Herbal Essence: Fresh or Dried Herbs?
If the herbs are dirty, rinse away any debris, and then tie each bunch together and hang it upside down in a sunny spot (this allows the oils to concentrate in the leaves). Once the herbs are no longer moist, move them to a dark, dry location and hang them again, this time covered by a paper bag with ventilation holes (the bag prevents the herbs from accumulating dust or insect eggs). Woody perennial herbs could dry in as few as three to four days; moister herbs might take as long as a few weeks. Once the herbs seem to be completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems and seal them in a glass jar. Check them in about a week, and if there’s any moisture condensing on the inside lid, take the herbs out and give them some extra drying time.
In general, dried herbs have more intensely concentrated flavor than fresh herbs, since the individual leaves lose moisture and size but retain the same amount of flavor oils. Even with this difference, either one can be substituted for the other in any recipe, as long as you adjust the amount. When using fresh herbs in place of dried ones, use approximately three times as much to achieve the same level of flavor. If you’re substituting dried herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh, divide the recommended amount by three. If you keep dried herbs in the cupboard, check their flavor every so often to be sure that they haven’t dried out completely. Even herbs stored well will eventually lose their flavor.
Ultimately, the decision whether to buy fresh herbs or dried ones should be dictated by the kinds of foods you like to cook, and what you will find most useful. If you love cooking Mexican or Italian food, you may find fresh oregano to be a great help, even though most cooks can survive with the dried stuff. Likewise, if you use basil or parsley only once in a great while, there’s no harm in skipping the expensive fresh bouquets and grabbing a bottle of dried leaves. Just because you don’t have time to cultivate your own glorious herb garden doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ripe flavor of freshly cut herbs—but for your wallet’s sake, make sure to spend wisely on the ones that deserve the splurge.