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Cooking With Fresh Herbs (And Keeping Them That Way)

by Cheryl Forberg, RD on May 10, 2011

We can’t all be lucky enough to always have fresh herbs on hand, but we can dream, right?

Dried herbs (which certainly have their place) are more concentrated, and as a result, must be used more sparingly in recipes than their fresh counterparts. The generally accepted ratio is about 1 to 3, or a teaspoon of dried to a tablespoon of fresh, but your taste should rule, as sometimes even cutting an amount to one-third can result in an overpowering flavor when added in place of fresh herbs.

Remember, too, that dried herbs don’t last forever either, and start to lose their flavor after a year or so (and can break down even more quickly if stored in an airtight container, or are subjected to heat or light). You may want to date the bottles of your dried herbs and check for freshness before using.

Even a small amount of some herbs can add a powerful (and often pungent) punch of flavor. In Flavor First I go into more specifics on what different herbs and spices bring to different dishes, but, in general, I encourage you to try whatever is freshest and looks the best at your local market. And, don’t forget that in addition to this bonus, many herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants — oregano, tarragon and thyme are some of the herbs that are especially high on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) scale.

Of course, buying fresh herbs all the time can become expensive when you buy a bunch, use it once and end up tossing the rest. And what’s sadder than a bouquet of wilted and brown herbs when you’re set to cook? However, buying herbs in bulk is the most cost-effective way to stay stocked up (unless you are lucky enough to have an herb garden, but even then, there are hundreds of flavors you may be missing out on).

When properly stored, even perishable fresh herbs can last two weeks or longer. Generally, you want to snip the ends of the stems and immerse them in water and keep the rest cool and dry (and covered) in the refrigerator. There are products on the market that take the guesswork out of this, and can help you keep fresh herbs on hand conveniently.

Cuispro, makers of a simple and effective Compact Herb Keeper have joined with us to give away a limited number of the keepers to fans of Flavor First.

We’ll be giving away the Compact Herb Keepers on Facebook and Twitter as well, but your first chance to win comes here: Leave your best tip for cooking with or keeping herbs in the comments section of this story for a chance to win a Compact Herb Keeper from Cuisipro!