Herbs & Spices Info

What are herbs and spices and oleoresins?

It is not easy to give a clear definition of herbs and spices, However, the trade definitions are:


Oleoresins are pure extractives of a spice or herb. They are concentrated natural liquid flavourings that contain both volatile and non-volatile flavour components. Oleoresins have a somewhat different flavour profile from essential oils and provide flavour profiles characteristic of the ground spice or herb with a more rapid flavour release.

Herbs and spices are used primarily as food ingredients in order to provide flavour, colour and enhanced visual appearance but they are also used in medicine and perfumery.

Oleoresins represent a method of obtaining a spice-like flavour profile in a concentrated, oil-soluble, liquid form. They typically contain five important components: essential oil, non-volatile characterising substances, fats, waxes and pigments.

Essential oils

Herb and spice essential oils are most commonly produced using steam distillation as a way of extracting the aroma and flavour compounds from the botanical material. The water is removed to create a highly concentrated, natural essential oil. Other methods include water distillation and solvent extraction.

The essential oils can be standardised from batch to batch to ensure consistent odour and flavour and to meet the desired QC specification. These products are microbiologically inert, and stable, so have long shelf life. These qualities can make them good substitutes for fresh or dried herbs and spices in certain applications.

Although they are called ‘oils’, they are not the ‘tri-glycerides’ that we are familiar with in everyday cooking such as sunflower oil or butter, but rather, they are called oils due to their hydrophobic, fat-soluble characteristics.

Herbs and Spices

Culinary herbs and spices are edible parts of the plants which are traditionally added to foodstuffs for their natural flavouring, aromatic and visual properties.

For more detail see ESA List of Culinary Herbs and Spices.


Herbs and Spice Blends*

These mixtures only contain herbs and spices and, if necessary, permitted anti-caking agents.



A seasoning is a blend of permitted food ingredients added as necessary to achieve the purpose for which it is designed, that is, to improve the taste, eating quality and/or functionality of a food. It typically contains one or more herbs and/or spices and other flavour-enhancing or flavour-imparting ingredients.


* The terms blend, mix and mixture are interchangeable.
** The Seasoning category includes seasonings with functional properties, for example, thickening, emulsifying, preserving, tenderising, colouring.

Culinary Herbs & Spices

This list of Culinary Herbs and Spices is not comprehensive but covers the most frequently used herbs and spices in Europe.


The History of Spice

Herbs & spices have been directly responsible for advances in medical science and the development of international food tastes.