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Nov 15, 2010 11:57 PM

Long vs short cooking herbs and spices

So let's say I'm cooking a simple stew, or any dish which involves an initial saute stage in fat and then a long simmering stage in water-based liquid. Are there general rules as to which herbs and spices go in at the beginning, and which ones go in near the end? The rule I have haphazardly pieced together is that most spices and dried herbs should be sauteed in oil, while fresh herbs should only be briefly simmered.

What I'd like to know from those who have formal culinary training, is if there is a classically correct distinction, or if it really matters at all. Here's what I usually do with the seasonings I have on hand:

These go in early - dried oregano, dried sage, dried parsley, dried basil, dried rosemary, cayenne, black pepper, cumin, garlic powder, 5 spice powder.

And these go in late - fresh thyme, fresh basil, dried bay leaf.

Any thoughts?

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    1. re: sunshine842

      Yes, I agree with that. Goes in early and then comes out. My mom did NOT remove it, but left that for whoever got it...

      Veering off a bit here, in my totally non-humble opinion there's no reason to have either dried basil or dried parsley in the house, as their flavor is at best a faint approximation of the fresh herbs', and both of those are always available fresh in most markets.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Agree on the's for color, really.
        Bay leaf-early! and remember to remove it. I once stick blended soup with the bay leaf in. Crunchy, and not in a good way.
        Fines herbs go in last. Bouquet garni goes in first.

        1. re: Will Owen

          if you get GOOD dries basil or parsley (I bought mine from Penzey's in the US) it has lots and flavor and does well in a pasta sauce or similar.

          But yes, I agree -- dried and fresh of those two in particular are so different as to almost be considered different spices.

          1. re: Will Owen

            A jar of about 30 or 40 bay leaves costs me $1.

            A bunch of about a dozen fresh bay leaves costs me $2 - $4 and doesn't stay fresh all that long. I've never had a recipe that calls for more than 2 or 3, and usually just one. Bay leaf is pretty durn strong.

            I don't know how well they freeze. But freezer burn ruins more herbs than drying. I really do think bay leaf is an exception to the fresh-is-always-better line of thinking. I can't tell any difference between them.

            1. re: ZenSojourner

              There are lots of exceptions to "fresh-is-better", enough to demonstrate how wrong it is. SOME herbs - parsley and basil being outstanding examples - are very good fresh and almost useless dried (okay, I'll take sunshine's word on Penzey's, but I've not tried theirs). But many herbs - all of the resinous ones, in my experience - are actually stronger and more vibrant in flavor dried than fresh. This is why many recipes will prescribe larger quantities of fresh rosemary than dried, for instance, for the same dish. One dried Turkish bay leaf will flavor a whole pot of tomato sauce or beans, whereas a bunch of fresh ones would give a whiff of a somewhat minty flavor, and probably wouldn't be real bay leaves anyway, but American bay laurel. I do like fresh thyme in some things, but mostly in cold applications such as beans in vinaigrette; for cooked dishes I'll use dried.

        2. My rule of thumb is that, the better it tastes on it's own, the later you put it in. Basil? Last. Turmeric? First. Rosemary and especially piquant herbs in the middle.

          Salt and pepper throughout.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kevin47

            That makes sense to me and is easy to remember. Thanks.