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Herbs and spices are used all over the world in a variety of ways to add extra flavour to a variety of different dishes. Whether it’s a spice blend like curry powder or some fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary to flavour a stew, each culture and nationality has its own favourites along with a myriad of different techniques for using them.
Historically conflicts have broken out over access to various herbs and spices, such as with nutmeg. Nowadays though, many herbs and spices that were once exclusive to specific regions are available worldwide. As a result, new amazing combinations are being discovered all the time.
The downside though is that if you’re a newcomer to cooking with seasonings the wide variety of options out there can seem incredibly overwhelming. Don’t worry though, our herbs and spice chart will help you figure out how they should be used along with the flavours and potential ways they can affect your health.
Table of Contents
- An Overview of Herbs and Spices
- How to Use Herbs and Spices in Cooking
- Chart Of Herbs And Spices
An Overview of Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices should fundamentally be used to accentuate and complement the flavours of both each other and the dish you’re cooking. Whilst it can be tempting to add a wide variety of different seasonings to a dish, you will often get better results from sticking to a select few which are both distinct from one another and complementary.
The stage that herbs and spices are added to a dish can also massively impact how much of an impact they will have on the final flavour. Typically those added towards the start of cooking will be more blended whilst the ones added later on in the process will be more distinct.
Benefits of Herbs and Spices
An obvious benefit of using herbs and spices in various savoury and sweet dishes is that they will enhance the flavour. Additionally, spices like turmeric and paprika will often be used to add a bit of colour such as yellow, orange and red to dishes. As a result, they will look more vibrant and appealing.
Outside of a culinary context though, herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. Whilst they may not show immediate results, regularly ingesting small amounts of herbs and spices has been shown to have a variety of benefits to your health.
Naturally, the benefits of different seasonings will vary. However, some benefits can include strengthening your immune system, reduced inflammation and a reduction in stress. As a result whilst also being used in food, many herbs and spices are also often consumed in herbal teas.
Herbs vs Spices – What’s their Differences
When discussing the two primary types of seasoning they fundamentally fall under two umbrella terms. These are herbs and spices. However, you may be wondering, what’s the difference between a herb and a spice?
Typically, spices are derived from anywhere that isn’t the green/leafy part of the plant. This can include the bark, root, seeds, fruit or flower of the plant. Generally, spices are hardier and more durable than herbs, as such they will typically be added to dishes closer to the start of cooking. As such, they can often pack more of a kick than herbs whilst still being very varied in their flavour profiles.
Herbs on the other hand are often derived from green and leafy parts of plants. Often, herbs will come either fresh, dried or ground with each variant having its own ideal uses. Fresh herbs are excellent garnishes that will add stronger flavours to meals. Meanwhile, dried herbs are best when allowed to soak into dishes and infused with fats like butter. Finally, ground herbs are often dried ones that have been crushed or ground in a mortar and pestle which helps release some of the flavours.
Due to herbs often being more delicate than spices, they tend to be added towards the end of cooking or as a garnish so their flavour isn’t lost. When used in this manner though it is often best to use fresh herbs rather than dried as the fresh ones will be much more flavourful. If substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs, it is advisable to use two to three teaspoons of dried for every one fresh.
Using Spices And Herbs In Dishes
When used in dishes many people will often make a spice blend out of different spices. From which they will either rub them onto the meat they are cooking or add it very early on into the cooking process. Sometimes hardier herbs will also be used in this context as well. However, most of the time herb blends will be added later in the cooking process.
How to Use Herbs and Spices in Cooking
How the flavours from seasonings are incorporated into the dishes varies. Sometimes it can be as simple as dropping the desired herbs and spices into the pot whilst other times a marinade, rub, spread or cream sauces will be made. Naturally then, how fresh herbs are added to tomato sauces will differ from how you would use chilli pepper or curry powder.
Braising, Stews, and Curries
Used in numerous cuisines around the world and very commonly for Indian and Middle Eastern dishes is the process of braising. Fundamentally, this process involves creating a stew, usually with vegetables forming the basis. Following this, meat such as chicken is added which will be braised as a result.
Whilst this type of cooking can create some truly remarkable and flavourful meat dishes, the herbs and spices are truly what make them what they are. As such a spice mixture such as curry powder or garam masala will be incorporated early on into the braising process, whilst delicate herbs are added later on.
Thanks to the simple and versatile process involved in braising, amateur and professional cooks often feel very comfortable with experimenting. As such, braising can produce tomato dishes, vegetarian dishes, meat dishes and everything in between.
Sautées and Fried Dishes
Whether it’s frying, stir-frying, sautéeing or making a ragu, herbs and spices are fundamental in the process of doing so. Often when cooking, browning or frying to a crisp garlic will be the first port of call as far as seasoning is concerned. In French cooking, parsley will also be added to butter to create the sauté. However, similar techniques can also be witnessed in other European and Asian dishes.
Steamed or Boiled
When steaming and boiling, herbs and spices are often coupled together with a particular food type such as a minty flavour with peas for example. In this context, they are more used in the same manner you would use salt and pepper. The result is a fresh flavour that perfectly complements what it is being served with.
Marinades and rubs are often implemented with grilling to maximise the flavour of both the seasoning and the food itself. This is common practice all over the world from middle eastern cooking to Australia to Europe.
For the best results, these will often be applied multiple hours or days before the grilling. This will allow the meat or veg to soak up more of the flavours from the spices, thereby enhancing the final taste. When dry rubbing, dried spices and fresh herbs will be used in combination with chopped fresh parsley being used towards the end to moisten the meat and veg and bring out more of the flavour.
Marinades on the other hand will use liquid to further enhance the flavour, these can include barbecue sauces, citrus juices, oils and everything in between. These liquids will enhance the flavours but can also be used to make the specific ethnic background of a dish really stand out.
Roasted or Baked
Dried herbs and spices which are particularly resistant to heat and prolonged cooking are typically used in roasting and baking. When doing so, fresh herbs are your best bet as fresh rosemary will add freshness to savory dishes whilst providing a pleasantly fragrant aroma. Meanwhile, nutmeg can add a nutty taste, in addition to a sweet taste to fruit desserts.
Purées, Broths, and Soups
Naturally, herbs make a huge difference to broths, soups and purées. Whether it’s adding the peppery flavor to mulligatawny soup or a garlicky butter taste to mashed potatoes, spices and herbs will significantly elevate the flavour of your dish.
Whilst herbs and spices will often be incorporated into soups and purées though, they will often be removed towards the end of making a broth. This is because broths are meant to be clear, as such seasonings like cinnamon sticks will often be added whilst the broth simmers and is later removed.
Sauces, Dressings, Dips, and Spreads
One of the main factors for how you implement seasoning into sauces is the medium and other ingredients. For example, a tomato sauce will be made in a dramatically different fashion from cheese sauces. Some different mediums of sauces, dressings, dips and spreads include aioli, sour cream and oil and vinegar.
Additionally, seasonings can radically change the taste and texture of a sauce, far more so than they would in most other kinds of dishes. This can even lead to the resulting sauce being reclassified as a different sauce. For example, when tarragon and a couple of other seasonings are added to hollandaise sauce and you will end up with Sauce Bearnaise.
This is by far the most simple way of using herbs and spices. Simply add a small number of fresh herbs such as parsley or basil to the dish as you plate it up to so. This can also be done with certain spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or paprika but is best done incredibly sparingly.
Chart Of Herbs And Spices
|Name||Herb or Spice||Health Benefits||Characteristics||How It’s Used|
|Allspice||Spice||Helps alleviate bloating, stomach ache, diarrhoea, vomiting, gas and constipation||Small brown berry native to West India||Used in various seasonings around the world including in the Caribbean. Also commonly used in sausages, pies and puddings|
|Basil||Herb||Helps with kidney issues. Also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.||A green aromatic leaf that is part of the leaf family||Tomato sauces, pesto, salads, marinades, fish|
|Bay Leaves||Herb||Help with migraines along with being rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium||Dark green leaf with a pungent flavor and aroma||Often used stocks, stews and during braising to give a peppery/minty flavor|
|Cardamom||Spice||Lowers blood pressure and helps fight cancer. Additionally, it can help with bad breath and prevent tooth cavities||Small brown seeds contained with white or green pods||This spice from the ginger family is often used in curries along with pastries and pickling|
|Cayenne Pepper||Spice||Linked to lower cholesterol and pain relief||Hot Ground Red Pepper From French Guiana||Used in chilli powder along with eggs, fish and soup. Flavour intensifies when cooked|
|Red Pepper Flakes||Spice||Linked to lower cholesterol and pain relief||Spicy but cuts through and highlights rich flavours of food it is added to.||Commonly made from dried cayenne peppers|
|Cajun Seasoning||Spice/Herb Mix||Provides some of the benefits conveyed by black pepper, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper and thyme.||Earthy and spicy||Often used as a spicy yet flavourful dry rub on meat, fish and veg|
|Caraway Seeds||Spice||Probiotic qualities that help the intestines||Curved brown seed native to northern Europe. Similar flavour to anise||Often used in potato salad and sauerkraut. Also used to make a popular dessert during Ramadan|
|Cinnamon||Spice||Lowers blood pressure, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties||Sweet tasting red/brown tree bark from East India||Used to flavour meat along with pastries and deserts|
|Cloves||Spice||Regulates blood sugar and stems bacterial growth||Indonesian flower bud that is dried and has a sweet taste||Used to flavour meat, curries and marinades|
|Cilantro||Herb||Helps fight disease. Is rich in iron and fibre.||Light green leaf||Often combined with citrus fruits and used to make sauces and salsa|
|Coriander Seeds||Spice||Regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels||Seed of the cilantro plant||Used for pickling along within sausages, gingerbread and curries|
|Cumin||Spice||Improves digestion and helps antioxidant intake. Also regulates blood sugar||Small seed from Mexico and Syria||Used in savoury dishes such as chilli and with lamb and goat|
|Chili Powder||Spice blend||Combination of ancho chilli, paprika, cumin, and oregano||Adds spicy and smoky flavors to dishes||Often used in making chilli along with stews and sauces|
|Chinese Five Spice||Spice and herb mix||Combination of cassia, clove, fennel, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns.||A Chinese seasoning mix with warm, sweet and bitter flavouring||Often used in stir-fries, marinades and rubs for meat and vegetables|
|Chives||Herb||Contains vitamin C and calcium along with antioxidants and compounds that improve heart health and combat cancer||Green top of a very small onion that is fine and hollow||Light onion-esque taste which contrasts the taste of particularly rich food|
|Curry Powder||Spice mix||A combination of turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried chilis, black pepper, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, mustard seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns and bay leaves.||Originating in Britain, this spice mix was meant to simplify the process for making curry||Used in curry dishes, soups, vegetables and for rice|
|Dill||Either||Neutralises carcinogens and contains iron and calcium||Can be a spice or herb depending if derived from seed or leaves. The spice is more potent||Often linked with Scandinavian cuisine such as salmon. Additionally, it is also used heavily in pickling along within dips and sauces|
|Fennel Seed||Spice||Acts as an aid to digestion||Green/brown seed from Africa/Asia/South America||Has a liquorice taste and is often used to flavour alcohol along with Italian Sausage|
|Fenugreek||Spice||Lowers blood sugar, increases testosterone and helps breast milk production||Smells of maple and butterscotch. This is enhanced in Indian cuisine by toasting it in oil||In India, it is used in fish curries as well as sambar and many others due to its sweet and nutty flavour|
|Galangal||Spice||Helps relieve arthritis, digestive issues and high blood pressure. Additionally, it also helps with heart and respiratory issues||Similar looking to ginger, Galangal has a sharp citrus-like flavour||Used in South Asia for curries, soup, satays, fish and sauces|
|Garam Masala||Spice Mix||A combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, mace, pepper, coriander, turmeric, and cumin||An authentic Indian spice mix that is warm, sweet and slightly bitter||Often used in curry and rice dishes along with marinades|
|Garlic||Spice||Reduced blood pressure, alleviating flu symptoms, improving cholesterol levels, reducing metal toxicity and improving bone health||A member of the onion family that is strongly aromatic.||Perhaps the most versatile spice out there is it can improve near enough any dish it is added to|
|Ginger||Spice||Considered a superfood that amongst other benefits helps with lowering cholesterol, reducing menstrual pain and chronic indigestion||The light coloured knobbly root of a tropical plant. It is considered both sweet and spicy||Often used in a variety of savoury and sweet dishes from curry to pickling to cake|
|Herbs de Provence||Herb mix||A combination of Rosemary, marjoram, thyme, oregano, sage and tarragon||A herb mix from the Provence region in Southern France. Provides earthy flavors||Often used in rubs, marinades and dressings particularly with chicken and vegetables|
|Kaffir Lime Leaves||Herb||Promotes skin and hair health, helps reduce bad breath and stress. Helps reduce inflammation||The leaves of Kiffir Lime plants which are native to Southeast Asia. A pack can last a year and freezes well||Commonly used in Thai and Southeast Asian cuisine. Particularly to flavor soups, stir-fries and curries|
|Lemongrass||Herb||Improves digestion, alleviates fever and reduces perspiration and can be used as an insect repellent||A long, thin grass native to Asia, Africa, Australia and many tropical regions||Used in Asian and Indian cooking regularly where fresh lemongrass is either thinly sliced or pounded|
|Marjoram||Herb||Helps with micronutrient intake when consumed in large quantities||Mexican Grey/green plant similar to oregano but milder. Often used in herb mixes||Often used with meat such as chicken and beef, along with stews|
|Mint||Herb||Helps with bad breath, soothes breastfeeding and indigestion pains along with improving brain function||A cool flavoured aromatic herb that comes in many varieties such as spearmint and peppermint||Often used in Thai, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese Food. However worldwide it is commonly used with lamb, tea, deserts and veg|
|Mustard Seeds||Spice||An excellent source of selenium and magnesium. These help with asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, and migraines along with helping prevent cancer||White, brown and yellow seeds with very potent flavours.||Often used for dips and spreads or paired with eggs or chicken.|
|Nutmeg||Spice||Helps with blood sugar and heart health along with improving mood.||The sweet and aromatic core of the nutmeg fruit. Originally grown on the Moluccas islands||Often used in savoury and sweet dishes, particularly in the middle east and India|
|Oregano||Herb||Source of vitamin K and antioxidants. May also combat bacterial, virus and cancer cell growth,||There are two variants, the Mediterranean and Mexican options. The latter is considered stronger than the former.||Often used in Italian, Greek and Mexican cuisine. Particularly in tomato sauces, along with soups, stews, marinades and meat dishes|
|Paprika||Spice||Can prevent inflammation and reduce cholesterol. Additionally, it has also been linked to improved eye health and blood sugar regulation||This spice originated in Mexico from ground red pepper. Can come in red, yellow and orange varieties.||Helps colour and add some spice to rice, paella and a variety of meats and fish as a rub.|
|Parsley||Herb||Rich in vitamins A, C, and K amongst a variety of others. It may also help bone growth, provide antioxidant benefits and prevent chronic diseases.||A delicately sweet green leaf that is either curly or flat in shape.||Often used for garnish but also in sautées, stews, stocks and soups. Particularly popular in French and Italian cuisines|
|Ras el Hanout||Spice Mix||Spice mix that combines Cardamon, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, pepper, and turmeric||This combination gives a mix of spicy and sweet flavours to a dish||Often used in rubs and marinades with meat and fish. Also used with vegetables, beans and lentils|
|Rosemary||Herb||Provides a variety of effects including stemming Alzheimer’s, cancer and bacterial development. Also linked with better moods and hair growth||Hardy and aromatic light green leaf that resembles pine needles.||Often paired with potatoes and lamb. Popularly used in Italian cooking for Tuscan flatbread and chicken cacciatore|
|Sage||Herb||May improve oral health and brain function, along with lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels.||Grey/green herb with pungent aroma and taste. Has fuzzy and oblong leaves||Hardy enough to be added early in the cooking process. Often used with heavy and creamy foods such meats, cheese and other dairies|
|Saffron||Spice||There are links to weight loss, improved mood and libido along with reduced PMS symptoms||The most expensive spice in the world due to the necessity of hand harvesting. Provides a unique mild flavour and distinctive colour to food||Commonly used in Persian, Arabian, Indian and European cuisines. Typically used in baked goods and with potatoes, meat, rice, curries and soups|
|Savory||Herb||Has been shown to help relieve nausea, diarrhoea, and intestinal issues in addition to muscle cramps and indigestion||Comes in two varieties, Summer Savory and Winter Savoury. Both are quite peppery but the winter variant is more pungent.||Used in European cuisines, mostly with beans, meat, soups and stews.|
|Sesame Seeds||Herb||Contains lignans which are known to help prevent high blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and protect the liver||Small oily yellow seeds from Asia along with eastern and southern America. Has a distinct nutty taste.||The main ingredient in tahini along with being a common garnish for bread and salads|
|Anise/Star Anise||Both||Treats cold and flu symptoms along with digestion. Can also alleviate nausea and cramps||Distinctly liquorice flavoured plant from Spain, Syria and China||Considered a fundamental ingredient by many in homemade pho. Also used in alcohol production along with a variety of Chinese and Indian dishes|
|Tarragon||Herb||Has a variety of benefits including improved sleep and heart health, amongst others.||Delicate green herb with flavours reminiscent of mint and liquorice.||Often used to make Béarnaise sauce along with being used to season steaks or included in tomato sauces|
|Thyme||Herb||Can potentially improve your mood and breath, along with reducing blood pressure and boosting the immune system||Very small green/brown leaf that is very aromatic.||Often used in cheese sauces along with adding additional flavour to roasted meat and vegetables|
|Turmeric||Spice||Curcumin contained with turmeric helps prevent some cancers and reduce the chance of heart disease. Additionally, it also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties||Intensely yellow in colour but mildly peppery in taste. Turmeric originates and is often used interchangeably with Saffron||Often used sparingly to add colour and little pepperiness to rice, curry dishes, salads and pickles|
|Za’atar||Spice/Herb Blend||A combination of Thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac||This middle eastern spice blend adds bitter, nutty and warm flavours to dishes.||Za’atar is often used for bread dips, meat rubs and to season vegetables|
What are the top 10 most used spices?
The answer to this question will vary greatly depending on the region in question but in most circumstances, having the following should be sufficient:
What are the 10 most common herbs?
Where you go and who you ask will drastically alter the answer you’ll receive to this question. However, good herbs to always have on hand include the following:
What are the 4 basic types of seasoning ingredients?
When first getting into how you should season food, there are four basics. These are salt, pepper, sweeteners and acids.
What spices are toxic?
Many herbs and spices can be toxic in high enough doses. Some examples include nutmeg, cinnamon and bay leaves. However, when consumed in moderation all of these are perfectly safe.
Which herbs do not go together in cooking?
Some herbs don’t go well together. For example, garlic shouldn’t be used with any delicately flavoured herbs due to it potentially overpowering them whilst floral herbs often clash with sage or chives. Additionally, mint can be very unpleasant with bitter or hot seasonings whilst lemongrass shouldn’t be used with other citruses,
What is the most expensive spice?
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, in massive part due to the necessity to harvest by hand. As a result, the industrialised mass production of saffron is something that is much more difficult to do.
Which country uses the most spices?
India by a long margin uses and consumes the most spices in the world with over forty percent of the world’s spice consumption being attributed to India. A large contributor to this is that India is the home of many of the world’s most popular spices with the use of spices in food being practised for thousands of years.