Herbs - Fresh vs Dry

Articles
January 25, 2003

Herbs - Fresh vs Dry

Herbs come from the leaves of plants. They have been used for centuries in both cooking and as medicines. When it comes to cooking, the topic of whether herbs are the most flavorful when they are fresh or dry, is largely a matter of taste and surely debated in countless kitchens across the world

Herbs come from the leaves of plants. They have been used for centuries in both cooking and as medicines. When it comes to cooking, the topic of whether herbs are the most flavorful when they are fresh or dry, is largely a matter of taste and surely debated in countless kitchens across the world. Taste however, can be affected by both storage and cooking techniques. Here are some tips to guide you.

When you need to substitute dry herbs for fresh, use this conversion: one tablespoon of fresh equals one teaspoon of dry. If you are cooking something for several hours, avoid cooking out the flavors and wait until the dish is almost ready before adding either fresh or dried herbs. For foods you are chilling, such as pasta salads, you'll need to do the opposite, since adding herbs several hours in advance gives the flavors a chance to meld.

Fresh Herbs

When you buy fresh herbs, treat them much as you would fresh flowers. First, snip off the bottom of the stems then throw away the damaged leaves. Stems that are soft can be eaten along with the rest of the herb. Put the herbs, stems down, in a tall glass of water, leaving the top part of the herb exposed. Cover the top with plastic and place the glass in the refrigerator. Change the water every other day or so. When you are ready to use the herbs, rinse them again, pat dry, then chop them or use cooking scissors to cut the herbs until they are very fine.

If you grow your own herbs, you can preserve them for months in the freezer. Wash and dry them first, then place them in freezer bags. Be sure to mark the date on the bag. Herbs that freeze well include tarragon, basil, dill, chives and parsley. Parsley, perhaps the most commonly used of all herbs, in addition to serving as a garnish, can freshen your breath (when eaten fresh) and is a source of vitamins A and C.

Dry Herbs

Though many people store dry herbs above their stove, it is not recommended since the constant heat source and exposure to light can cause them to lose flavor. A dark, cool and dry place is best.

To dry herbs, your microwave is a great time saver. Begin by washing them, then patting dry and placing the leaves between paper towels. Heat on your lowest microwave setting for around three minutes. Herbs that are great for drying include bay leaves, marjoram and oregano.

To release the flavor of dried herbs, crumble them between your fingers or use a grinder. To check the freshness of dried herbs, rub them between your fingers, if there is only a little aroma or none at all, it is time to throw out the old and replenish your stock. Most dried herbs have about a shelf life of a year.

Sources: Heinerman's New Encyclopedia of Fruits and Vegetables; The American Dietetic Association