What’s the difference between herbs and spices? Herbs are derived from the leaves of plants, where spices come from the non-leafy parts (bark, roots, berries, seeds, etc.). But why is that important? Herbs have a unique function in any dish, including aromatic, medicinal, and culinary effects. There are hundreds of types of herbs, but some of the most common ones include Basil, Garlic, Cilantro, Parsley, and Rosemary. The long list of herbs can be intimidating, but we have a handy little guide that will steer you in the right direction.
It’s important to remember that “more is less” when adding herbs to a recipe. Something that smells and tastes delicious to you may be overwhelming or repulsive to others. A good rule of thumb is to season in moderation while cooking. Then serve alongside the dish for those that may want to add more flavor to their meal.
Basil is a member of the mint family, but you wouldn’t guess that from the taste. It is a mild, sweet herb with a pleasant aroma that is popular in Mediterranean, Italian, and Indian dishes. It is most well known for being served with tomatoes and mozzarella as a unique salad, as a main ingredient in pesto, or cooked into a pasta sauce.
Cilantro is a leafy herb with a long stem that has a refreshing, “clean” aroma. Cilantro is popular in Mexican and Thai food (although sometimes referred to as Coriander). Lime is a great addition to Cilantro as they both provide a refreshing “bite” to the flavor of your meal. Cilantro is usually used in salsa, as a topping on tacos, or as an ingredient in a marinade.
Parsley is an extremely mild herb that is very common in Italian food. You’ve probably seen it chopped finely and sprinkled over italian food, or left whole on the stem and set on the side of an entree as a garnish. It’s also loaded with Vitamin K and iron. Aside from decorative purposes, Parsley is great with roasted chicken, soups, and potatoes.
Most people don’t know that Garlic is an herb! Sometimes overwhelming, but when used in moderation, garlic can add a delicious element to a lot of meals. Even though Garlic is used in almost every culture in some fashion, Italian food is (in)famous for some of the ways they use Garlic. It works great in tomato sauce, marinades, and salad dressings.
Rosemary grows on a “bush” in long skinny strands with needle shaped leaves. Rosemary is popular in Midwestern (America) and Mediterranean food. It isn’t too overwhelming, but it isn’t a mild herb either. It tastes exactly like it smells and goes great with pot roast, pork tenderloins, and variations of cooked potatoes.
Chef tip: check for freshness and be sure to smell the herb before you cook with them. You can always and add more according to taste.