One of the best ways to start using the harvest from your garden is cooking with fresh or dried herbs. But how do they stack up against one another?
Fresh Herbs Versus Dried Herbs
First of all, we’ll look at how to substitute fresh herbs for dried and vice versa. One tablespoon of fresh herbs equals one teaspoon of dried herbs. Just like with adding salt to your recipes, you can always add more herbs, but it’s harder to take them away once they’ve been added to the dish.
How to Store Fresh Herbs
Fragile fresh herbs like mint and basil should be placed upright in a glass with an inch of water, topped with a plastic bag, and kept at room temperature.
How to Store Dried Herbs
Keep dried herbs out of the light in a cool, dry location. If dried herbs have been open for too long, they will lose their aromatics and will not taste as strong. When you open the container of dried herbs, you may wish to write the open date on them so you can refer to it in the future. Glass containers like jars—or any airtight container, even one made of plastic—is suitable for storing your dried herbs.
Tips for Cooking with Dried or Fresh Herbs
- Dried herbs can’t always stand in for fresh herbs in the kitchen. Some herbs have less flavor when they’re dried, like basil, dill, or parsley. Parsley undergoes an almost complete loss of flavor, while basil begins to taste a lot like mint. But some herbs are best used dried. Oregano, for example, has a dried flavor that’s more complex and lasts longer than that of fresh oregano. Bay leaves are nearly universally used dried.
- Dried herbs get added in small amounts so they won’t overpower your dish. In addition to tasting stronger, dried herbs can have a more complex, spicier flavor overall than fresh herbs.
- The aromatic oils in dried herbs have decreased due to the drying process. To release these oils (and subsequently more of the flavor of dried herbs), place the herbs in the palm of your hands and rub your hands together.
- You can ensure that dried herbs release maximum flavor by putting the herbs into the dish earlier, so they have plenty of time. In contrast, fresh herbs should be added at the very end of cooking. The less time fresh herbs spend in the pot or pan, the better. This is because fresh herbs are more fragile.
- Just because they’re dried doesn’t mean dried herbs will last forever. Most expire at around a year from the time they were opened. When herbs go bad, they taste musty, and you can see how expired they are by tracking how much of their green color the herbs have lost.
- Sometimes herbs are best cut in a chiffonade. This technique is a bit fussy, but it produces lovely thin ribbons of fresh herbs you can use in your dishes. Start by sorting the leaves into small stacks, with the largest on the bottom. Then roll the leaves up like a cigar. With your knife perpendicular to the cigar shape, begin to cut the roll of leaves into thin ribbons.
How to Dry Fresh Herbs
Now that you’ve learned about when to use fresh herbs and when to use dried, maybe it’s time to start drying some of the fresh herbs your garden produces.
Air Drying: This one is pretty simple. Just tie the herbs together in small bunches about an inch across, then hang them upside down. Use a rubber band, which will tighten to adjust when the herbs are smaller because they’ve dried a bit. When the herbs have dried completely, you can crumble the dried foliage off and into a container for preservation.
Microwave Drying: This technique starts out with pulling the leaves and any other parts you want to save off the herbs, discarding the stems along with any seeds or other trash. Wash the foliage you’ve saved and let it dry. Then microwave the leaves between two paper towels for one minute.
Oven Drying: As with microwave drying, the oven drying process starts with picking the leaves off your herbs and then washing them. After the herbs have dried, lay them out on a nonstick material: cheesecloth, muslin, or a silicone mat. On your oven’s lowest setting, let the herbs cook for about half an hour. When they’re done, the leaves won’t resist being torn and will crumble to bits easily.
Now you’ve learned all about dried herbs versus fresh herbs. As you can tell, one option isn’t better than the other all the time. You have to take the situation into account. You’ve also learned about when to use dried versus fresh herbs, so you know that there’s no one answer that’s always the best. And now that you also know how to cook with and store your herbs, you’re ready to navigate from garden to kitchen, using dried and fresh herbs with ease.