Fresh vs. Dried Herbs

Fresh vs. Dried Herbs Usage

When you should use Fresh vs. Dried Herbs

FRESH IS ALWAYS BETTER: There has always been a debate among the great chefs of the world regarding the value of fresh vs. dried herbs in their kitchens.  Actually there is a place for both.  Fresh herbs are the epitome of what herb use is about.  It’s about the taste those herbs impart to a dish. There is a distinctive differenct between fresh vs. dried herbs.

DRIED HERBS FOR COLD CLIMATES: Actually, dried herbs were cultivated and developed for climates that did not encourage year round usage of fresh herbs.  In the northern climates, with harsh winters fresh herb use was not practical.  Prior to the development of refrigeration the only way to use herbs in the dead of winter was in the dried form. Therefore in cold climates the fresh vs. dried herbs debate is won by the dried herb variety,

FRESH VS. DRIED HERBS RATIO: Fresh herbs used for cooking from right out of the backyard garden is my favorite usage.  Fresh herbs can be substituted for dried herbs in most recipes with a ratio of one-tablespoon of fresh herbs to one-teaspoon of dried herbs.  This is because the dried herb oils become more concentrated in the final product.  I always bring in my fresh herb cuttings and soak them briefly in water with a little salt added to drive away any insects that might be hiding under the leaves.  This salt mixture does not damage the plant or the eventual flavor.  Then remove them from the water and dry with clean paper towels or a salad spinner. Each evening I only harvest what fresh herbs I am going to use that night in my recipes and salads.  That way they are at the peak of flavor and add the desired “punch “ and accent to my cuisine. The beauty of dried herbs is its availablity during the cold winter months.  You don’t have to choose between fresh vs. dried herbs-use them both depending on the availibility of the season.

FRESH VS. DRIED HERBS IS A FUNCTION OF THE PROPER TIME TO HARVEST.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: If you have a backyard garden and live in an area with harsh winters then you can make you own dried herbs for later use. The first thing you need to do is to harvest the herbs at the proper time.  Like any crop, timing is a critical factor in obtaining the peak of flavor in your homegrown herbs. A good rule of thumb to follow is to harvest herbs grown for their leaves prior to the plant flowering.  The reason for this is once they flower the leaves can become bitter tasting and that’s not a good thing.  Pick the leaves in the morning when the dew has dried, but before the major heat of the day.  You can cut stalks of those herbs and tie them into bundles of 8 to 10 after removing any foliage near the base of the stems. Hang the bundles in a cool dry place making sure they are out of the sunlight.  If you are drying just leaves, then use a wire screen or rack and turn the leaves occasionally to ensure proper drying of the leaves.  Use your dried herbs within a year for best quality but they actually can be kept for several years. It is best to crush or grind the dried herbs just before use, as this releases the dried oil that imparts the flavor of the herb.

DRYING OR FREEZING: Another way to preserve your herbs is to freeze them.  Place the leaves that are cut into ¼ inch pieces on a baking sheet covered with wax paper. Remove them after freezing and store in sealed plastic bags with as much of the air removed as practical.

The third way is to use vinegar as a preservative.  This method will keep the herbs preserved for several months.

EARY HARVESTING IS CRITICAL: One note: I encourage you to harvest your fresh herbs often while early in the growing process.  The reason for this is because it will encourage the plants to produce new growth.  Annual herbs can be cut back to at least half of its height and many of them will not suffer if they are cut way back to just a few inches. It’s a different matter with perennial herbs.  They should not be snipped after August if you are leaving them outside.  The reason is that the snipping will encourage new growth and this will hurt the plant if the winter is unusually harsh.  Folks, thankfully this is not rocket science.  Growing and preserving your herbs is a fairly simple process and should not be beyond the capability of the average gardener.
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