Looking at a recipe for a carrot cake and spice cake might confuse you if you’re not used to it. After all, there are only a few key differences between the two, and you can easily make one or the other if necessary. But what sets carrot cake and spice cake apart?
The main difference between carrot cake and spice cake is the involvement of carrots. Carrot cake uses grated carrots, while space cake does not, and spice cake also uses more “spicy” ingredients, such as grated ginger and allspice, unlike carrot cake.
There are not a lot of differences between the two, so let’s look at each one in more detail.
What Is the Difference Between Carrot Cake and Spice Cake?
The main difference between carrot cake and spice cake is the main ingredient. Carrot cake is made with grated carrots, while spice cake typically includes a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
Of course, there are more detailed differences between the two that truly set them apart from each other. Let’s examine each one closely to get a better understanding.
The ingredients for a traditional carrot cake typically include the usual stuff you’ll see in cakes, such as flour, baking powder, salt, oil, sugar, and eggs, but with the addition of grated carrots. Cinnamon and nutmeg are also added for the cake’s signature spice, though you’re free to add more or change the spices according to your preference.
Spice cake, however, uses the same ingredients minus the grated carrots. This cake also uses more spices than carrot cake, beyond the typical cinnamon and nutmeg; that means adding fall-flavored spices such as allspice, ginger, and cloves.
Both cakes are topped with a cream cheese frosting – that part is almost non-negotiable. You can also add chopped walnuts or pecans to either cake for texture, but that’s not a requirement. Some even incorporate raisins into the cake.
The preparation for either cake is identical: combine all the wet and dry ingredients before slowly incorporating them. Pour the batter into a baking pan and bake at 350 °F (180 °C) for 30 minutes or until a testing toothpick comes out clean.
Considering the similarities in ingredients and preparation between the two, it’s not surprising that their taste is similar. Both cakes have a dense yet moist crumb that stands the weight of the cream cheese frosting. Both also have a warm, inviting aroma, thanks to the spices.
The grated carrots give a unique feeling that tells you it’s more than just a flour-based cake. Depending on the size of the grated carrots, there may even be a stray crunch, though this shouldn’t happen. It’s equal parts sweet and spicy, with a bit of contrast from the cream cheese icing.
Meanwhile, spice cake offers a dense and moist cake all the way through, bursting with a spicy flavor complemented by sweetness. If your recipe calls for adding darker sugars, such as molasses, you’ll encounter a deeper flavor that heightens the spice even more.
It’s a common misconception (or joke) that carrot cake is healthier because of the addition of carrots, but this isn’t true. A slice of carrot cake contains around 300 calories, while a portion of spice cake has 220 calories.   Carrot cake does edge out the spice cake in the fiber department, with the former offering 2 grams of dietary fiber compared to the latter’s zero.
Why is there such a significant difference in calorie content between the two? That’s because carrot cakes call for more oil than spice cakes. Although you can tweak the recipes into something healthier, a regular spice cake calls for ¾ cup (175 ml) of vegetable oil, while a carrot cake needs 230 ml or nearly a full cup of oil.  
As with anything sweet and decadent, portion control and discipline is key. It’s good to enjoy a bite or two every now and then, as long as you ensure you’re not eating the entire cake in one day.
At a glance, it can be challenging to identify a spice and carrot cake apart unless it’s labeled or someone tells you beforehand. That’s because both cakes have a golden to warm brown color, and both will have the same cream cheese frosting on top and in the middle (if served as a multilayered cake).
However, carrot cakes might have random specks of orange here and there, thanks to the grated carrots. Remember that they will only be visible if the grated carrots are larger and the cake itself is on the lighter end of the golden brown color. Finely-grated carrots won’t be as visually obvious, instead letting their presence be known through taste.
Carrot cake and spice cake can be served in various ways, depending on what you have and how you intend to present them. Here are some common ways to serve them:
- Layer cake: Bake two or three batches of round cakes to add frosting on each one, then stack them. The final product is a tall, multilayered cake with frosting between the layers, making each slice look more decadent and inviting.
- Cupcake: If you don’t want to commit to an entire cake tray, you can turn carrot and spice cakes into cupcakes. Portion the batter into a lined muffin tin, and top each with frosting. Perfect for portion control and presentation for parties.
- Sheet cake: Both carrot cake and spice cake can be placed in a rectangular or square pan, then cut into squares or rectangles. It’s another option for portion control and parties without needing cupcakes or muffin liners for each one.
- Loaf cake: If you want a casual or rustic serving, bake your carrot or spice cake in a loaf pan. Each slice won’t be your typical triangular cake slice, and the rustic appearance means you don’t have to worry about perfect frosting application. You can even leave the frosting out and serve them as “bread,” similar to banana bread.
Which Is Better: Carrot Cake or Spice Cake?
Carrot cake and spice cake are so similar that trying to pick the better one can be difficult. They both use nearly the same ingredients and are prepared the same way, and you can even use the same icing for both cakes.
The main decider should be whether you prefer grated carrots in your cake or if you prefer more spices in the flavor. Grated carrots can add texture to a slice but may not suit anyone’s tastes. A spicy cake might also sound mouthwatering to some people, but others might find the flavor too overwhelming.
If you still can’t decide which one to make, why not do both and pick a favorite from there?