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Herbs vs. Spices

How much do I love spices? I own a board game called Spices of the World, have a well-thumbed copy of The Complete Book of Spices on my cookbook shelf, and it’s widely known that cumin is my all-time favorite spice.

But this month, I’m abstaining from my lovely, aromatic friends while I give the autoimmune protocol (AIP) a shot. I don’t think I have an underlying sensitivity to spices that’s holding me back, but n=1 and all that.

Thanks to ThePaleoMom.com’s comprehensive list of yes/no herbs and spices for the AIP, I was able to make this ultra-sexy note for the front of kitchen cabinet that lists approved seasonings for my AIP month. (Note that this list isn’t complete but merely includes the ones I like the most. See ThePaleoMom.com’s list for everything.)

The ones marked with the exclamation point are approved; the ones next to the giant question mark are the ones for which The Paleo Mom encourages caution. (I’m avoiding those unless I absolutely, positively will lose my mind if I don’t eat them. I have a hard time imaging craving allspice that much, but you never know.)

In case you don’t want to make an index card sign for your kitchen cabinet (although it’s all the rage this season), here’s a quick way to remember which seasonings are approved for the AIP: herbs are 100% go and seed spices are verboten.

So what’s the difference between herbs and spices?

Both herbs and spices originate as plants and are used to flavor foods, but there are distinct differences, and those differences become essential to understand when someone tries to make your life miserable help you get to the root of your fat-loss issues by suggesting you follow the autoimmune protocol. (I’m looking at you with all love and respect, Amy Kubal!)

Ahem.

Spice: made from dried seed, fruit, root, or bark; used to season and/or preserve food

Herb: leafy green plants used for flavoring foods or for garnish; may be eaten dried or fresh

Armed with a gift card for Penzeys, I went in search of dried herb blends to help see me through these 30 days of spice rehab. Here’s what I found, along with some ideas about how I’ll be using them. I’m trying to view this no-spice experiment as a creative kitchen challenge, and I already have two new recipes to share with you in the coming days. (I should mention that I’m not an affiliate of Penzeys or anything; after trying many different brands, I  just like their herbs and spices the most.)

The French Blends

Fines Herbes
Made from: chervil, minced parsley, chopped chives, tarragon
Flavor profile: slightly sweet-ish from the tarragon and chervil
Tasty for: raw veggies with a light vinaigrette, sautéed veg with ghee, chicken breast

Parisienne Bonnes Herbes
Made from: chives, dill weed, French basil, French tarragon, chervil, white pepper
Flavor profile: herb-y versatility
Tasty on: sautéed veg with ghee, chicken breast

Bouquet Garni
Made from: savory, rosemary, thyme, Turkish oregano, basil, dill weed, marjoram, sage and tarragon
Flavor profile: less sweet than the other two, sturdy enough for cooking and stronger meats
Tasty on: chicken, fish, beef, and pork; I like it more on meat than on veg

My bottom line: The Fines Herbes and Bonnes Herbes are very similar, and I slightly prefer Fines Herbes because I don’t love basil and dill on raw veg. But that’s a quibble; you can use them interchangeably and probably don’t need both. Use Bouquet Garni on roast meat, and use Fines Herbes/Bonnes Herbes for the veggies on the side.


The Onion-Y Ones

Fox Point Seasoning
Made from: salt, shallots, chives, garlic, onion, green peppercorns (peppercorns are borderline for AIP)
Flavor profile: yummy! or more specifically, salty-oniony goodness
Tasty on: chicken and fish, sautéed veg with coconut oil or ghee, butternut squash

Chives
Made from:
just chives
Flavor profile: mild onion flavor
Tasty on: everything! but especially sautéed broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage… and sweet spuds!

My bottom line: Anything with chives rules. The end.

The Italian Blends

Italian Herb Mix
Made from: Turkish oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme, cracked rosemary
Flavor profile: makes everything taste pizza-ish. YAY!
Tasty on: chicken, fish, beef, and pork; excellent in tuna with extra-virgin olive oil & red wine vinegar

Pasta Sprinkle
Made from: California basil, Turkish oregano, minced garlic, thyme
Flavor profile: less pizza-ish, more pasta-ish zucchini noodles-ish
Tasty on: salad with extra-virgin olive oil & red wine vinegar (which I just typed as winegar!); OMG! zucchini noodles

My bottom line: I like having both, even though they’re quite similar, just because then I can alternate.

The Middle Eastern Ones

Cinnamon
Made from: cinnamon!
Flavor profile: cinnamon!
Tasty on: butternut squash, sweet spuds, lamb, ground beef
(Note: Cinnamon is OK because it’s made from bark, not a seed.)

Peppermint
Made from: mint
Flavor profile: minty!
Tasty on: tuna with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice; lamb; paleo tabbouleh (sans tomatoes & Lebanese 7-spice for AIP)

My bottom line: By combining cinnamon and mint with garlic and salt, I can whip up quasi-Middle Eastern meatballs. Life is good.

Fresh vs. Dried

Fresh and dried herbs can usually be used interchangeably in recipes, but the flavor will be slightly different. Here are a few tips to get the most flavor from herbs, whether you’re going for the convenience of dried or the bright ping! of flavor from fresh.

1. Adapting quantities
The flavor of dried herbs is concentrated, so if you’re swapping dried for fresh — or vice versa — you need to make a modification to the amount. Generally speaking: 2 teaspoons fresh herb leaves = 1 teaspoon dry herb leaves

2. Crush the leaves
When using dried herbs or herb blends, measure the amount you want to use, then crush the leaves between your fingers to release their flavor.

3. Storage
Fresh herbs like moisture, so store them in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel. Dry herbs like to be in a cool, dark place, so store them in a cabinet, away from heat. (Penzeys recommends that you store Fox Point Seasoning in the fridge to keep it from clumping.)

Recipes From The Archive

Three delicious herb pastes…
Mediterranean Mint and Parsley Pesto (omit cayenne)
Basil Pesto (omit the nuts)
Mint Chutney

Some of my favorite spice blends… (for folks not doing the AIP)
Homemade Rogan Josh Seasoning
Killer Kebab Spice Mix
Turkish Baharat
Ras el Hanout

Plus… What’s In My Spice Cabinet

Except for now. Right now, the front row of my spice herb cabinet looks like this:

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23 Responses to “Herbs vs. Spices”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Your herb/spice organization system is amazing. Love.

  2. Victoria says:

    In the spirit of zucchini noodles, I made SQUASH noodles (ground beef, onion and roasted grape tomatoes) with Penzey’s Northwoods Fire seasoning last night. So very awesome. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Lydia says:

    I’m starting the AIP January 1, so you better believe I’m following all your updates with rapt attention.

  4. DoniB says:

    Thank you so much! I don’t know why spices confuse me but they do. Planning a trip to Penzey’s tomorrow. Alone of course because that way I can take my time and smell them all.

  5. Junie says:

    Mmmmm spices! Great collection of info and inspiration. On your guidance from Well Fed I made my first purchase from Penzey’s a few months ago – lovely stuff. Zatar is my new favorite!

  6. Kate Dutton-Gillett says:

    Thank you Melissa, this is crazy helpful and so inspiring. BTW, I think cardamom might be one of the more interesting spices ever, because like cinnamon and nutmeg- it can be savory and sweet!! I love the flavor!!

  7. heather says:

    Out of curiosity, where does cumin sit? I’ll never give up cumin, I don’t care what anyone says, it is a joy in life and in no way a cause of me being fat :)

  8. heather says:

    Nevermind…I just checked your link and saw cumin in the dreaded “NO” pile. I’ll have to be a cumin rebel!

  9. I am currently obsessed with Ras El Hanout. I’m putting it on everything like salt.

  10. Holly says:

    Fox Point is one of my favorites! But I’m also super duper fond of chives (and cumin for that matter, so clearly I am in good company!)

    You are such a rock star for embracing this challenge — it’s the only way through! I ran out of homemade mayo last night and I was going to make more but I thought…well, maybe I can get through October with out it. It’s my small sign of solidarity! Or perhaps an indication that I totally get off on deprivation. (Either/Or)

  11. Caroline S. says:

    Great list. I also love Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset in the Italian genre, and their Tsardust Memories is absolutely killer for beef or lamb. One of my new faves, though is their newish Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave Chicken & Fish Seasoning. I’m using that CONSTANTLY on veggies.

    In other words, I’m hopelessly addicted to Penzey’s, and would throw a huge temper tantrum if I couldn’t get my spice fix.

  12. Mickey says:

    Awesome post! I have been doing the AIP for awhile now but haven’t made up any spice blends yet. These look yummy!

  13. Heather says:

    I just learned there is a Penzeys about an hour from where I live and I really really really want to get myself in there and smell spices!!

  14. I recently discovered your Velvety Squash and Ras el Hanout spice blend–a-maz-ing. I made roasted Delicata squash seeds with Ras el Hanout. Also amazing. I made personalized Ras el Hanout blends for a couple of friends. They were amazed.

    I may need to find my thesaurus…

  15. Marisa H says:

    In case you want to add some more flavor to your autoimmune protocol, I have just discovered all the different smoked sea salts in the bulk health food section of the store. Chardonnay, Applewood, Mesquite, etc. I have been putting them in my burgers and roasts. Don’t miss the black pepper at all!!

  16. Andrea says:

    I have learned so much about herbs and spices from you, thank you for opening up a whole new world of flavors for me and my kitchen!!! Well Fed has been my go to for new flavors and this handy guide will be printed out as well…I LOVE Penzey’s too and have most of those blends you mentioned!
    I’m really digging Sunny Paris right now too!

  17. Any recommendation on good spice/herb brands? I have been getting mine at Trader Joe’s but not sure they are the best quality.

  18. Saara says:

    Another spice … errr … herb trick is to mix dried herbs with a small amount of water then microwave them for 40 seconds. This breaks the cell walls and really releases some of the volatile flavor compounds. Obviously this works best in applications where soggy herbs are okay. We do this for our pizza sauce at work.
    Also some herb and spice flavors are better carried by water, some by fats, and some by alcohol. I have that information somewhere and will pass it on next time I see it.
    -a fellow spice nerd :)

  19. […] most thorough guide to herbs and spices I’ve ever […]

  20. Emma says:

    Omg I’m a slave to ras el hanout!

  21. Shavonne says:

    What is the difference between a place like penzy’s spices and the spices that you can buy in the store like spice world? Is the quality different? I’m thinking about taking a 2.5 hour trip to ATL for penzy’s and I’m wondering if it’s any different from the stuff I can get at Publix. Thanks!!

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