. This amounts to plagiarism, and is not welcome on any Stack Exchange site. Remember to always add prominent attribution when using other sources. Thanks!
    – Stephie
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 19:05

I got taught that the difference was water vs. fat cooking.

Herbs are water-soluble, meaning their flavor is extracted through cooking with water.

Spices are fat-soluble. They need to be "bloomed" in oil, or cooking with fat, to extract their flavor.

  • 1
    This explanation doesn't make any sense. First, there are countless counterexamples, for example menthol is fat soluble and using spices in fatfree contexts (like adding cinnamon to tea) still leads to a flavorful dish. And then you have aromatic substances which are found in both herbs in spices, like eugenol. I know that there are cuisines in which people practice "bloom in oil" for spices and don't do that for herbs, but this is not what defines the difference on the language level, and the idea that there is a chemical division behind this doesn't hold water.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 12:13

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