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Spice It Up!
By Kay Daly
Spice Or Herb | Basics | Basics | And More Basics | Blends | Fancy | Storage | Recipes

Daily dinner tasting drab? The key to pepping up your palate is spices -- those mysterious little jars and bottles you remember from mom's pantry. Don't be intimidated by these tongue teasers: A quick tour of the spice cabinet can take you from nutritional neophyte to galloping gourmet in no time.

Spice vs. Herb
In a nutshell, herbs and spices are nature's little flavoring additives. They both come from plants, but they differ in a few simple ways:

  • Herbs are leaves, typically from plants that grow in a temperate climate. They can be used dried or fresh.
  • Spices come from the other parts of the plant: roots, bark, seeds, flowers, fruits, and so forth. They're usually dried and ground before use. Spice plants tend to grow in more tropical climates.

Occasionally, you'll find a plant that straddles the line, such as anise or cilantro (known as coriander when it crosses the spice line). Use the leaves, and you've got herbs; use the other stuff, and you're spicing it up.

Dry vs. Fresh
Technically, you can substitute dried herbs for fresh and vice versa. Use about one-third the amount of dried herb as you would use of fresh (e.g., if the recipe calls for one cup of fresh dill, use 1/3 cup of dried dill). But be advised: the flavor will not quite be the same. The fresh herbs taste... well, fresh. There's a cleaner, more vivid flavor that dry just can't imitate. And dried herbs have a depth and complexity that fresh cannot match. So, yes you can substitute, but not if you're trying to wow anyone with your cooking.

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