March 2017
Homeplace & Community

Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Spices and herbs have been used in foods for centuries. Spices were once so costly only the wealthy could afford them. In 11th-century Europe, many towns paid their taxes and rents with pepper. The reason for Columbus’ voyage in 1492 was to seek a more direct passage to the rich spices of the Orient.


What’s the difference between a spice and an herb?


Reducing Fat, Sugar and Salt Tips

Spices and herbs can help retain flavor in your foods while cutting back on dietary fat, sugar and sodium/salt.

Reducing Fat – Removing a tablespoon of fat removes about 10 grams of fat and 100 calories – an amount that could represent a 10-pound weight loss in a year. The calories in herbs and spices are far less than in breading, batters, gravies, sauces and fried foods.

Reducing Sugar – Reduce or eliminate sugar by using these sweet-tasting spices:

Reducing Salt – Here are some tips when using spices and herbs to help you reduce the salt in foods:


Flavor and Food Combinations

These flavor and food combinations, adapted from information provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (, have the added benefit of making meat, poultry, fish and vegetables tasty without adding salt.

For meat, poultry and fish, try one or more of these combinations:

For vegetables, experiment with one or more of these combinations:


Common Substitutions

General Rules for Amounts

If possible, start with a tested recipe from a reliable source. If you’re creating your own recipe, begin with trying one or two spices or herbs. The amount to add varies with the type of spice or herb, type of recipe and personal preference.

Substitute Equivalent Amounts of Different Forms

What if your recipe calls for fresh herbs and all you have are dried? Here are some approximate amounts of different forms of herbs equivalent to one another:

General Rules for Amounts

If you don’t know how much of a spice or herb to use these recommendations as a good rule of thumb, remember to use more herbs if using a fresh or crumbled dried form.

Begin with ¼ teaspoon of most ground spices or ground dried herbs for these amounts and adjust as needed:

Doubling a Recipe


When to Add Spices and Herbs

The type of herb and the type of food for which it is used influence the time to add it during food preparation:

  • Add the more delicate fresh herbs (basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram and mint) a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it’s served.

  • The less delicate fresh herbs (dill seeds, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme) can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking.

  • For some foods such as breads, batters, etc., you’ll need to add fresh herbs at the beginning of the cooking process.

  • Whole dried spices and herbs (whole allspice and bay leaves):

  • Release their flavors slower than crumbled or ground ones.

  • Are ideal for dishes cooking an hour or more such as soups and stews.

  • Ground dried spices and herbs:

  • Release their flavor quickly.

  • May taste best in shorter-cooking recipes or added nearer the end of longer-cooking ones.

  • Crumbled dried herbs may differ:

  • Milder herbs such as basil may flavor best added toward the end of cooking.

  • More robust herbs such as thyme can stand longer cooking periods.

  • Freshly grinding spices such as black pepper and nutmeg provide more flavor than buying them already ground. This also applies to using them in uncooked foods.

  • Secure whole spices such as cloves in a tea ball for easy removal at the end of cooking.

  • Warning: Remove bay leaves at the end of cooking. They can be a choking hazard if left in foods and can cause harmful cuts and scratches in your throat and esophagus.



For uncooked foods, add both fresh and dried spices and herbs several hours before serving to allow flavors to blend. For example, think potato salad with fresh versus dried parsley!


For more information on using spices:

Check these websites for more information and recipes using spices and herbs:

American Spice Trade Association,


Penzeys Spices,



** Note: No endorsement of products is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.


Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.