Wednesday

Dried Herbs that Aren't Worth the Price (or Effort)

dried herbs
I love herbs, but only when they have great flavor. That leaves out a number of dried varieties. It's nice to think that drying herbs for use over the winter months (or buying them for a fast blast of flavor or aroma) is a foolproof way to develop culinary muscle. The fact is, though, that many herbs suffer when dried. They either lose much of their essential flavor or aroma. This isn't herb bashing; it is a sensible recommendation that you use your herb buying pennies to get the biggest bang for your flavor enhancing dollar.

Dried Herbs That Don't Pass Muster

The herbs listed below are pretty tasteless when dried:
Yes, you'll definitely find these dried herbs in your market, but their flavor is disappointing. The one exception may be parsley, but you'll discover that dried parsley will degrade very quickly in your cupboard. After a couple of months, it will be a colorful green with almost no flavor. If you like the idea of green specks in your chicken soup -- great. If you'd like some flavor with that garden fresh color, stick with fresh or frozen parsley.

If you're harvesting your own herbs, freeze cilantro, basil, parsley and chives in small bunches. You can also rough chop them into a water slurry and freeze batches in ice cube trays you can then transfer to large freezer bags. You can also try growing herbs indoors over the winter months. I've had some luck with over-wintering all the herbs above. If none of these suggestions appeal to you, this fab four is often offered fresh cut at major produce markets. The price may be more expensive than a bunch of green onions, but if you're making something special, it's worth it.

A Word About Dried Ginger

Ginger is another herb that loses most of its flavor once dried. If you want ginger for cooking but don't like the price in the market when you know you'll throw away more than you'll be using, try buying a nice piece of fresh root, slicing it in half-inch pieces and "pickling" it in Sherry or white wine. The ginger "in wine" will last for months in your fridge, and you can use it as you need it. More flavor, and money savings, too - what could be better. (See tips below)

Mint Takes Some Special Consideration Too

The mints can be problematical, too. Fresh mint has a great, bright flavor, but once it's dried, the flavor changes. It's there, but it loses the effervescent punch. For a relaxing or stomach settling tea, it's still effective. If you're considering adding dried mint to your vegetable or yogurt dish, you might want to stick to fresh. Some mints hold their flavor better than others, too. Spearmint and peppermint do well, but the subtle flavors in some specialty mints like orange mint can be lost in the drying process.

Drying Herbs Isn't Always a Compromise Move

Using dried herbs isn't all bad news. Bay leaf has better flavor when dried, and some seeds do, too. The flavors of oregano, thyme and sage are very vibrant dried. You might want to check even the old standbys before you use them, though. If you're used to seasoning lamb with fresh rosemary and try the dried variety, you may discover it has a more resinous aroma than you're used to. When using dried sage, there can sometimes be a musty aftertaste. The take away here is not to assume that a dried herb product will exactly reflect its fresh counterpart. Do some recon and adjust your recipes accordingly.

Ginger in Sherry: Slice ginger in half-inch pieces with the papery covering still in place. Place raw ginger in a glass jar with a plastic lid. (Old peanut butter jars are great for this.) Cover with Sherry or white wine (not dry). Refrigerate. You can use the ginger as needed in recipes. The wine will also take on a gingery flavor you can use in marinades.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:52:00 AM

    This was very helpful! Unfortunately, I already dried up my basil. I have some still in the ground that I will chop up and freeze in ice cubes, thanks to your sugestion!

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  2. Hi,

    Before you chop and freeze your remaining basil, consider placing some sprigs in a container of water. Simple tap water will do it. Six to seven inch sprigs with the lower leaves removed. Place the container in a sunny window (five to six hours of light). They should root in a week. Replace the water every five or six days.

    You probably won't get enough basil over the winter to do more than flavor a little marinara, but you'll have some nice aroma to keep you company and some starters for spring.

    Good luck,

    Sara

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  3. Anonymous8:41:00 PM

    I highly recommend freezing ginger roots and grating however much you need. No more worrying about bad ginger OR surprise ginger chunks!

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  4. Nathalie4:23:00 PM

    I never thought about freezing my herbs! This is a GREAT idea, thanks :) Off to freeze some basil and cilantro.

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  5. Deborah Roper10:28:00 PM

    I freeze most of my herbs and they taste like fresh and last until the next season's harvests. However, I share my herbs with family & friends and only way to ship them easily is dried. This year I'm growing a tea garden and will dry all 7 mints in hopes my Scottish friend will enjoy them for her tea breaks. Any suggestions on ways to pep up what may be bland mints?

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  6. I like a blend of equal parts peppermint and spearmint and sometimes add grated fresh ginger (dried ginger works too) and crushed black peppercorns. I also like: spearmint, lemon balm and lavender -- and apple mint, hibiscus flower and a pinch of English Breakfast (prepared tea blend).

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  7. I freeze basil in oil mashed flat in a platic bag- works a treat.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Marlena,

      That's a new one to try this season.

      Delete

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