Herbs and spices, what you need to know
Know your herbs and their properties in order to use the right herbs with your food.
At one time salt and pepper were the most widely used spices in America, parsley was probably the most interesting fresh herb one could find at your local grocery store.
In this day and age, however, the fresh produce section of every grocery store is filled with a selection of fresh herbs such as oregano, basil and edible flowers.
Although having fresh herbs easily available has resulted in a great improvement in the taste of foods nationwide, you should not use them simply because you can.
The choice between fresh and dry herbs should be made with the knowledge of the type of herb you will be using and how best to use it with your food.
Most summer herbs should only be used fresh as their flavor deteriorates rapidly when they are dried. These herbs include basil, chervil, cilantro, chives, lovage, tarragon and parsley.
Herbs with woody stems and strong fragrances, however, are much better at retaining their flavor when dried and can be used either fresh or dried, depending on the season. Thyme, sage, savory, bay and oregano are all versatile herbs that can be used in many cold-weather dishes such as roast poultry. A good rule of thumb to follow is to use fresh herbs whenever they are available but not to hesitate at using dried herbs when you have no other choice as they are often almost as good.
There are also many spices that are best used dried and are rarely available in their fresh form. These spices include cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, curry blends and cumin. Listed below are some simple steps that you can take when storing herbs, both fresh and dry.
Replace: Dried herbs should not be kept for more than a year and should be replaced once this time has passed.
Store: Dried herbs should be kept in tightly-sealed jars and placed in a cool, dark area. Fresh herbs should be stored standing upright in a jar with a little water, in the same way you would keep flowers. They can also be wrapped using damp paper towels and kept in a sealed plastic bag.
Adjust: You should use two or three times more fresh herbs than dried herbs on the same dish, as dried herbs have a greater concentration of flavor than fresh herbs.
Don’t overcook: In order to prevent fresh herbs from losing their flavor, you should only add them to the dish you are cooking towards the end of the cooking process. You can also use them as garnish after you have finished cooking.
Release: When using dried herbs in cooking, you should cook them longer as this will better release their flavor by re-hydrating the herbs.
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