The Real Difference Between Spices and Seasonings

Justin Micheal

Food Writer & Editor in Chief For KitchenSanity

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

Learn more about KitchenSanity's Editorial Guidelines.

I spent an entire afternoon sorting through my spice rack, only to realize that half of what I have are actually seasoning blends. That got me thinking about the real difference between spices and seasonings.

Spices are usually single ingredients like black pepper or cinnamon sticks, derived from various parts of plants. On the other hand, seasonings are a bit more complex because they are often blends of spices, herbs, and other flavor enhancers like salt or sugar.

If you’ve ever scratched your head wondering about spices or types of seasonings to use, you’re in the right place!

Spice vs. Seasoning: Quick Comparison

This comparison should help you quickly grasp the key differences and benefits of using spices and seasonings.


  • From plant parts like seeds and bark.
  • Usually a single ingredient.
  • Examples: Black Pepper, Cinnamon.
  • Potent, use sparingly.
  • Long shelf life.
  • Often more expensive.


  • Blend of spices, herbs, and other flavors.
  • Adds complex flavor to dishes.
  • Examples: Italian, Taco Seasoning.
  • May contain additives or salt.
  • Convenient, quick flavor boost.
  • Cost varies, and can be DIY.

What Are Spices?

So, what exactly are spices? They come from various parts of plants, like seeds, bark, and roots, and they’re usually dried. Common spices you might find in your kitchen include black Pepper, cinnamon sticks, and allspice berries.

  • Black Pepper is a staple, great for adding a bit of heat level to almost any dish.
  • Cinnamon sticks, on the other hand, are more for sweet dishes and can even be used in some savory ones.
  • Allspice berries are versatile, adding a lovely couple of flavors like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg all rolled into one.

One of the best things about spices is their ability to add complexity to dishes. A pinch of brown mustard can elevate a simple vinaigrette, and a dash of chili powder can transform a stew. However, spices can be potent, and using them in excess can overpower the taste of your food.

When it comes to cost, spices can be a bit of an investment. Some, like saffron, can be incredibly expensive due to the labor-intensive harvesting process.

But don’t worry because most common spices like black Pepper and garlic powder are relatively affordable and last a long time if stored properly.

collection of different spices

What Is Seasoning?

Remember the time you first discovered the magic of Italian seasoning? It’s like someone handed you a cheat sheet for making any dish taste like it came from a rustic Italian kitchen.

Seasoning is a broad term that includes spices, herbs, salt, and other flavor enhancers. It’s a blend of flavors that gives your food its character.

For instance, Italian seasoning is a blend of herbs like oregano, thyme, and basil. Poultry seasoning, another popular choice, usually combines sage, thyme, and rosemary.

These blends of herbs and spices are designed to add a specific flavor to food, making them a convenient choice for busy cooks.

taco seasoning with measuring spoons

While seasoning blends like taco seasoning or Cajun seasoning are super convenient, they can sometimes contain additives or excessive salt.

So, if you’re watching your sodium intake or prefer a cleaner ingredient list, you might want to make your own blends.

Cost-wise, seasonings can be a mixed bag. Pre-made blends can be pricier than individual ingredients, but they offer the benefit of convenience. On the flip side, making your own blends can be cost-effective, especially if you buy herbs and spices in bulk. Plus, you get to control the flavor, which is always a win in my book.

Cooking With Spices And Seasonings

Ever toss a handful of spices into a dish and end up with something that tasted like a spice market exploded in your mouth? Yeah, me too. The key to effective use of seasonings and spices is balance.

Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

  1. Select: Choose spices or seasonings that complement your dish.
  2. Start Small: Begin with a small amount, adjusting as needed.
  3. Taste As You Go (unless your food is still raw): Continuously taste and adjust the seasoning. Give some time for the flavors to develop before taste tests.
  4. Apply Evenly: Ensure even distribution for consistent flavor.
  5. Mind The Cook Time: Some spices/seasonings may need time to meld, while others are best added last because they may turn bitter when cooked too long.
  6. Adjust: Before serving, do a final taste and adjust if necessary.
  7. Experiment: Explore different spices and seasonings to discover unique flavor combinations.

Black and white peppers are versatile but have subtle differences in flavor. Black Pepper is bolder, while white Pepper is milder and less complex. Knowing these nuances can help you choose the right spice for the right dish, enhancing the taste quality without overwhelming it.

Now, let’s talk freshness. A sprig of fresh herbs and a dash of spices can bring a vibrant burst of flavor to food. If you’ve ever compared dried basil to fresh basil, you know what I’m talking about. Fresh flavors from herbaceous plants like basil or mint can add a completely new dimension to your dishes.

But fresh isn’t always feasible. Dry seasonings that include onion powder or garlic powder are pantry staples for a reason. They have a long shelf life and can add a quick burst of flavor to dishes. Just remember, dried herbs and spices are more concentrated, so you’ll need smaller amounts compared to fresh ones.

Basic Spices And Seasonings To Have In Your Pantry


  • Black Pepper: Adds a mild heat and sharp flavor.
  • Garlic Powder: Offers a convenient way to add a garlic flavor.
  • Onion Powder: Convenient, provides a quick onion flavor to dishes without the prep and cooking time.
  • Cinnamon: Sweet, woody spice, great for savory and sweet dishes.
  • Cumin: Earthy, aromatic spice that is a core part of many spice blends.
  • Paprika: Sweet but sassy, it adds color and a mild sweetness to dishes.
  • Turmeric: Earthy, mild flavor, known for its vibrant yellow color.
  • Ginger: Zesty, peppery flavor, great fresh or dried.
  • Coriander: Nutty, citrusy flavor, often used in Indian cuisine.
  • Cardamom: Sweet, floral flavor, essential in many spice blends.
  • Nutmeg: Sweet, nutty flavor, perfect for baking.
  • Cloves: Bold, and aromatic, a little goes a long way.
  • Fennel Seeds: Sweet, licorice-like flavor, perfect for Italian dishes.
  • Bay Leaves: Adds a subtle bitterness and depth.
  • Allspice: Combines flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into a single spice.


  • Poultry Seasoning: Perfect blend for chicken and turkey dishes.
  • Salt: Enhances other flavors, a kitchen staple.
  • Cajun Seasoning: Spicy blend with a southern kick.
  • Herbes de Provence: French blend, perfect for roasts.
  • Greek Seasoning: Mediterranean flavors, great for grilling.
  • Curry Powder: Indian blend that adds a warm, spicy flavor.
  • Montreal Steak Seasoning: Coarse salty blend, perfect for grilling.
  • Chinese Five Spice: Sweet, spicy blend, essential in Chinese cuisine.
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice: Sweet blend, perfect for fall desserts.
  • Old Bay Seasoning: Spicy, savory blend perfect for seafood.
  • Chili Powder: For a spicy kick to dishes.
  • Lemon Pepper Seasoning: Zesty, peppery blend, great on veggies and fish.

Spice & Seasoning FAQs

Are Salt and Pepper Seasonings?

Actually, salt is a seasoning, while Pepper is a spice. Salt is a mineral used to enhance flavor, and it’s not derived from a plant. On the other hand, Pepper comes from the peppercorn plant and is considered a spice.

What Makes a Spice a Spice?

A spice is derived from specific parts of plants like seeds, bark, or roots. It’s usually a single ingredient and is often dried. Spices add a particular flavor or heat to dishes.

Is Spice a Flavor?

Spice isn’t a flavor in itself, but it adds flavor to food. Depending on their origin and preparation, spices can be sweet, savory, or hot. They’re used to enhance the existing flavors in a dish.

Do You Add Spices Before or After Cooking?

Both options work, depending on the dish and the spice. Some spices, like bay leaves, release their flavor over time and are best added early. Others, like ground spices, can lose potency when cooked too long and are better added later.

Is Sugar a Spice or Seasoning?

Sugar is considered a seasoning. It’s used to enhance the overall taste of food, particularly to add sweetness. Unlike spices, sugar doesn’t come from a specific part of a plant.

How Are Spices Made?

Spices are made by harvesting specific parts of plants, like seeds or bark. These parts are then usually dried and may be ground into a powder. The process can vary depending on the spice and its intended use.

Written By Justin Micheal

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

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