Are Fresh Herbs ALWAYS Better Than Dried?
Short answer: no.
This isn’t the conventional chef wisdom, but between you and me, there are times when I actually prefer to use dried herbs over fresh.
Yes, I am a huge proponent of fresh herbs. I use them by the handful in the late spring and summer months. Salads, pastas, risottos, pizzas… they all benefit from a liberal shower of just-picked herbs. They provide a wonderful, aromatic, and, well, herbal blast of life to things. I know that not everyone has an herb garden conveniently growing out back. But don’t despair, because there are a number of applications in the kitchen that cry out for the dried ones.
So, what happens when you dry herbs? The most obvious thing is the loss of all water in the leaves. This concentrates the flavor to the point that many feel double the amount of fresh equals the dry. But potency and dryness are not the only changes. The flavor is much darker and deeper. And that bright green “grassy” flavor is considerably muted. An easy way to learn this is to chop up a fresh herb, smell it, and rub some of the dried version in your palm, and smell that. The differences will become quite apparent. You can also mix both in some cream cheese and taste them.
It’s easy to relegate dried herbs to the dead of winter, when fresh ones are not in the garden and tend to be especially expensive at the grocery store. But I firmly believe that there are times, throughout the entire year, when dried is the BEST option.
Here are 7 such examples:
- If I want to make a good, old fashioned pepperoni pizza, the tomato sauce must be flavored with dried oregano. Fresh just doesn’t taste right.
- A Greek salad also doesn’t taste quite hit the right flavor notes unless you use dried oregano.
- Any long-simmered stew calls out for dried thyme.
- If I want an inexpensive trip to the South of France, a pinch of dried Herbes de Provence will take me there immediatement!
- While technically not herbs, I always make my own blend for chili using dried, powdered chilis and dried oregano.
- Chicken breasts simmered in a beautiful cream sauce can be made all the more wonderful with BOTH dried and fresh tarragon.
- And, lest we forget, dried bay leaves—the secret to many deeply flavorful dishes.
Are there some herbs that lose most of what we like about them when dried? Of course. I’m not a big fan of dried basil, parsley, or chives. But most others bring so much flavor to the party that I believe it’s time to embrace them again.
The ideas above are really just the beginning. Don’t let anyone convince you that dried herbs are the unloved stepchild of the kitchen. No, they are not at all the same as fresh herbs and that’s part of their beauty and charm. You just need to know when and how to use them, and they will serve you well. And, if you do happen to have a garden… herbs love to be cut, so cut them constantly, and dry the ones you don’t need right away. Summer’s bounty will be with you all year long.