All About Spices & Dried Herbs

spice pile
Have you ever seen a recipe with an ingredient list that includes a bajillion dried herbs and spices? It can send some people running the other way screaming. Spices and herbs are expensive, and finding them (as well as storing them) can be overwhelming without any guidance. It doesn’t have to be this way, I tell ya! Today, let’s boost both your spice rack and kitchen confidence by talking about dried herbs and spices.

First, it’s useful to define the distinction between the two.

Herbs are the stems and leaves of plants. You can find fresh herbs in the produce section of your grocery store. Fresh herbs can be distinguished further as “hearty” (rosemary, thyme, etc.) and “delicate” (basil, cilantro, parsley, etc.), with each requiring different storage procedures. Hearty herbs can be stored in the fridge within whatever package you purchased them. Generally, delicate herbs should be patted down to remove excess moisture, wrapped in a paper towel, and stored in the fridge; sometimes their stems can be stuck in a small glass of water, like flowers, to sustain them longer.

A recipe will usually note if you need fresh herbs. Our primary focus today is on dried herbs, the ones you find in little containers in a spice rack. When you buy dried herbs, they may come chopped or ground. If you find yourself without fresh parsley or dill for a dish, you can occasionally substitute them for dried herbs with little effect on the final flavor. If you’re substituting dried for fresh, use about half as much of the dried herb as you would the fresh stuff, and try to add it during the cooking process itself, as opposed to adding it at the end.You always want to garnish with the fresh stuff. It looks better in photographs, too!

Spices are seeds, roots, bark, or the bud of a plant. Take cinnamon sticks, for instance: they are actually the rolled up bark of a tree! Of course, we buy it ground into a fine powder just as often. Or consider coriander: did you know these are dried seeds that, if fresh, would grow into cilantro? Dried and ground garlic is classified as a spice, too. Ginger is a root which can be found fresh in the produce section, but you can also find it dried and ground among spice collections all over the world.


ginger root

When you stroll down the spice aisle at your nearest grocer, you may have seen more than just dried herbs and spices. There are seasoning blends available too, which are combinations of herbs and spices. You can buy seasonings pre-blended, but you can also blend them at home to save a little money or create a unique flavor profile. Seasoning blends usually include some sort of salt. Salt is not a spice, and it is clearly not an herb, but it is a seasoning. If you’re looking for more examples of dried herbs, spices, and seasoning blends, here is a handy guide from the Kitchn.

And now, for my suggestions. These are the items on permanent retainer in my spice rack:

    • Black Pepper
    • Kosher salt
    • Fine sea salt
    • Red Pepper Flakes
    • Ground Cumin
    • Garam Marsala
    • Powdered Ginger
    • Fennel Seeds
    • Coriander
    • Tumeric
    • Ground Cinnamon
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Bay leaves
  • Nutmeg
  • Allspice
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Dried Tarragon
  • Dried Oregano
  • Dried Rosemary
  • Dried Dill
  • Garlic Powder
Below is another guide you may find useful. Not only does it suggest what to cook with each herb and spice listed, but it also suggests some homemade blends AND groups them by cuisine-type!

Different herb & spice combinations that are helpful for all of you who want to teach yourselves how to cook.

One final note: it’s a good idea to go through your dried herbs and spices every so often to either consolidate or pitch the stuff that isn’t working out anymore. Dried herbs and spices don’t go bad, but they do lose flavor; a simple sniff test will tell you if it’s still good. If you have a favorite dried herb or spice you cook with, let me know in the comments below!


  1. […] 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, or 1/2 tablespoon dried tarragon […]

  2. […] on your kitchen storage options, your pantry may also include your spice rack, which you can learn more about stocking at this link. It might also hold your coffee and tea, or you may have an area dedicated to non-food items like […]

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