Herbs and Spices: Tips for Success

How often have you asked yourself: What is that spice used for? What does it taste like? What’s the difference between herbs and spices? Let’s look into the definitions of herbs and spices, tips for success using herbs and spices, and lastly a guide to help define the herb or spice and how it may be used.



Often the terms herbs and spices are used interchangeably, but they are distinctly different.  They are both used to enhance and add flavor as well as balance the taste of strong and mild flavors. Herbs come from the leaf or soft portions of plants while spices come from the roots, buds, flowers, fruits, bark, or seeds of plants.

Each herb or spice has its own flavoring strength. Therefore, the flavors will vary with different foods, other seasonings, and the form of the herb or spice. Be creative when using the seasonings, but gradually incorporate new herbs and spices, as young children are developing food preferences.



  • Start small. Start with a small amount and add more until the product has a great taste and aroma. In general, start with a ¼ teaspoon per pint or pound.
  • Add seasonings at the right time. Typically, when preparing quick-cook foods, such as steamed vegetables, seasonings are added at the very beginning. However, when preparing slow-cook foods, such as soups and stews, seasonings are often added during the last 45 minutes to savor the flavors.
  • Purchase and store the basics. Herbs and spices are available for purchase in fresh or dried form. Keep the common spices used most often on hand, such as rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, and pepper.
  • Store properly. Date and label seasonings by listing the purchase date on the container. Store dried herbs and spices in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. To extend the shelf-life of fresh herbs, rinse, drain, wrap in moist paper towels, put in containers, and place in the refrigerator.
  • Use herbs wisely. Heat builds in foods quickly. Be careful when adding hot seasonings, such as red pepper, cayenne, and peppercorns, to avoid creating a too spicy or flavor-intense food. Use fresh onion, fresh garlic, onion powder, or garlic powder instead of salt-based spice mixes, garlic salt, or onion salt to reduce the sodium content in your meals.

Herbs and Spices

The following will be a list of commonly made foods and which herbs or spices complement them. No doubt, you may have found other combinations, enjoy experimenting.


Apple Pie – cardamom, fennel, cinnamon

Baked Goods – ginger, nutmeg

Beets – rosemary

Buns – cinnamon, coriander, poppy seed

Cakes – cinnamon, coriander, poppy seed

Candies – mint

Cauliflower – rosemary

Cheese – mustard, caraway, oregano

Chili Powder – cumin (an ingredient in)

Coleslaw – dill

Cookies – cinnamon, anise, coriander, poppy seed

Curry Powder – cumin (an ingredient in)

Eggplant – rosemary; thyme with butter

Egg Salad – tarragon

Fish – ginger, dill, bay leaves

Frozen Desserts – mint

Fruit Cakes – allspice, cloves

Garnish Spice – paprika

Green Beans – basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme with butter

Green Salads – chives

Green Vegetables – chives, parsley

Guacamole – cumin

Macaroni – dill, turmeric

Meats – ginger, mustard, red pepper, caraway, dill, oregano, sage

Mustard Recipes – turmeric

Noodles – poppy seed

Pasta – poppy seed

Peas – basil

Pies – allspice, cinnamon, cloves

Pizza – basil, oregano

Potatoes – cloves, chives, turmeric (on mashed potatoes)

Potato Salad – bay leaves, dill

Poultry – ginger, anise, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon, turmeric

Poultry Stuffing – sage

Preserves – cloves

Puddings – nutmeg

Pumpkin pie – cardamom, cinnamon

Rice – cilantro, turmeric

Rolls – fennel, poppy seed topping

Rye Bread – caraway

Salad Dressings – mustard, paprika, parsley, sage, tarragon, turmeric

Sandwiches – dill, mustard

Sandwich Spreads – parsley

Sauces – nutmeg, red pepper, basil, chives, dill, mustard

Sauerkraut – caraway

Seafood – fennel, thyme (on creole dishes), turmeric

Soups – caraway, parsley

Stews – caraway

Stir Fry – cilantro

Summer Squash – rosemary

Sweet Potatoes – allspice, nutmeg

Tacos – cilantro

Tomatoes – allspice, cloves, oregano, thyme with butter

Tomato Sauce – basil, bay leaves, parsley

Vegetables – nutmeg, marjoram

Vegetable Soups – basil

Wide Variety of Foods – peppercorns, parsley

Zucchini – basil, oregano

Author: Michelle Hanson

Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: michelle@fnfoods.com. She will look forward to meeting you!