Many consumers, without herb gardens of their own, will choose to purchase dried herbs more frequently than fresh due to cost and convenience.
Dried herbs are suitable for certain recipe applications, however, there are just as many recipes that would benefit from fresh.
Consequently, other than listening to your wallet, how should one discriminate choosing between them?
Although fresh herbs seem to offer the most flavour, they are not a necessity for all recipes. Dried herbs need time and moisture to release their flavours, and therefore are adequate in dishes that require a certain amount of cooking time to allow for this re-hydration.
Examples of these recipes would be ones such as pasta sauce, chili, soups, or other stewed dishes.
Fresh herbs can be used in these applications, but are better suited being added at the end of the cooking process as they can lose their potency if cooked for too long.
Many people also use dried herbs in marinades and compound butters. Compound butters are combinations of herbs, seasonings, and flavourings combined with butter to create finishing touches to certain dishes.
Garlic butter, for example, is probably the most recognizable compound butter.
A large misconception with dried herbs, however, is that they last forever. They don’t. There are steps one can take to inhibit their deterioration like storing them in a cool dark place, but eventually they will lose their pungency.
Typically, I would suggest replacing dried herbs every six-eight months if stored properly. I have found the bulk foods sections at the grocery stores are the best option for doing this economically.
Get in the habit of only purchasing slightly more than what you need for a recipe. This will keep your home inventory low and your recipes tasting better.
Since the moisture (water content) has been removed from dried herbs, they are more potent (per measure) than fresh herbs. This is an important consideration when changing a recipe to accommodate the herbs you have on hand.
The only herb this rule is not applicable to is tarragon—it is more potent (per measure) in its fresh form.
Given the choice to be stranded on a dessert island with either herb form, I obviously would pick fresh for its versatility, nutrients, and fresh flavour.
However, it is important to understand that dried herbs, when used and stored correctly, can play a vital role in our kitchens.
Dear Chef Dez:
I was recently given some fresh basil and added it to a pasta sauce I was making. I didn’t notice much difference in flavour than using dried basil; in fact I noticed less.
Is this right?
This depends on how much basil you added and when you added it. Most dried herbs are more potent in the dry form as the flavour intensity is higher without water content.
Therefore you would need to add a larger measurement of fresh than you would dry.
When adding delicate fresh herbs, such as basil, do it at the end of the cooking process, about 30 seconds before serving. This will guarantee the fresh flavours of the basil will be prevalent in your dish.
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Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor, and cooking show performer.