How to Maximize the Flavor of Dried Herbs

Here are 8 helpful tips.

There is no way around it: Winter is here. Spring is, at this moment, just a dream… even if the mailbox is filled with seed catalogues. And I'm so cheap, it's hard to justify buying an expensive tiny handful of fresh herbs at the store. So what's a cook to do? Dried herbs, of course.

Towards the end of the summer, I begin drying a lot of herbs from my garden. I know I won't be able to use all of the fresh ones in time, and "waste not want not" was deeply ingrained in me during my youth. So all winter, I have a ready supply of dried.

But the first step in getting the most out of dried herbs (from your garden or from your grocery store) is to understand and accept that they do not taste or behave the ways that their fresh counterparts do.

Most of that "grassy" freshness will be gone. What remains is a darker, deeper expression of the herb's flavor. Think tomatoes straight off the vine as compared to tomato paste. Both are delicious, but in very different ways. So here are a few easy tips.

The Dos and Don'ts of Dried Herbs

  • DO try to buy small amounts of dried herbs from a retailer with a very high turnover. I know we don't call dried herbs "fresh" for a reason, but if they've been sitting in the store for ages, you don't want them.
  • On that same note, any dried herbs that are over a year old… DO toss them out. No, really. They will bring hardly anything to the party.
  • DO store your dried herbs away from heat, light, and moisture.
  • If tossing dried herbs directly into a dish, DO rub them between your palms first. This releases the essential oils in the dried herbs. Don't believe me? Smell a pinch right out of the jar, and then rub it and smell again… you'll believe me! (A tougher herb, like rosemary, may require a bit more than rubbing. I use a mortar and pestle.)
  • Generally speaking, DON'T sprinkle dried herbs over a finished dish right as you serve. The heat and moisture of cooking is what rehydrates and lets the flavors bloom.
  • Speaking of bloomingDO try a quick saute of the dried herbs in oil, as this will really release more flavor.
  • Dried herbs can stand a bit longer cooking than fresh, so you can put them in earlier in the cooking process. DO try adding some in early and some later. That way, you get two versions of that flavor.
  • Always remember — drying really concentrates the flavor of herbs, so DO reduce the amount you would use if you're more accustomed to cooking with fresh.
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