What herbs are, how to identify herbs, preserve them, and how to handle them, including sample recipes.
Most herbs are easy to grow in kitchen gardens or in containers, though there is no need as aromatic herbs are widely used in the kitchen and are available in most supermarkets and grocery stores, either fresh or dried. Herbs should be used fresh for the best flavor.
Ways to store and preserve aromatic herbs
Aromatic herbs are used in small quantities. Therefore the need to keep in good condition the unused ones.
Fresh - Keep them, stems in cold water, in a jar or glass inside the fridge. Fresh herbs would keep for 6 or 7 days.
In oil - Wash and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Introduce them in a jar and fill it with oil. The herbs would keep for 2 to 3 months and the preserving oil is excellent to condiment vegetables and salads.
Frozen - Wash, chop and freeze in plastic bags or in an ice try. Frozen herbs usually keep for 3 to 4 months.
In vinegar - Wash and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Introduce the herbs in a jar and fill it with vinegar. They should keep for a year. These herbs and the scented vinegar produce the best marinades.
Dry - For home dried herbs, choose healthy stems with the most leaves. Let them dry by hanging them in the shade, in a cool and dry place. The herbs would keep for a year inside paper bags or air tight containers.
How herbs are affected by drying
Their essential oils evaporate when exposed to direct sunlight. Those are the oils that give each herb its characteristic flavor and dried herbs loose much of their aroma. Dried herbs can substitute for fresh ones in many recipes, but not always.
- Basil, chervil, chives, dill and parsley are much better fresh than dry. The ideal way to preserve them is by freezing.
- Bay leaves, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme keep much of their flavor when dry. In fact, their flavor becomes more concentrated, stronger.
- Once dry, it is wise to use only a third of the quantity used when fresh to prevent unpleasant surprises.
- Dried herbs become flavorless and stale much quicker than spices. Herbs are harvested in the fall. Dried herbs should be used within the winter months.