Herbs, Spices, and Condiments

  • Post last modified:5 July 2023
  • Reading time:28 mins read
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The Art of Condiments

It is hard to imagine what cooking would be like without the unique flavors provided by herbs, spices, and the many seasonings available. For centuries they have been an integral part of many of the world’s great cuisines. Today we take for granted black pepper and the other spices over which wars were once fought.

At one time only kings and other wealthy people could afford such a delicacy as cinnamon. Today all supermarkets and most small grocery stores have well-stocked spice shelves offering a wonderful selection of herbs and spices.

The term “spices” is often used broadly to include all seasonings. Spices come from the bark, roots, leaves, stems, buds, seeds, or fruit of aromatic plants and trees which usually grow only in tropical countries. Pepper, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and mace, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, and turmeric are spices.

Herbs are a great way to spice up a meal. Herbs are soft, succulent plants that usually grow in the temperate zone. Until recently cooks have had to make do with very few fresh herbs, such as sage, parsley, and thyme. Nowadays you can also find fresh basil, coriander, mint, curry leaf, chervil, tarragon, rosemary, and dill. Since herbs are at their best when they are young and freshly picked, it is well worth growing.

Condiments add sparkle and flavor to a variety of dishes. Condiments are a simple, fun way to brighten flavors and add complexity to dishes.


Herb is a plant that is valued for qualities such as medicinal properties, flavor, scent, or the like.

Herbs are flavoring agents due to the essential oils present and are used for enriching or altering the flavor or odor of foods. Different herbs have different uses. Also, different parts of the plant are used. It might be leaves, seeds, fruits, buds, barks, or roots.

Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, or in some cases even spiritual usage. The green, leafy part of the plant is often used, but herbal medicine makes use of the roots, flowers, seeds, root bark, inner bark ( cambium), berries, and sometimes the pericarp or other portions. General usage differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs.

A medicinal herb may be a shrub or other woody plant, whereas a culinary herb is a non-woody plant, typically using succulent leaves. Any of the parts of the plant, as well as any edible fruits or vegetables, might be considered “herbs” for medicinal or spiritual use.

Varieties of Herbs

Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that they are used in smaller amounts, and they also provide flavor, rather than substance, in food. Several herbs are used in food throughout the world. Some of the popularly used herbs are listed below.

MintMint is used throughout the world to flavor everything from lamb to candy. It’s also a great garnish and breath freshener. Spearmint is the variety of mint and it’s the best choice for savory dishes.
BasilChervil often referred to as the “gourmet or French parsley,” chervil tastes mildly of licorice combined with pepper imparting a certain freshness to a dish. Fresh or dried, it is a bright green and quite delicate and should be added to a dish at the end of cooking. Chervil has a tendency to enhance the flavors of other herbs when used in combinations.
Cilantro or CorianderCilantro or coriander not only has two common names, but two entirely different identities and uses. Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, describes the first or vegetative stage of the plant’s life cycle. After the plant flowers and develops seeds, it is referred to as coriander.
Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander leaves. It is also sometimes called Chinese or Mexican parsley. Technically, coriander refers to the entire plant. It is a member of the carrot family.
Coriander is the dried seed of the cilantro. The seeds are round like tiny balls. They are used whole or ground as a flavoring for food and as a seasoning. The seeds are used in curries, curry powder, pickles, sausages, soups, stews, and ratatouille. The essential seed oil is used in various herbal remedies and dietary supplements, and to flavor gin, vermouth, liqueurs, tobacco, and perfumery.
ChervilMarjoram is sweeter and milder than its close relative, oregano. It’s often used to season meats and fish and works best when its added near the end of the cooking period. Fresh is best, but frozen or dried marjoram are acceptable substitutes. It combines well with many other herbs and is used with thyme, tarragon, bay, and parsley to make a bouquet garnish.
DillFresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called “dill weed” to distinguish it from dill seed) are used as herbs. The leaves and umbels of dill are a traditional favorite for pickling, but they can be used with a wide range of foods. Dill leaves provide a pleasantly strong seasoning when chopped into garden salads, cottage cheese, potato salads, meat or fish dishes, soups, stews, and sauces.
ChivesThese slender, hollow shoots have a mild onion flavor. Many cooks use scissors to cut fresh chives, sprinkling them like confetti on potatoes, eggs, and salads. They lose much of their flavor when they’re frozen or freeze-dried.
AniseAnise is the dried ripe fruit of the herb Pimpinella anisum. Anise is used whole or crushed in cookies, cakes, bread, cheese, pickles, stews, fish, and shellfish. Roasting enhances the flavor.
FennelThe leaves and stems can be used in much the same way as celery. Florence fennel bulbs are used in salads or as the main ingredient in a salad or lightly steamed as a vegetable accompaniment. Fennel seeds are the ingredient that gives Italian sausage its characteristic taste.
MarjoramMarjoram is sweeter and milder than its close relative, oregano. It’s often used to season meats and fish and works best when it’s added near the end of the cooking period. Fresh is best, but frozen or dried marjoram are acceptable substitutes. It combines well with many other herbs and is used with thyme, tarragon, bay, and parsley to make a bouquet garnish.
Oregano (Pronounced: uh-REG-uh-no)Oregano is a popular herb in Mediterranean countries, where it’s often used to season tomato sauces, meat dishes, and pizzas. Mexican oregano has a mintier taste than ordinary oregano.
Bay leavesBay leaves are used extensively in Mediterranean cuisines, lending a woodsy flavor to sauces, stews, and grilled meats. It’s best to add whole leaves, then remove them before serving the dish.
Hyssop (pronouced: HISS-up)The leaves and small blue flowers of this plant are used as a garnish or to impart a mild, slightly bitter flavor to salads, soups, and liqueurs.
ParsleyParsley is prized both for its looks and for its fresh, grassy flavor. There are two common varieties: the mild curly parsley and the more flavorful Italian parsley. Frozen parsley is a good substitute for fresh, but dried parsley adds only color.
RosemaryThe Italians are particularly fond of this pungent herb with its needle-like leaves. They often use it to flavor meats and tomato sauces. Rosemary stems, stripped of their leaves, can also be used as skewers for kabobs. Dried rosemary is an excellent substitute for fresh.
Thyme (pronounced: TIME)This herb is widely used in Mediterranean countries to flavor stews and meat sauces. It’s often used in combination with other herbs, like rosemary, parsley, and oregano.
Varieties of Herbs

Uses of Herbs

The culinary uses of herbs are vast.

  • Palatability: The flavor and the colors make the dish more palatable.

  • Enhance flavor: Those wishing to retain flavor while reducing their intake of salt find herbs indispensable in their cooking.

  • Improve Appearance: The appearance of the food.

  • Helps in digestion: Herbs aid in digestion.

  • Cost Effective: Herbs are relatively cheaper. They are affordable for all.

  • Nutritional Benefits: Everyone benefits nutritionally when herbs are part of a recipe. For example, parsley is the third most nutritious vegetable rich in vitamin A and chlorophyll which contributes to healthy red blood cells. All fresh herbs are a healthy addition to main courses, soups, salads, and side dishes.

Preserving Fresh Herbs

The faster the herbs dry, the more flavorful the resulting dried herb will be.

  • Conventional Oven: Place clean dry herb sprigs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at the lowest setting until herbs are dry and brittle. This should take about 12 hours. Strip leaves from stems & place in small airtight storage containers. Forced air drought ovens are preferable over closed ovens.

  • Air Drying: Tie small bunches of herbs with string and hang them upside down by the stems in a dry warm open spot out of direct sunlight. Be sure air circulates freely around the bunches. Let dry till the leaves are brittle. This usually takes a few days to a week, depending on the thickness of the leaves. Pick off the dried leaves & store them in tightly covered containers in a cool, dry place for about two weeks or till dry and brittle.

  • Microwave Drying: Pick when the dew has just gone off. Put on paper towels on a plate in the microwave. Zap on high for a minute to start (at that point they appear “wet”). Stir them, zap them again for another minute, move around again, and zap for approximately 30 seconds more or until they are dry and crumbly. Rub between your hands to break up, pick out any twiggy parts, and put them in small jars or baggies.

  • Freezing Herbs: Wrap in foil or plastic wrap. You can also chop clean herbs, place them in ice cube trays & fill them with water. When needed remove herb ice cubes and drop them into hot cooking liquid. You can also wrap bunches of fresh herbs in foil or plastic wrap and freeze them for several weeks. You should expect some discoloration of frozen herbs. Mark the date on the container of your dried herbs. They can be kept for one year. Heat, moisture, and light rob herbs of flavor. You can also make herb butter and herb vinegar.


A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavoring, and sometimes as a preservative by killing or preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Many of these substances are also used for other purposes, such as medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics, perfumery, or eating vegetables. For example, turmeric is also used as a preservative; licorice as a medicine; garlic as a vegetable, and as medicine as well. In some cases, they are referred to by different terms.

In the kitchen, spices are distinguished from herbs. Herbs are leafy, green plant parts used for flavoring purposes. Herbs, such as basil or oregano, may be used fresh, and are commonly chopped into smaller pieces. Spices, however, are dried and often ground or grated into a powder. Small seeds, such as fennel and mustard seeds, are used both whole and in powder form.

Varieties of Spices

The following are the different varieties of spices:

AllspiceAllspice comes from a single tree, but it tastes like a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
Cardamom (Cardamon)Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more astringent aroma, though not bitter, with coolness similar to mint, though with a different aroma. It is a common ingredient in Indian cooking, and is often used in baking in Nordic countries.It is one of the most expensive spices by weight, and only a small quantity is needed to impart the flavor.
Cassia cinnamonWith its warm, sweet flavor, cinnamon is one of the biggest workhorses on the spice shelf. Cooks often use it to flavor baked goods and drinks, but cinnamon also works wonders in stews, sauces, and dishes like biryani or pulav.
CloveCloves are nail-shaped dried unopened flower buds that have a sweet, penetrating flavor. They can be ground and used to flavor baked goods or sauces or left whole and poked into roasted hams or pork. Use cloves sparingly a little goes a long way. Used usually in combination with cinnamon.
Coriander seeds (pronounced: CORE-ee-an-dehr)This is similar to anise seed, but sweeter and milder. It pairs well with fish, but Italians also like to add it to sauces, meatballs, and sausages. Both the seeds and the stalks from the plant are sometimes called fennel. If a recipe calls for a large amount, it probably intends for you to use the stalks.
Cumin (Jeera)Cumin is a key ingredient in Southwestern chili recipes, but it’s also widely used in Latin America, North Africa, and India. Freshly roasted and ground cumin seeds are far superior to packaged ground cumin.
Dill seedDill seed tastes like dill leaves, but it’s much stronger. It’s a common ingredient in pickles, dips, and potato salad.
Fennel seed (pronunced: FEN-uhl)These tiny, nutty seeds are typically used in baked goods, but some cuisines also use them in savory dishes. Europeans prefer black poppy seeds, while Indians prefer white, but the two kinds can be substituted for one another. Poppy seeds are high in fat.
Mustard seedsMustard seeds have a hot, pungent flavor. They’re often ground and made into prepared mustard or added to stews and sauces to give them some zip. Indian cooks usually prefer smaller and more pungent brown mustard seeds or black mustard seeds.
Poppy seeds (pronounced: POP-ee)These tiny, nutty seeds are typically used in baked goods, but some cuisines also use them in savory dishes. Eu ropeans prefer black poppy seeds, while Indians prefer white, but the two kinds can be substituted for one another. Poppy seeds are high in fat.
Sesame seedThese nutritious seeds have a mild, nutty flavor. They’re commonly used in baked goods, Asian stir-fries, and Middle-Eastern candies.
SaffronSaffron is the world’s most expensive spice. It only takes a few threads to add saffron’s distinct yellow color and earthy aroma to a family meal of paella or bouillabaisse. The threads should be red with orange tips. Threads lacking orange tips may be dyed. Holland and Kashmir are the major sources of saffron. Kashmir saffron is considered to be the best.
PepperThese come in different colors and potencies. Green peppercorns are packed in brine, vinegar, or salt soon after they’re picked. They’re mild and soft and can be eaten whole. Black pepper and white pepper are both dried and sold either ground or as whole peppercorns. Black pepper has a stronger flavor and is far more popular than white; many cooks just use white pepper when they want to avoid having black specks in a light-colored sauce.
Varieties of Herbs

Uses of Spices

  • Enhance flavor: Dishes would be inspired and bland if the spices were not added, because they give a good flavor and stimulate appetite.

  • Improve Appearance: Some of the spices give color to the food and improve the appearance of the dish. Turmeric, saffron, coriander leaves, and poppy seeds add color to food which makes the dish attractive and appetizing.

  • Improve palatability: The spices like coriander seeds, paprika, and pepper enhance the taste of the food.

  • Act as a preservative: Many foods are preserved for a longer time with the help of spices. Spices that have preservative quality are turmeric, cloves, mustard, and asafoetida. Pickling is one of the forms of preservation.

  • Used for medicinal purposes: Spices are used as a remedy for various health problems. Turmeric has antiseptic properties, and Saunf helps in digestion.


A condiment is a prepared edible substance or mixture, often preserved or fermented, that is added in variable quantities, most often at the table, to make food more suitable to the diner’s taste. Some condiments are dry such as a mixture of herbs and seasonings or Parmesan cheese. However many are preserved sauces that have been put into a bottle, jar, or other container.

For convenience, some condiments are provided in single-serving packets often with take-out foods. Many condiments are most likely not to be eaten on their own. Although sometimes considered a condiment, salt is more strictly a seasoning than a condiment, as it has not been prepared.

Condiments may be served on the side or as a garnish and may be added as a topping to a hot dog. When served separately, the amount is usually at the diner’s discretion. However, condiments may be added prior to serving. For example, a deli sandwich made with mayonnaise and mustard. Some condiments may also be used during cooking to add flavor or texture. For example, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, and soy sauce all of which have flavors that can be enhanced by cooking them with foods.

Varieties of Condiments

  • Barbecue Sauce (also abbreviated BBQ sauce): It is a liquid flavoring sauce or condiment ranging from watery to quite thick. As the name implies, it was created as an accompaniment to barbecued foods. While it can be applied to any food, it usually tops meat after cooking or during barbecuing, grilling, or baking. Traditionally it has been a favored sauce for pork or beef ribs and chicken. On rarer occasions, it is used for dipping items like fries, as well as a replacement for tomato sauce in barbecue-style pizzas.

  • Soy Sauce: Soy sauce is made from soybeans that have been fermented and salted. It’s used throughout Asia, with different regions producing quite different variations. Japanese soy sauce (shoyu) is sweeter and less salty than Chinese soy sauce. Chinese soy sauce is primarily made from soybeans, with relatively low amounts of other grains. There are two main varieties:
    • Light or fresh soy sauce: A thin (as in non-viscous), opaque, dark brown soy sauce. It is the main soy sauce used for seasoning since it is saltier, but it also adds flavor. Since it is lighter in color, it does not greatly affect the color of the dish.

    • Dark/old soy: A darker and slightly thicker soy sauce that is aged longer and contains added molasses to give its distinctive appearance. This variety is mainly used during cooking since its flavor develops under heating.
  • Brown Sauce: Brown sauce (meat stock-based) is a sauce based upon meat stock, found in French, Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Finnish cuisines. Steak sauce (more commonly known as a brown sauce in many countries) is a spiced condiment containing fruits and vinegar.

  • Duck Sauce: Duck sauce is an orange-hued Chinese American condiment used in Chinese American cuisine as a dip for deep-fried dishes, such as spring rolls, egg rolls, noodles, and deep-fried chicken balls. Duck Sauce is almost certainly an American invention, as it is virtually unknown in authentic Chinese cuisine. It is made from sweet plums or other fruit such as peach or apricot, sugar, vinegar, ginger, and chili pepper. It is also commonly referred to as plum sauce.

  • Hoisin Sauce: Hoisin sauce, or Haixian Sauce also called suckling pig sauce, is a Chinese dipping sauce. Hoisin sauce is similar to the sweet noodle sauce made from fermented soybeans but has the added ingredients of garlic, vinegar, and chili peppers. Additionally, it tastes less pungent than sweet noodle sauce. Mandarin-style Hoisin sauce ingredients include water, sugar, soybeans, white distilled vinegar, rice, salt, wheat flour, garlic, red chili peppers, and several preservatives and coloring agents. Traditionally, Hoisin sauce is made using sweet potato

  • Chinese Mustard: Mustard is most often used as a condiment on meat, especially cold meats. It is also used as an ingredient in mayonnaise and vinaigrette, marinades, and barbecue sauce. It can also be used as a base for salad dressing when combined with vinegar and/or olive oil. Mustard is a popular accompaniment to hot dogs and Bratwurst. Dry mustard, typically sold in tins, is used in cooking and can be mixed with water to become prepared mustard.

  • Tomato Paste: Tomato paste is a thick paste made from ripened tomatoes with skin and seeds removed. Depending on its manufacturing conditions, it can be used to make either ketchup or reconstituted tomato juice. Its most common culinary usage is as a pizza sauce base, but it is also used in small quantities to enrich the flavor of sauces, particularly tomato sauce. It is most commonly available in tin cans and squeeze tubes.

  • Tomato puree: Tomato purée can be used in soups, stews, sauces, or any other dish where the tomato flavor is desired, but not the texture. It is often deprecated by professional chefs, who find it to have an overly cooked flavor compared to other forms of canned tomatoes.

  • Mint Sauce: Mint sauce is a sauce made from finely chopped mint leaves, soaked in vinegar, and a small amount of sugar. Occasionally the juice from a squeezed lime is added. The sauce should have the consistency of double cream. In British and Irish cuisine it is traditionally used as an accompaniment to roast lamb or, in some areas, mushy peas. Mint sauce can sometimes be used in recipes in place of fresh mint, for instance, it can be added to yogurt to make a mint raita.

  • Worcestershire Sauce: It is a widely used fermented liquid condiment. Worcestershire sauce is often an ingredient of Caesar Salad and can be used as a steak sauce. Welsh rarebit is a combination of cheese, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and other ingredients, frequently eaten with bread, toast, or crackers. Marylanders often use this sauce in their famous crab cakes.

  • Chutney (Chatni): Chutney is a term for a variety of sweet and spicy condiments, originally from the Indian subcontinent. Chutney, as a genre, is often similar to the salsa of Latin American cuisine, or European relish insofar as it usually involves a fresh, chopped primary vegetable/fruit with seasonings added, to be used as a condiment for another food. Chutney may be dry or wet; dry chutney is generally in the form of powder. In India, chutney is often made to be eaten fresh, using whatever suitable strongly flavored ingredients are locally traditional or available at the time.

    Many authentic types of chutney contain significant amounts of fresh green chili peppers; the other main ingredient can be any of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Most vegetable chutneys are prepared cold in a blender, while many fruit chutneys do require cooking. Popular chutneys include Coconut chutney; Onion chutney; Tomato chutney; Coriander (Cilantro) and/or mint chutney (both are often called Hari chutney, where ‘Hari’ is Hindi for ‘Green’); Tamarind chutney (Imli chutney); Mango chutney (made from unripe, green mangos); Lime chutney (made from whole, unripe limes); Garlic chutney made from fresh garlic, coconut, and groundnut; Green tomato chutney.

Uses of Condiments

  • Improve appearance: Condiments improve the appearance of the food. “We eat with our eyes, and choosing colorful condiments can enhance the nutritional value of a routine food.” says a famous dietician.

  • Nutritious: Some condiments are rich in minerals, trace elements flavoring agents, and essential oils.

  • Low-fat diet: Condiments can be the key to helping you stay on a low-fat diet.

  • Easy and quick to prepare food: Dark leafy greens and tomatoes are added with condiments to replace the mayo. Thus a quick lunch with a serving or more of vegetables and little excess fat can be served easily.

  • Adds flavor: Condiments added to foods enhance the flavor and today they are getting more compliments than ever. They used to be bit players in most meals, but as Americans seek ways to cut fat from their diets they’re finding that condiments can add lots of flavor without the fat, if chosen properly.

  • Affordable: Condiments are an affordable indulgence. People tend to use them in small amounts. It can be kept in the refrigerator for a relatively long time. Affordable condiments are an affordable indulgence. People tend to use them in small amounts. It can be kept in the refrigerator for a relatively long time.
Article Reference
  • K.T. Farrell (1998), Spices, Condiments and Seasonings, Springer.

  • K.V. Peter (2004), Handbook of Herbs and Spices, Woodhead Publishing.

  • Henry B. Heath (1981), Source Book of Flavors, Springer.

  • Kenji Hirata, Mitsuo Takemasa (1998), Spice Science and Technology, CRC Press.

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