While both dried and fresh herbs have a place in the kitchen, knowing when to use each variety is important. Consider the kind of dish you’re making, as different styles of cuisine rely on herbs for many of their dishes. For example, Thai cuisine often uses fresh herbs like coriander and lime leaves to create the complex flavour profile we know and love, while Italian cuisine loves fresh basil, but also relies on dried herbs to infuse flavour over time (as they would in a soup or stew, for example).
Here are a few important things to know about using dried and fresh herbs in the kitchen:
Known for their more delicate and subtle flavour, these are best used toward the end of a recipe, as a longer cooking time can cause them to lose potency. Certain delicate herbs don’t retain as much flavour when dried. Whenever possible, use fresh basil, cilantro, parsley and tarragon.
Kitchen tip: As a general rule, add fresh herbs 10 to 20 minutes before the dish is done, or as the final touch or garnish.
Watch: How to properly store fresh herbs
This budget-friendly option allows dishes to be loaded with flavours even when the growing season is long gone. How does this work? The flavour of an herb comes from its essential oils, and when herbs are dried, the water is removed but the essential oils remain, concentrating the flavour. The best herbs to use in their dried form are woody herbs such as oregano, thyme and rosemary.
Kitchen tip: As dried herbs are slower to release their flavours and need to be softened, they should be added during the cooking process (usually when the liquid is added) and work best in slow-cooked dishes such as soups or braises.
Storage tip: Store dried herbs in sealed jars in a cool, dark place. Check every six months for freshness (they should be highly aromatic).
In a pinch, dried herbs can be substituted for fresh (and vice versa), but it’s important to note that dried herbs have more concentrated flavour and can be slightly bitter. When making substitutions, you will need a smaller amount of dried herbs to equal the amount of fresh. A typical ratio to keep in mind for substitutions is 1 to 3. For every 1 tsp of dried herbs you need roughly 3 tsp (or 1 tbsp) of fresh.
Many recipes may call for herb blends such as Italian seasoning, Herbs de Provence and poultry seasoning as a shortcut to developing flavour. While these store-bought blends are an easy and budget-friendly option, you may find that some seasoning blends are too high on specific herbs for your palate. Instead of using store blends, try creating your own at home, based on your preference.
Originally published November 2015. Updated May 2017.
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