Nothing fully compares to fresh herbs, but they are not always available. If that's the case, there is nothing more convenient than having some dried herbs on hand, especially if they were dried fresh from your own garden.
Storing and Using Dried Herbs
- You have several options, for drying herbs. You'll retain the most flavor if you either air dry or use a dehydrator. Microwave drying is convenient, but it can degrade the taste of many herbs.
- Whatever way you dry them, make sure your herbs are completely dry, before storing them. It’s a good idea to check your herbs periodically to make sure there are no signs of condensation. If you see any water droplets, allow the herbs more time to dry and be sure to dispose of any that have started to mold.
- Your dried herbs will retain the most flavor by storing them in an airtight container, in a cool, dry spot that is out of direct sunlight. In fact, total darkness is best.
- Leave the herbs whole, until you are ready to use them. They retain more of their oils when kept intact. Crumbling them into whatever dish you are making will release these oils when you need them.
- Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs. With dried herbs, start by using only 1/4 as much as you would use fresh herbs. The flavor will be variable and you can always increase the amount.
- Don't forget to label your herbs when you store them. Several look considerably alike and some even have similar scents.
Not all herbs retain their flavor when dried. Delicate herbs, such as basil, borage, chives, cilantro, and parsley, lose a lot of their punch when dried. Freezing might be a better option with these herbs.
However, some herbs hang onto both their scent and a good deal of flavor, when dried. The flavor will vary from year to year and garden to garden, but the following herbs can consistently be counted on to deliver.
01 of 07
One of the best things about having a small bay tree is that the leaves basically dry themselves, as they grow older and get ready to fall off. Bay leaves start off with a menthol-like scent and taste, but if you simmer them long enough, they mellow into a tannin back note that works its magic in dishes the way a dash of nutmeg does—you can’t quite tell what it is, but it makes the dish better. However, like nutmeg, too much of a good thing can ruin a dish. Bay leaves are used to infuse flavor into a dish, and then removed before eating.
02 of 07
Dill is one of those plants that keep on giving. The leaves are aromatic and tangy. The flowers attract beneficial insects. The seeds are delicious on their own, flavoring cucumbers for pickles, and they self-sow, providing you with more plants. Dill’s narrow leaves are quick to dry and a little difficult to work with. Try drying them in a paper bag.
03 of 07
If any herb holds onto its aroma when dry, it is lavender. All parts of the plant add flavor to your favorite meals, from the edible flowers that brighten drinks and desserts to the leaves that create savory roasts to the stems that add fabulous fragrance and flavor when used as skewers. Lavender is versatile enough to be used in savory dishes, like pork tenderloin, and sweet enough to enhance cakes. Some popular favorites include lavender shortbread and lavender vodka. A bundle of lavender should air dry within a couple of weeks.
04 of 07
There are a lot of lemon-scented herbs out there, and lemon balm is often considered a poor relation, probably because it is such an overly enthusiastic grower. It may lack the tang of lemon verbena or lemongrass, but it dries much better than the other two, and it retains a true lemon flavor. Harvest before it flowers for the highest concentration of oils and best flavor. Lemon balm dries best in a dehydrator or when air dried. Makes a great tea.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Oregano is one of the most popular dried herbs for cooking. Where would tomato sauce be without it? Dried oregano actually tastes better than when it is fresh. Drying concentrates the scent while lessening the bitter, hot quality of fresh oregano. This is one of the easiest herbs to dry. Just cut the stems, hang them until dry, and then run your fingers down the stems to crumble the leaves into your dishes.
06 of 07
Dried rosemary is not necessarily better than fresh, but it does have its pluses. Like bay, rosemary seems to mellow out when it is dried. It loses some of the overwhelming pine-like scent, however, it also loses its pliable texture and becomes as brittle and tough as pine needles. It's best to grind dried rosemary, to avoid that unpleasant texture. To dry it, all you need to do is remove a sprig from the plant and let it sit for a couple of days. Keep in mind, even dried, you only need a tiny amount to flavor foods. Go easy, you can always add more.
07 of 07
The flavor of thyme becomes much more delicate when dried and it’s the rare herb you will use in larger quantities dried, than fresh. However, like oregano, it is extremely easy to dry on the stem. Leave the stems intact, when storing, and run your fingers down the stem to crumble the leaves, when you are ready to add it to your cooking. This helps thyme retain its oils and a lot of its aroma and flavor. Air drying works well with thyme.