Many consumers without herb gardens of their own will choose to purchase dried herbs more frequently than fresh, due to cost and convenience.
Dried herbs are suitable for certain recipe applications, but there are just as many recipes that would benefit from fresh. Consequently, other than listening to your wallet, how should one discriminate choosing between them?
Although fresh herbs seem to offer the most flavour, they are not a necessity for all recipes. Dried herbs need time and moisture to release their flavours, and therefore are adequate in dishes that require some cooking time to allow for this re-hydration. Examples are pasta sauce, chili, soups, or other stewed dishes.
Fresh herbs can be used in such applications, but are better suited to being added at the end of the cooking process, as they can loose potency if cooked too long.
Many people also use dried herbs in marinades and compound butters. Compound butters are combinations of herbs, seasonings, and flavourings combined with butter to create finishing touches to certain dishes. Garlic butter, for example, is probably the most recognizable compound butter.
A large misconception with dried herbs, however, is that they last forever. They don't.
There are steps you can take to slow their deterioration, such as storing them in a cool dark place, but eventually they will lose their pungency.
Typically, I would suggest replacing dried herbs every eight to 12 months, if they're stored properly. I have found that the bulk foods sections at the grocery stores are the best option for doing that economically. Get in the habit of purchasing only slightly more than what you need for a recipe.
That will keep your home inventory low and your recipes tasting better.
Since the moisture (water content) has been removed from dried herbs, they are more potent (per measure) than fresh herbs. That is an important consideration when changing a recipe to accommodate the herbs you have on hand.
Only tarragon does not follow the rule: it is more potent (per measure) in its fresh form.
Given the choice to be stranded on a desert island with either herb form, I would obviously pick fresh, for its versatility, nutrients, and fresh flavour.
However, it is important to understand that dried herbs, when used and stored correctly, can play a vital role in our kitchens.
Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4
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