Numerous recipes demand fresh herbs—thyme sprigs, basil leaves, and the like. Purchasing these fresh herbs can be as costly as the meat you’re seasoning. Additionally, the store-bought herbs, often enveloped in plastic, aren’t particularly fresh, leading to potential wastage of the less-than-crisp remnants.
A practical alternative is to use dried herbs, a strategy employed by cooks for centuries. There’s no strict rule for substituting dried for fresh, but a general guideline is to use about- one-third or one-fourth of the amount of dried herbs and adjust according to taste.
Fresh herbs since dried herbs are generally more concentrated and flavorful. Here’s an example of how you could use this formula:
Suppose a recipe calls for three (3) tablespoons of fresh oregano. To substitute with dried oregano, you would use the following formula:
Amount of Dried Oregano = ⅓ × Amount of Fresh Oregano
Amount of Dried Oregano = ⅓ × 3 tablespoons = 1 tablespoon of Dried Oregano
So, in this case, you would use 1 tablespoon of dried oregano as a substitute for the 3 tablespoons of fresh oregano called for in the recipe.
However, remember that this is a general guideline, and depending on the specific herb and the dish, you might need to adjust to taste. Also, it is recommended to add dried herbs earlier in the cooking process than fresh ones to allow the flavors to meld and develop.
Ensure that your dried herbs are not stale; purchase them in small quantities, date them, and replace your dried herbs annually. In my kitchen, I normally replace my dried herbs in October.
When spices, whether dried or fresh, are ground, they have more surface area exposed to air. This makes them more likely to react with oxygen, take on moisture, and lose flavor. To keep spices from losing flavor, it’s important to control their exposure to air, light, temperature, and humidity.
According to ScienceDirect , ground spices usually stay fresh for three to four months in the fridge, while whole spices can last up to one and a half years.
A spice grinder can be handy, enabling you to buy and freshly grind whole spice seeds like coriander and cardamom. Whole dried nutmeg should be purchased and grated as needed, using a specialized grater or the fine side of a box grater. It’s imperative to have a quality pepper mill for freshly ground pepper. A helpful tip is to store your pepper mill away from heat sources like the stove to prevent the peppercorns from drying out and becoming stale.
An alternative approach is to cultivate a selection of fresh herbs in pots, ideally placed on a sunny windowsill. Keeping pots of parsley, small-leaved basil, tarragon, and rosemary can be rewarding and ensures a steady supply of fresh herbs when needed.
Dried Herbs with Concentrated Flavor When Dried
Certain herbs have a more concentrated flavor when dried due to the evaporation of water, which intensifies their essential oils.
- Oregano: Dried oregano tends to have a stronger, more robust flavor than its fresh counterpart, making it suitable for pizza and pasta sauces.
- Thyme: While fresh thyme is subtle and aromatic, dried thyme has a more concentrated, earthy flavor that works well in stews and marinades.
- Rosemary: The piney, lemony flavor of rosemary becomes more concentrated and woody when dried, making it suitable for roasted meats and vegetables.
- Sage: Fresh sage is savory and slightly peppery, but drying concentrates its flavors, making it a popular choice for stuffings and poultry seasoning.
- Bay Leaves: Bay leaves are typically used dried rather than fresh, as the drying process intensifies their distinct, slightly bitter flavor, which is released slowly during cooking.
- Dill: While fresh dill offers a bright and aromatic flavor, dried dill is more concentrated and suitable for dishes with longer cooking times.
- Marjoram: Dried marjoram has a more concentrated and slightly sweeter flavor than the fresh variety, making it a good addition to soups and stews.
Remember that while these herbs do have more concentrated flavors when dried, the difference between fresh and dried isn’t just a matter of intensity. Drying can also alter the flavor profile of an herb, sometimes resulting in a different taste altogether. Consequently, the choice between fresh and dried may also depend on the specific flavor profile desired for the dish.
Herbs that May Lose Flavor When Dried
Some herbs can actually lose flavor when dried, as the drying process can cause the evaporation of the volatile oils that contribute to their aroma and taste.
These herbs are often best used fresh when possible, especially in dishes where their unique flavors are a focal point. However, in a pinch, dried versions can still be used, though you may need to use more to achieve the desired flavor. Additionally, freeze-dried versions of these herbs can sometimes retain more flavor than their traditionally dried counterparts.
- Basil: Fresh basil has a sweet, aromatic flavor that is integral to many dishes, especially in Italian cuisine. Drying can cause basil to lose some of its sweetness and aromatic qualities.
- Cilantro (Coriander Leaves): Fresh cilantro is bright and citrusy, but it loses much of its distinctive flavor when dried. Dried cilantro is less commonly used in culinary applications.
- Parsley: Fresh parsley has a vibrant, slightly peppery flavor that can enhance various dishes. Dried parsley is less flavorful and is often used more for its color than taste.
- Chives: Fresh chives have a mild onion flavor that adds a delightful note to salads, soups, and garnishes. When dried, chives lose a significant amount of their flavor.
- Mint: Fresh mint leaves have a bright, refreshing flavor, but drying mint can cause it to lose some of its vibrancy and intensity.
- Tarragon: Tarragon has a unique anise-like flavor that is much more pronounced when fresh. Drying can diminish its distinctive taste.
- Lemongrass: Fresh lemongrass has a strong, lemony flavor. Dried lemongrass is less intense and can have a different flavor profile.