If you’re looking for ways to enhance the flavor of your meals, while also making them healthier, consider the humble herb.
Well, think about herbs and spices.
Lots of people want to cut back salt, sugar and fat, but they don’t want to be stuck with bland food.
Luckily, herbs and spices are great flavorful substitutes to salt, sugar and fat.
Whether fresh or dried, these can add zest to dishes without adding excess calories.
Besides adding flavor, they can add nutrition, too.
Fresh herbs, like leafy vegetables, have vitamins A, C and K, and are anti-inflammatory.
But first, what is the difference between an herb and a spice?
You could say it’s essentially a matter of location.
Herbs are from the leafy part of the plant, while spices are from the root, flower, fruit, seed, or bark.
Spices have a stronger flavor, so they are needed in smaller amounts than herbs.
When you use herbs and spices together, that’s called seasoning.
But first, let’s focus on herbs.
If a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you only have dried, or vice versa, just remember you’ll need to make adjustments.
A tablespoon of fresh herbs is equal to 1 teaspoon of dried herbs, or ¼ to ½ teaspoon of ground, dried herbs. As this example indicates, grounded herbs are the most potent.
Also, remember, if you’re doubling a recipe, don’t double the herbs. Instead, increase it by 1.5.
And, if you’re not sure how much of an herb to use, start out with ¼ teaspoon.
You don’t want the herb to overpower the dish. So, begin small and add more, as desired.
If using fresh delicate herbs, such as basil and cilantro, add them at the end of the cooking process to retain their flavor and aroma.
Less delicate herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, can be added within the last 20 minutes of cooking.
Fresh herbs should be stored in the refrigerator and will last two weeks to three weeks, though they start losing flavor after the first week.
Dried herbs may not actually expire, but their flavor and aroma decline over time.
Dried herbs stay fresh for one year to three years.
If you bought too much or your garden has excess, you can preserve your herbs by drying or freezing them.
You can dry them with a dehydrator, an oven, a microwave or by air drying.
Dehydrator: Wash the herbs first in cool running water and then shake the water off.
The dehydrator manual should have the specific temperature to set it to.
Place the leaves on the dehydrator trays in a single layer.
Depending on the humidity and size of the herbs, drying time can take nine hours or longer, or three hours to six hours with smaller herbs.
Once the leaves crumble and the stem easily breaks when it’s bent, they are done.
Oven: Dry them in the oven on parchment paper at less than 180 degrees for three hours to four hours, with the oven door open. Again, dry them until they can crumble easily.
Drying them in an oven that’s too hot can bake them. Also, oven drying affects the flavor and not a typically recommended preservation method.
Microwave: Microwave them in 30-second increments until they are crisp but not burned.
Layer the herbs between two sheets of paper towels, no more than two cups at a time.
Air dry: You can also air-dry fresh herbs, which will take several days.
Hardy herbs such as rosemary and parsley can be tied into small bundles and air dried, preferably indoors.
Tender-leaf herbs such as mint and basil should be tied together and hung inside a paper bag and closed off with a rubber band to catch any fallen leaves.
Cut small vent holes on the top and side of the bag to prevent molding.
Once you have dried them, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place and use within six months to 12 months.
You can also freeze herbs in one of two ways.
Wash and pat dry with paper towels, place them on a cookie sheet and transfer to the freezer.
Once frozen, place them in airtight containers and store in the freezer.
You can also chop them and put them in ice cube trays, cover with water, and freeze.
Thaw the cubes as needed for your next dish or simply place in the dish as it is cooking.
Because they become wilted and lose their color when frozen, it’s best to use them in a cooked dish instead of a garnish or in a non-cooked dish, such as pasta salad.
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County. Pasco County Extension.
Here are some dried herb blends you can make at home, from the UF Extension article Cooking with Fresh Herbs, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FY1209.
Salt-Free Blend—makes about ⅓ cup
1 Tablespoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons parsley
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons thyme
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dill weed
2 teaspoons summer savory herb
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons lemon peel
Italian Seasoning—makes about 1 ½ cups
½ cup dried oregano
½ cup dried basil
¼ cup dried parsley
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
2 Tablespoons dried sage
1 Tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
Poultry Herbs—makes about ⅓ cup
2 Tablespoons dried tarragon
1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried lovage
Fish Herbs—makes about ½ cup
3 Tablespoons dried dill weed
2 Tablespoons dried basil
1 Tablespoon dried tarragon
1 Tablespoon dried lemon thyme
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1 Tablespoon dried chervil
1 Tablespoon dried chives
Published February 07, 2024