Herb and Spice

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The terms herb and spice are more straightforward. Both are categories of plant materials used primarily as flavorings, and in relatively small amounts. Herbs come from green parts of plants, usually leaves—parsley, thyme, basil— while spices are generally seeds, bark, underground stems—black pepper, cinnamon, ginger—and other robust materials that were well suited to international trade in early times. The word spice came from the medieval Latin species, which meant “kind of merchandise.”

Despite the fact that we consider them vegetables, capsicum “peppers,” pea pods, cucumbers, and even corn kernels are actually fruits: plant parts that originate in the flower’s ovary and surround one or more seeds.