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Condiments, Herbs, Spices & Seasonings: What's the Difference?

Margaret Minnicks is a health-conscious person who researches the health benefits of foods and drinks.

These are condiments.

These are condiments.

No, They're Not All the Same

Condiments, herbs, spices, and seasonings are not the same. They have some of the same characteristics, but they also have some differences.

Condiments

A condiment is a supplemental food that is served with some foods for extra flavor. A condiment complements the dish, but it cannot stand alone as a dish itself. It is not part of the dish. Instead, it is part of the meal to enhance the dish. A condiment could be a sauce or gravy. No one would eat sauce or gravy without them being part of the main dish.

Think of a condiment as something added to the food after it is cooked instead of being part of the preparation and cooking of the dish. A condiment is optional that can be added to the dish at the table while it is being eaten.

Three Types of Condiments

  1. Pungent condiments: e.g., chives, garlic, horseradish, onions
  2. Hot condiments: e.g., capers, gherkins, ketchup, chili sauce, Al steak sauce, Tabasco sauce, Worcester sauce
  3. Fatty substances: e.g., butter, margarine, olive oil, vegetable oil

Sauces are condiments and not herbs, spices, or seasonings. Condiments are a growing business in the United States. The annual sale of them is more than $7 billion. In the specialty food category, condiments rank the second-largest behind cheese.

Herbs

Herbs

Herbs

Herbs are plants used to give food aroma and flavor. They are also used to garnish dishes. All parts of the plant such as leaves, stems, and flowers can be used.

Herbs are parts of the plant including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, and bark. There are hundreds of herbs that can be used in small amounts to provide flavor to foods. Herbs can be fresh from the garden or flaked in containers in the grocery store.

Certain herbs include sage, thyme, parsley, and basil.

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Three Types of Herbs

  1. Annuals: e.g., basil
  2. Biennials: e.g., parsley
  3. Perennials: e.g., thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary

Seasonings

Seasonings are used in the preparation of foods instead of after the food is cooked and ready to be eaten like condiments.

Four Types of Seasonings

  1. Saline seasonings: e.g., salt, spiced salt, saltpeter
  2. Acid seasonings: e.g., plain vinegar, tarragon, verjuice, lemon juice, orange juice
  3. Hot seasonings: e.g., ground pepper, peppercorns, mignonette pepper, paprika, curry, cayenne, mixed pepper spices
  4. Spice seasonings: e.g., essential oils such as cloves, cinnamon, paprika
Common Spices

Common Spices

Spices

Herbs generally refer to the fresh or dried parts of a plant including leaves, stems, and flowers. Spices are different because they are made from other parts of the plant, including the barks, buds, bulbs, seeds, fruits, and roots.

A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, or other parts of the plant primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Some examples of spices include cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and cardamom.

Four Types of Spices

  1. Seeds: e.g., fennel, mustard, nutmeg, black pepper
  2. Fruits: e.g., cayenne pepper
  3. Arils: e.g., nutmeg
  4. Barks: e.g., cinnamon, cassia

Spices are not only used in foods, but they are also used in medicine, cosmetics, perfume, burials, and religious rituals.

Spices do not actually expire, but ground spices do lose their flavor after about three years and whole dry spices lose their potency after four years.

Summary

  • Condiments: Supplements added to food after it has been cooked.
  • Herbs: Leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for flavoring or as a garnish.
  • Seasonings: Ingredients used in the preparation of food before it is cooked.
  • Spices: Seeds, fruits, roots, and barks, used for flavoring, coloring, or preserving food. On some occasions, a spice can be both a seasoning and a spice such as salt and pepper.

Good cooks know that some condiments can be seasonings depending on how they are used. For instance, if you use mayonnaise in potato salad, it is a seasoning. If you use mayonnaise on a ham sandwich, it is a condiment.

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