Fresh vs Dried Herbs – A Guide
When we consider fresh vs dried herbs in our cooking, it is usually because we are searching for the best flavors.
Early man celebrated wild herbs through cave paintings, depicting the many benefits of herbs.
However, herbs haven’t always been used for their flavor, or even medicinal purposes.
There was a time when aromatic herbs in food were used to mask the odor of the less than fresh meat being cooked.
In fact herbs have been used to brighten up household smells, as well as body odor, throughout history.
Thankfully herbs have lots of better uses for cooking in most modern households these days.
Fresh vs Dried Herbs
Is there a reason a recipe calls for a dried herb instead of a fresh one?
There definitely is a purpose for this distinction, and it usually has to do with several factors.
The main one being that fresh herbs have very different characteristics compared to their dry counterparts.
Flavor plays a big part in the decision of using fresh vs dried herbs, some are more flavorful fresh and vice versa.
Also, some herbs are easy to find fresh, and some are not, this usually depends on the time of year.
Sometimes it can depend on climate, or how easy it is to grow the particular herbs in a distinct location.
Shelf life is another consideration when determining fresh and dried herbs usefulness.
When to Use Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs are best used when they are included in things like salads, or when making pasta.
Add fresh herbs into homemade pasta allowing the fresh herbs to impart their full flavor into the flour mixture.
Certain herbs like cilantro, parsley, chives, and even tarragon are best used fresh due to their subtle flavors.
These herbs lose a lot of their characteristic flavors when dried, or substituted dry to a dish.
Some dishes, like cream sauces, will call for fresh herbs to be added at the end of cooking.
A tablespoon of fresh basil is very flavorful when chopped and included at the very end of dish preparation.
Fresh rosemary included with a meat roast is an exceptional flavor combination, and a good use of a fresh herb when baking.
When to Use Dried Herbs
Generally dried herbs and spices are best used when cooking something that takes time, like a stew.
The bay leaf is a very well known dried herb that is used a lot in cooking all around the world.
Coming from the bay tree, these leaves have been used to flavor food since Roman times.
Bay leaves can be used fresh in cooking, however, it is more common to use the dried leaves, giving a kind of minty taste.
Once fresh herbs are heated and cooked for ten to fifteen minutes they lose the oils that impart their flavor, making them essentially tasteless.
Add a teaspoon of dry herbs when baking bread, or other savory pastries as a way to to enhance flavor.
How to Substitute Fresh vs Dried Herbs
The rule of thumb that I use is that for every one part fresh herb called for I use a third part of the dried herb.
So if the recipe calls for three teaspoons of fresh rosemary, I would then use one teaspoon of dried rosemary.
Dried herbs have a much stronger flavor due to the fact that they are much more concentrated.
There are a few herbs that are are exempted from this rule, and they are:
Thyme – use ¾ of a teaspoon of dried thyme for every one tablespoon of fresh thyme.
Basil – use one teaspoon of dried basil in place of two teaspoons of fresh basil.
Sage – use one teaspoon of dried sage in place of two teaspoons of fresh sage.
An important thing to keep in mind is that the addition of fresh herbs to food will be at a different stage than when you add dry herbs.
Dried herbs, just like ground spices, will usually be added at the beginning of a recipe.
And fresh herbs will be added towards the end of cooking.
How to Store Fresh vs Dried Herbs
Dried herbs definitely have a shelf life that is about one year, after which their flavor declines quickly.
The best way to keep dried herbs is in an airtight container in relatively small amounts to keep them fresh.
Don’t worry about throwing out your dried herbs once they lose their aroma; the best indicator that they have lost their flavor as well.
The ideal way to store fresh herbs is to keep the stems in a jar of water inside the refrigerator.
If that is not possible then keeping them loosely wrapped in a damp paper towel in a sealed bag or container.
Keeping as much air out is key, then placing the container in your fridge vegetable drawer is also a good option.