Dried Herbs vs. Fresh Herbs
Basil, rosemary, oregano—what’s the dill with all of these herbs anyway? Without herbs many of our signature dishes would be bland or flavorless. But, in the world of nutrition, herbs contribute a lot more than just their flavor and enticing aroma. Several of them also offer significant amounts of the essential vitamins A, C, and K, and contain protective polyphenols which provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Now we know that herbs can make a tasteful, healthy addition to just about any dish. But, it’s thyme for the real question: should you be using fresh or dried herbs?
Fresh herbs, with their vibrant color and subtle flavors, serve as great finishing touches and garnishes. This ensures that their flavors are fresh and their appearance is bright when serving. For sauces, salad dressings, and other quick dishes, fresh herbs are your go-to for maximal flavor. Basil, chives, cilantro, dill, and other soft, tender herbs tend to lose or change flavor once dried, so these herbs are best served fresh.
Dried herbs require longer cooking times or higher heats to allow their flavor to fully infuse into the whole dish. Therefore, dried herbs work best when added during cooking, such as in soups, stews, or on roasted vegetables. Woody herbs like oregano, thyme, and rosemary tend to retain their flavor when dried, so those are all great options. Dried herbs are more potent and concentrated than fresh, so the general rule is to substitute 1/3 of the amount of dried to fresh. So, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of a fresh herb, you can generally substitute one teaspoon of that dried herb.
Herbs are a great way to add nutritional value to any dish by allowing you to reduce salt while still offering a burst of flavor. Herbs also offer a wealth of antioxidants and vitamins that vary based on the specific herb and the form in which it’s consumed. While the drying process concentrates antioxidants like flavonoids and polyphenols, it can significantly reduce the levels of vitamins, especially vitamins A, C, and K. Therefore, fresh herbs are the better option if you are looking to increase your vitamin intake.
Fresh herbs are highly perishable, so dried herbs tend to be easier to keep on hand. Dried herbs can be stored for up to a year, though their flavor fades with time. To be sure that your dried herbs are still offering maximal flavor, take the time to check them by pinching a small amount between your fingers and testing the aroma. If the aroma has faded, it’s time to replace it. If you need to use fresh herbs, try purchasing them when they are in season for the most budget-friendly option. Then base your dishes off of the herbs you have on hand to minimize spoilage. Another great option is growing your own fresh herbs to use as needed.
The Verdict: whether you use fresh or dried herbs comes down to personal preference. To help with your decision, consider the occasion, price, convenience, nutritional value, and taste. To get the best of both worlds, it is always an option to use a mixture of both forms. If cooking with fresh herbs is new to you, consider this Herb-Food Pairing Guide to help you get started.
Kaylynn Carew, WOTFV AmeriCorps Member