Spices, condiments, seasonings and herbs, what are the differences?

How many of us know if salt is a condiment or a seasoning?  Are all herbs spices?? or all seasonings condiments? so what is the definition of each of them?


The term ‘spice’ was derived originally from the Latin “species aromatacea”, meaning fruits of the earth. It was subsequently shortened to “species”, meaning a commodity of special value or distinction and subsequently to spices (Farrel, 1985). Classical authors of Europe in different times classified spices into four different categories such as:

Species Aromata – Those used for perfumes like cassia, cardamom, sweet marjoram and cinnamon.
Species Thumiamata – Those used for incense such as thyme, cinnamon, cassia and rosemary.
Species Condimenta – Those used for embalming or preservation, like cassia, cumin, cinnamon, anise, clove etc.
Species Theriaea – Those spices used for neutralizing poisons, such as anise, coriander, garlic, and oregano.

In Modern Definition:

“Spice shall mean or to be applied to any dried, fragrant, aromatic or pungent, edible vegetable or plant substance, in the whole, broken or ground form, which contributes flavour; whose primary function in food is seasoning rather than nutrition, and which may contribute relish or piquancy to foods or beverages that is true to name, and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been purposely removed, or which no additive or spent spice has been added. Spices may be either the dried arilla, bark, buds, bulbs, flowers, fruit, leaves, rhizome, roots, seeds, stigmas and styles or the entire plant tops”.


Condiments are defined as: “A condiment shall be a prepared food compound, containing one or more spices or spice extractives, which when added to a food after it has been served, enhances the flavor of food” (Farrel, 1985)

Condiments can be of two types: simple and compound. Simple condiments include celery salt, garlic salt, onion salt, pepper salt etc. Compound condiments include products such as chilli sauce, chutney, horseradish sauce, meat sauce, mint sauce, prepared mustard, soya sauce, sweet and sour sauce, tomato Ketchup etc.


Seasonings are compounds containing one or more spices, or spice extractives, which when added to a food either during its manufacture or in its preparation, before it is served, enhances the natural flavour of the food and thereby increase its acceptance by the consumer” (Farrel 1985).
The cardinal difference between condiments and seasonings is that the former is added after the food is served; while seasonings are added before a food is ready for service (i.e. while preparing). Some compounds may be part of a seasoning mix at one time and a complete condiment at another time depending on when and how they are used.  The most famous seasoning which indians can relate: Maggi Masala Mix!!


Herbs are variously defined. To a botanist, herbs are shortlived plants that die down at the end of the growing season or a non-woody plant that is an annual, biennial or perennial. In the culinary world, herbs mean plants used for flavouring, and medicinally they are plants used in the treatment of illnesses. However in the present context herbs can be defined as plant material (leaf, stem, flowering tops etc) of aromatic plants used to impart flavour, aroma and taste to foods.



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