Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Substituting Fresh or Dried Herbs


You'll notice at times that I use fresh herbs in my recipes and sometimes I use dried. That is solely dependent on one thing. What I have in the garden!

Sometimes the seasonal downpours that we tend to get down south will drown and kill my herbs, so if I happen to be writing a recipe at that time, it'll be written using dried herbs, but when the garden is in it's full glory, I use herbs clipped fresh out of the garden and that's how the recipe will be written.

In most cases you can substitute dried for fresh, or fresh for dried, and while there is no one single "true" formula, generally speaking it is a 3 to 1 ratio on substitutions.
For instance, if your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried basil, generally speaking you can substitute 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of chopped fresh, and vice-versa. It's a basic 3 to 1 ratio essentially.
Of course, that depends on the condition of the herbs and spices in your pantry, or whether you are using freshly picked herbs from your garden, or store bought herbs.  Fresh herbs from the grocery store are stronger when they are first purchased, but over time - just like dried herbs - they do lose a bit of their intensity. Dried herbs are fairly strong when they are freshly dried. Once they sit in your pantry for months {and sometimes even many years}, however, their intensity lessens.

Remember one thing if nothing else. The very best judge is really always gonna be smell and taste, so start with less, taste and add more if needed.

When cooking with herbs, keep in mind that fresh herbs should generally be added near the end of the cooking process since their essential oils are fresh and fragrant, and you'll want to avoid blackening the leaves with long cooking times. Dried herbs are most often added at the beginning. This allows time for them to release their flavor into the dish.

Shelf Life:

McCormick is one of the more prevalent brand names occupying my pantry. Did you know that if you have any McCormick's product in your pantry that 1) is in the old red and white tin (unless it's black pepper), or 2) reads "Baltimore MD" on the label ... that it is at least 15 years old?!  The McCormick site even has a code checker if you're unsure about how long you've had a seasoning. Hey check it out while you're there - they even have a bunch of recipes on their site.

You can usually check the potency of herbs or spices from a simple sniff test, but generally speaking the shelf life for spices and dried herbs is:
  • 6 months for powdered spices
  • 1  year for dried and cut
  • 2 years for whole
Proper storage for herbs is a glass container. It's the best choice. Don't store herbs and spices in plastic bags and if possible, keep them away from heat and moisture.