The Heroes of Cuisine: About Herbs, Spices, Seasoning, and Flavoring
As every chef knows, flavors and seasonings are the life of a dish. The magic that these create in our taste buds is what enchants us, and makes us wish for more. In this article, we’ll discuss what herbs, spices, seasoning, and flavors are all about.
While anyone who has cooked will already know what herbs, spices, seasoning, and flavorings actually do, most of us aren’t very sure about what the terms mean. In regular use, most of us tend to interchange the terms. For instance, most of us would not be able to explain the differences between spice vs seasoning, or herbs vs spice. But without a doubt, we would be able to use them perfectly in our recipes. Learn more about these nuances to bring your recipes up a notch.
What are Seasonings?
Seasoning is the process of adding ingredients such as herbs, spices, oil, sugar, or salt in order to enhance the taste of a dish or to increase its shelf life. The purpose of seasoning a food is to add a distinct flavor or flavors to it, without disturbing the original flavors. For example, seasoning a pasta with a dash of pepper might give it a spicier taste, without eliminating the flavor of the sauces.
Seasonings also help increase the shelf life of various items. Did you ever wonder why pickles stay fresh for so many months? It’s because the combination of oil and salt seasoning helps keep them safe from hydration, thereby increasing their shelf life.
What are Flavorings?
Flavors are substances that add a distinctive taste and/or smell to your dish. Flavorings help you make your dish more of what you want it to be - typically, you would want your salsa dish to have dominant paprika flavors, while the same paprika flavor is added as a seasoning to some soups.
Flavorings help create a benchmark taste and smell, and trademark your style of cooking. Some cooks favor a dash of spice in their curries, and add sugar to make desserts sweeter. Flavorings, in conclusion, are ingredients like herbs, spices, or their combinations that alter the taste of a dish.
What are Herbs?
Herbs are naturally available plant derivatives that are used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Anything derived from the green parts of the plant, like the stem or leaves, is considered a herb. Fragrant and aromatic, herbs are often used in perfumes as well in the form of essential oils.
Herbs are usually used when they are fresh, as dried herbs tend to lose their potency of smell, aroma, and performance. Herbs are easy to grow, and since fresh herbs are such a crucial element to the success of your recipe, we recommend that you invest in them.
Herbs, too, can be used as flavorings and seasoning. Consider the classic pesto dish. Used in pesto pizzas and pesto pastas, the word pesto evokes the powerful memory of a flavorful green colored sauce that smells as good as it tastes. This is an example of using basil, a herb, to create a flavorful sauce, that is, pesto. Next, consider toasts with tomato dressings, or ricotta toasts, or sandwich toasts. These are some examples of situations where herbs are used as a seasoning, rather than to give a distinct flavor.
With time, technology has paved the way to store herbs for longer durations. Using dried herbs can help preserve the flavor for longer. However, the technique of drying fresh herbs is crucial, as well as the equipment (ovens, microwaves) that you use. Read the section on “How To Preserve Fresh Herbs” to find out the recommended techniques.
Some important (and well-known) herbs include mint, chervil, dill, tarragon herb, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, coriander leaves, mugwort, basil, wild onion, sage brush, and so many more.
It’s interesting to note that the medicinal properties of herbs were widely acknowledged and trusted. For instance, even today in the age of science and technology, people believe that using sage in the house can ward off evil spirits. It’s easy to conclude that herbs have been one of the central elements of human culture and culinary and medicinal advancements over the last four to five thousand years.
What are Spices?
Spices, too, are plant derivatives. Spices are obtained from the root, bark, seed, bud, and fruits of plants. Spices have tremendous historical significance. Voyages were embarked upon, wars were fought, and cities were besieged – all for the purpose of establishing monopoly on spices. Spice routes in the medieval time were of tremendous importance, and kingdoms that had the power of supplying these coveted spices were highly prosperous.
Today, we will be hard pressed to think of dishes that do not contain at least one spice item. Spices enhance the palatability of food, and give it a distinct flavor. Spices are commonly added both at the middle and the end of the cooking process. Sometimes, spices are used as seasoning. For example, the use of saffron in a dessert is generally a seasoning element, as the intention is to bring in its unique scent to our senses.
Spices are also the main flavor in other dishes, such as salsa verde, where the primary intention is to make the taste feel hot and adventurous through the use of green chili peppers. It’s a common misconception that spices can only make a dish taste more hot, on the contrary, spices like cardamom and cloves add a scent of warmth and sweetness to dishes.
Store spices in cool, shady places, inside mason jars (airtight jars) or glass bottles. Spices generally have a longer shelf life, although we do recommend that youuse fresher packets to enhance the smell and potency of your dishes. Therefore, the trick is to anticipate your needs in a way that keeps your purchases moving periodically.
Some important spices include black peppercorn, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cinnamon powder, cloves, cumin seeds, turmeric (which is well known for its healing properties), paprika, allspice, and many more.
The cultural and economic impact of spices is stupendous. You’ll be interested to know that pepper was once used as a currency! Historical records show that the elite and rich people of the erstwhile kingdoms would marinate their meat in flavorful spices, but the poor had to make do with garlic water.
Some common questions people often have are:
- How are spices different from seasoning?
- How are herbs and spices different from one another?
- Is salt a spice or a seasoning?
- Is pepper a seasoning?
How are Spices Different from Seasoning?
Spices, too, are a form of seasoning. It purely depends on how the spice is being used in the recipe. If it’s used to modify the taste of a dish and make it its own, the spice can be considered to be a flavoring agent in the recipe. If it’s used to add a tinge of taste and smell without modifying the primary composition of the dish, it can be considered as a seasoning agent. In conclusion, the question of spice vs seasoning doesn’t arise, as spice itself can be used as a seasoning.
Herbs vs Spices
Herbs and spices are plant derivatives used to enhance or modify the taste and smell of a dish. While herbs come from the green parts of the plant, such as the leaf or the stem, spices are derived from the rest of it. This includes oil-bearing seeds, roots, barks, and flowers of the plant. Another key difference between herbs and spices is that spices cannot be used while they’re fresh, while herbs are used both fresh and dried.
Now that you know the key differences between herbs and spices, you’ll also benefit from knowing that some of the world’s most prominent ingredients like Garam Masala are a combination of herbs and spices. When cooked well, herbs and spices make a colorful, highly palatable, and zesty combination that awes culinary enthusiasts worldwide.
Is Salt a Spice or a Seasoning?
Salts are a seasoning, not a spice. Since salts are obtained through water (and not plants), salts are considered a seasoning. This ingredient, that forms the backbone of the majority of dishes, comes in various varieties. Learn more about the different types of salts
Is Pepper a Seasoning?
Pepper is a form of seasoning. Pepper is a spice, and when used to enhance the flavor and taste of a dish, it is considered to be a seasoning.
We hope that this guide helps answer your questions about herbs, spices, seasoning, and flavoring. Happy cooking!