Types of Spices & Herbs for Cooking

Updated April 17, 2017

There are numerous types of spices and herbs that are used by cooks. Herbs are the leafy green components of plants while spices are the seeds, stems, roots and other parts. Spices and herbs enhance flavours and provide interest and depth to otherwise bland foods. Their aromas draw people to the ingredients they are combined with and they often provide medicinal and nutritional benefits. Most kinds of spices and herbs have been used since ancient times.

Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs can add flavour and depth to hundreds of dishes. Examples of these are usually green herbs and they can include freshly-picked oregano, thyme, mint, parsley or sage. Fresh herbs are usually added to foods as they are being cooked. For example, oregano and basil are a common ingredient in soups and sauces.

Dried Spices and Herbs

Dried spices and herbs are widely used because they can be stored for a year or even longer. Cooks can therefore use herbs that are out of season or otherwise difficult to acquire in their fresh form. They are also easy to acquire. Because these herbs contract in size during the drying process, a small amount is often enough to season a dish.

Dried Roots

Liquorice and wasabi are examples of dried roots that are used to impart particular flavours to cooking. Similarly, garlic powder is made from the root of the garlic plant. Spices made from roots are often quite strong and are generally used in moderation. They are often valued for their medicinal properties as well as for their culinary uses.


Seeds are used in many traditional as well as contemporary dishes. They are also used extensively in baking. For instance, caraway seeds are commonly used in stews as well as in cheese and breads. Poppy seed cake is also popular. Cooks use peppercorns and anise seeds to add a distinct flavour to fish dishes and desserts. Seeds are easy to store and they often have a high nutritional content.

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About the Author

Laura Myers has been writing professionally since 1992. She has edited the print publications "Stamp Stories" and "Chiaroscuro." Myers holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Law from the University of Victoria and is a certified family law mediator. She also holds diplomas in early childhood education and interior design.