Here are eight essential questions about herbs, including the best ways to store them and the differences between fresh and dried herbs, answered
Herbs are vital components of every chef's repertoire, and proper use of herbs can elevate a dish from being tasty to being utterly delicious. You can even grow many herbs at home.
However, you may have questions about the practicalities of using herbs, like how to store them and how to increase their freshness in your fridge. Here, we have answered eight essential questions you may have about herbs, ready for your next culinary creation.
1. Freshly cut herbs seem to wilt fast. What's the best way to store them?
Wrap herbs loosely in paper or in a plastic bag left open, and put them in your fridge's salad drawer. They will keep for five to six days.
2. Can herbs be frozen?
All the tender herbs, such as basil, chervil and tarragon, freeze well; the exception is parsley, which turns to slush when it is defrosted. The tougher woody herbs, such as bay leaves, rosemary, sage and thyme, tend to splinter, so it is better to dry these.
"It's better to dry tougher woody herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme"
To freeze herbs, wrap them in foil or small plastic bags and seal well. It is useful to label the parcels if you cannot see inside them.
3. Can some herbs be preserved in olive oil instead of being dried?
This used to be done with basil before people owned freezers, but freezing is much more effective.
4. Can I dry my own fresh herbs, and should all herbs be dried in the same way?
Most fresh herbs are easily dried, and the same method applies to all of them, but bay, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme dry particularly well. They should be freshly picked, then quickly rinsed and patted dry before being spread on racks and covered lightly with muslin. Then, put them in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight—they will take about a week to dry.
"Some herbs may be left on the branch and stored upright in a jar"
Most herbs are best stripped off their stems before being stored in sealed jars, but some herbs, such as thyme, may be left on the branch and stored upright in the jar.
5. Can herbs be picked at any time for use in the kitchen?
No, they can be picked only up to the point of flowering. Once herbs have developed buds and flowered, all their energy goes into producing seeds and woody stems, and consequently their flavour is dissipated.
For freezing or drying, herbs are best picked immediately before they flower, when their flavour is at its most potent. Small pots of fresh-growing herbs are frequently made available in supermarkets throughout the year.
6. Can I substitute dried herbs for fresh ones, and if so, should I use them in the same amounts?
It is hard to give an exact formula for using dried herbs instead of fresh, as the flavour of both is such a variable factor. With fresh herbs, the flavour depends on how fresh they are and how they have been grown; the soil, climate and time of picking. With dried herbs, it depends on how long and in what conditions they have been kept. Assuming both supplies are fresh and in good condition, allow one-third of a tablespoon of dried herbs for each tablespoon of fresh.
"Allow approximately one-third of a tablespoon of dried herbs for each tablespoon of fresh"
In some cases, it is possible to replace one fresh herb with a different, dried one. Dried mint can often be used to replace fresh coriander, for instance, as both herbs marry well with cool, sharp, juicy flavours such as cucumber, garlic, tomatoes and yoghurt.
7. What is a good recipe for a fresh herb salad?
Scatter a mixture of four or five tender herbs—chives, chervil, salad burnet, flat parsley or tarragon, for instance—over the small, crisp leaves of Little Gem lettuce. Edible flowers such as borage or nasturtium add a dash of colour. Complement the fresh flavours with a light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.
8. Do the seeds of coriander give the same flavour as the fresh leaf?
Absolutely not! Their flavours are totally different, and they cannot be used as substitutes for each other. Coriander seeds have a gentle, citrus-like aroma, while the leaves are somewhat bitter. The seeds survive long heating well, but the fresh leaves should be added near the end of cooking or sprinkled over the finished dish.
Dried herbs lose their aroma and their flavour quickly. If you think yours may be too old to use in cooking, test with a sniff. Musty herbs do not need to be thrown out, however: you can sprinkle them over the soil of house plants to give them a fertilising boost.
Banner photo: From freezing to storage, eight questions about herbs are answered here (credit: Suzy Hazelwood (Pexels))
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