The right combination of herbs can enhance the flavor, fragrance, and even the appearance of any meal. While fresh herbs add a pop of color to your food, is it necessary to always use fresh?
It can be a challenge to keep fresh herbs around all the time, so when should you insist on fresh and when are dried herbs an adequate substitute?
What are Herbs?
An herb is any leafy plant with aromatic properties that can be used to flavor or season food, perfume, or medicine. Herbs are typically not used as a main ingredient of a meal, but instead are a way to enhance the flavor.
Some common herbs you might be familiar with include oregano, parsley, dill, or basil. The leaves of these plants typically have a distinct fragrance or flavor that helps enhance or modify the taste of your food.
Herbs are different from spices, although they are used in a similar way. Spices come from other parts of the plant that are not leaves, such as the bark, seeds, roots, or berries.
Benefits of Dried vs. Fresh Herbs
While you might be tempted to believe that fresh is always best when it comes to herbs, this isn’t always the case, as each has its own benefits.
Dried herbs are convenient and last for several years when stored properly away from heat or light. Since dried herbs are dehydrated, a small amount can add a lot of flavor. Dried herbs are also typically more cost-effective because you can use less of them.
Fresh herbs like basil or parsley add a pop of color and flavor to meals but tend to go bad within 1-3 weeks even when stored properly. You also have to use more of the herb to achieve the same effect, making fresh herbs more costly.
Health Benefits of Herbs
Herbs, dried or fresh, are a source of many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Flavonoids, polyphenols, and other bioactive nutrients in herbs have been found to have a myriad of health benefits.
When it comes to dried herbs, some of the nutrients may be lost during the drying process. Water soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, are particularly vulnerable to loss when food is dried. Minerals or fat-soluble vitamins become more concentrated when the water is removed, therefore you get more of those nutrients for a smaller amount.
Another thing to consider, as herbs sit on the shelf, over time they will lose some of their nutritional value due to exposure to heat or light.
If you want to use herbs for their health benefits, consider a combination of fresh and dried herbs in recipes. Also, be sure to store your dried herbs in a cool, dark place and toss them periodically to ensure freshness.
Tips for Adding Herbs to Your Meals
If you want to add herbs to a recipe, how do you decide which to use? Fresh herbs are typically best for cold foods like salads, pesto, or guacamole. But dried herbs work well for cooked meals, such as sauces or soups.
While you can substitute dried herbs for fresh herbs in most recipes, the swap is not one-to-one. Dried herbs are about three times more concentrated than fresh herbs, therefore you will need to reduce the amount by ⅔. For example, if a recipe calls for 3 teaspoons of fresh parsley, you will use just 1 teaspoon.
Herbs, whether fresh or dried, play a significant role in enhancing the flavor and appeal of meals. Their health benefits are substantial, contributing valuable nutrients. While fresh herbs offer vibrant colors and flavors, dried herbs offer a convenient option. The choice between fresh and dried herbs largely depends on the recipe, your personal preference, and what you have on hand.