The Pros and Cons of Every Way of Buying Herbs
If you ask me, cooking without fresh herbs is like trying to cook with my hands tied. It’s hard to think of something I make on a regular basis that doesn’t have at least one fresh sprig. Your grocery store, of course, will have you covered. Maybe even too covered? Between the plastic clamshells, the big bunches under the misty sprinklers, the squeeze-y tubes, and other options, I might argue that there can be too many ways to buy herbs — yes, even while we continue to ride out this pandemic — and I’m not even counting the dried and freeze-dried stuff. (I recently tallied up more than a half-dozen different ways to buy basil!) So, with those options on my mind, I decided to take a look at the available herb choices and weigh the pros and cons. Here goes!
1. Herb Purées in Tubes
- These tubes from Gourmet Garden come in an impressive array: oregano, parsley, basil, cilantro, garlic (chunky and roasted), chili pepper, dill, Italian herbs, lemongrass, a Thai blend, and more.
- Even once they’re opened, the tubes will last for weeks in the fridge.
- You won’t have to waste time washing and chopping herbs — just squeeze them from the tube and you’re on your way.
Buy: Gourmet Garden Basil Stir-In Paste, $4 for 4 ounces at Walmart
- Unfortunately, the flavors are too dull and salty to be a proper substitute for the real thing. It’s kind of like jarred pesto versus fresh: not terrible and totally fine in a pinch, but not really close to the complexity of a fresh batch.
- In addition to the herbs, these tubes tend to have a lot of other ingredients like xanthan gum, glycerin, dextrose, sodium, and citric acid.
- While these would work as a stir-in option for a sauce or a soup, you can’t exactly use one to, say, sprinkle fresh parsley on a dish on its way out to the table.
2. Frozen Cubes
- They’re surprisingly flavorful. They’re not as vibrant as the fresh stuff, but they’re pretty darn close.
- They’ll keep for up to two years in the freezer. I love that you can keep them on hand without having to worry about anything wilting.
- They come in a wide variety including garlic, dill, cilantro, parsley, basil, and even ginger.
Find: Dorot Gardens Frozen Herb Cubes, $2.50 for 16
- The garlic cubes are the ones that are most readily available, and you’ll have to look a little harder to find the others.
- There’s a little oil, cornstarch, salt, and lemon added to the cubes (but I should note that these extras don’t interfere that much with the flavor).
- Once again, you wouldn’t use these exactly the way you would use fresh herbs.
- When it comes to some specific fresh herbs (like tarragon, thyme, sage, and rosemary), this might be your only option at the grocery store.
- These usually come in 2-ounce packs, which should give you more than enough for most recipes.
- The plastic packaging does a good job protecting the included herbs and keeping them in tip-top shape.
- The plastic packaging. I think we can all agree that there’s enough plastic in the world.
- If you have leftover herbs, there’s a good chance the package is bound to get lost in the back of your produce until the contents become unrecognizable. (Or is that just me?)
- These are usually around $2.50 each (at Whole Foods, anyway) and, while that doesn’t seem like much, when you need more than one kind of herb, the total really adds up.
Find: Clamshell-Packed Herbs, $2.50 for 0.75 ounces at Whole Foods
- Usually around less than a dollar an ounce, this is a cost-effective way to buy fresh herbs.
- They’ll last longer than you’d think they will. As long as you store them correctly when you get home.
- With bunches of herbs, you’re usually limited to a very small selection: two kinds of parsley and cilantro. (I can sometimes find bunches of basil or mint for around $2.99 for 2 ounces, but not as reliably as the big three.)
- You definitely have to wash these bunches before you can use them, as they’ve been sitting out directly on the shelf in the produce section.
- A bunch comes with way more than you’ll use for a single recipe, so you’ll have to plan accordingly, if you want to use up everything you’ve bought.
Find: Assorted Herb Bunches, $1.50 for about 2 ounces
5. Potted Herbs
- Potted herbs last longer than fresh bunches of herbs, as long as you know how to care for them.
- A pot here and a pot there in your kitchen (or all lined up on your windowsill) add a nice pop of greenery to your space.
- This can be incredibly cost-effective, considering a well-cared-for plant will continue to grow and give you more for harvesting than a single pre-cut bunch.
Find: Assorted Potted Herbs, $3.99 at Trader Joe’s
- You have to know how to care for your potted herbs. This includes watering them, repotting them, harvesting them, and getting them the proper amount of sun. It’s not hard — you just have to read up a bit.
- Your grocery store is likely to only have basil plants, but you’ll be able to find other starts at farmers markets or nurseries.
How do you usually buy your herbs? Discuss in the comments below!