Holiday Herb Shopping: Fresh vs. Dry. Read Before You Shop

December 15, 2014

Holiday food prep may call for less frequently used herbs and spices, here is your guide to shop and determine if you can substitute fresh for dry and vice versa...

Holiday food prep may call for less frequently used herbs and spices, here is your guide to shop and determine if you can substitute fresh for dry and vice versa - depending on the seasonality of where you live.

It’s no secret that we’re all looking forward to delicious, well-spiced holiday meals. And thankfully, the addition of herbs not only adds flavor (and nostalgia!) but also adds nutrition – especially at a time when colds and flus abound. Herbs come from the leaves of plants and have been used for centuries in both cooking and as medicines.

When shopping in the market and preparing meals, the question 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 storage, cooking techniques, and the time of year. When it comes to choosing what you need, here are some of SupermarketGuru’s tips to guide you.

When you need to substitute dry herbs for fresh (especially this time of year when fresh, local herbs are scarce), use one tablespoon of fresh to 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 blend and mingle.

Fresh Herbs
When buying 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 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, and they are ready to use.

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 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 and exposure to light can cause them to lose flavor. A dark, cool and dry place is best.

To dry herbs yourself, your microwave is a great time saver. Begin by washing, 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 one year.