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Herbs: The fresh vs. dried debate

Wide availability of fresh herbs marks a serious culinary leap forward for the nation's palate, but home cooks shouldn't reach for fresh herbs just because they're available.

Whether to use fresh or dry depends on the type of herb and how you plan to use it.

For example, many tender herbs, such as basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, parsley and tarragon, warrant "fresh only" status because they lose so much flavor once dried.

However, heartier herbs with woody stems and strong aromatics, such as thyme, savory, sage, oregano and bay, retain their flavor once dried and do well in either form in cold-weather dishes, such as roast poultry and hearty vegetables. If fresh is available, go with that. But often, dried versions of these herbs are nearly as good.

Here are a few basics on using and storing fresh and dry herbs:

  • Replace dried herbs every year. Grind up the remnants of old herbs with salt to create a multi-purpose seasoning.
  • Store dried herbs in sealed jars away from heat and direct light. Fresh herbs can be stored upright in a bit of water (trim stems first) or wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed inside a plastic bag.
  • Different ratios should be applied to fresh and dried herbs. Use two to three times more fresh herbs than dried, which have more concentrated flavor than fresh.
  • Fresh herbs are best added toward the end of cooking or should be used to garnish. This prevents them from losing their flavor.
  • Dry herbs should be cooked or simmered longer to release their flavor and rehydrate them.

— The Associated Press