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Apr 30, 2009 09:10 PM

Dried vs fresh herbs

I know there must be a topic out there, but I guess I'm guilty for either being too lazy or incompetent to find it.

I must know though...some claim that fresh herbs are superior in every way, and others claim that drying the herb concentrates its flavor. However, I'm recently falling under the impression that particular herbs are actually better dried, and other herbs are better left fresh (ie sage is better dried and tarragon is better fresh...correct me if I'm wrong). Can anyone tell me what these particular herbs are and what categories they fall under?

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  1. In my experience almost all herbs are better fresh, but some are also quite useful dried while others become almost flavorless - thyme and oregano fall into the former category, while basil and cilantro are in the latter. I can't believe the spice companies even sell dried basil and cilantro, they're so useless.

    Tarragon, to my taste, is in yet a third category - it has flavor both fresh and dried, but the two versions taste radically different, the fresh adding a light anise-like touch while the dried adds a much stronger, (to me) unpleasant note.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BobB

      I guess another reason why is that I'm planning on buying some tarragon cuttings to grow (it is pretty hard to find though). I would make do with the dried stuff you find in the grocery stores, but if you are losing that much flavor, I'd rather spend the extra money. Things like oregano or thyme, in my opinion, wouldn't really be worth the effort of growing if I don't use them that much and if their flavors dried don't really make that much of a quality difference.

      1. re: takadi

        Thyme and oregano are VERY easy to grow...especially oregano (and marjoram). They grow like mint and spread very quickly. If you have some bare spots they make great 'edible' ground cover.

        French Tarragon OTOH is a little more fickle. I have some plants I put in last spring and they haven't gotten terribly big while the thyme and oregano have gone crazy.

        I prefer fresh herbs in quite a few uses (especially thyme and oregano in sauces, soups and for seasoning meat) but dried they are easier to use for things like seasoning pizza and sandwiches. I typically just cut a couple of handfuls from the garden and leave them overnight in the dehydrator to refresh my stock of dried in the pantry.

    2. The most volatile flavor compounds are long gone when an herb is dried.

      1. FRESH ONLY:
        Basil, parsley, sage, mint or coriander and similar herb plants. They are small plants with delicate, thin leaves which only need to be lightly activated to release their highly volatile aromatic oils.

        More twiggy herbs or those that grow on more robust plants such as thyme, rosemary and bay (a small tree), or those that grow in dry, arid climates (oregano) tend to be more able to retain their aromatics once dried.

        1. Dried oregano and marjoram are defiantly preferable to fresh, but I prefer fresh for other herbs.

          You must remember to use twice as much fresh if the recipe was written for dried herbs, and if you live in a wet environment you might want to up that to 3 times because the essential oils aren't as strong when the herbs are growing vigorously.

          1. In addition to the differences already noted, there are some herbs that are better dried in heavier, more wintery foods, and better fresh in lighter, more summery foods. Oregano is a good example. If you're grilling up some nice souvlaki on a hot day, the oregano has to be fresh. If you're making a bean stew in the middle of winter, dried oregano is going to be way better. Fresh sage is wonderful in a spring vegetable soup, but only dried will do for stuffing.
            A good rule of thumb is: more delicate flavors or shorter cooking times- fresh herbs; heavy flavors or long cooking times - dried herbs.