The Secret to Getting the Most Out of Dried Herbs

published Jan 21, 2016
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(Image credit: Hitdelight)

While I’d love to cook with fresh herbs all the time, it’s not always feasible. Between the occasional lack of practicality, the lack of availability (hello, mid-January), or last minute cooking, sometimes dried herbs are a more convenient choice. And, when used correctly, dried herbs can be your secret weapon to making a seriously flavorful dish.

Dried herbs are an underrated resource. They’re inexpensive, versatile, and have a much lengthier shelf life than their fresh counterparts. The most important thing to know about these pantry staples is how and when to use them. Follow these four tips to get the most flavor out of your dried herbs.

1. Stick to woody dried herbs.

Not all herbs are that great when dried. Woody herbs — like oregano, thyme, and rosemary — all tend to dry nicely and retain their flavor well. Basil, chives, and other soft, tender herbs tend to lose much of what makes them good once dried. For these, I’d rather buy and use them fresh than settle for the mediocre flavor of their dried counterpart.

2. Replace dried herbs regularly.

Even though dried herbs are, well dried and not fresh, freshness matters. Dried herbs don’t necessarily spoil or go bad, but they do lose potency and flavor over time. The fresher they are, the tastier they’ll be. It’s best to toss and replace dried leafy herbs every one to three years.

3. Add them at the right time.

As the saying goes, timing is everything — and this couldn’t be more true when you’re cooking with dried herbs. To get the most flavor, be sure to add dried herbs during cooking — don’t wait until the end. In fact, the earlier you add them, the better; it gives the herbs more time to infuse their flavor into whatever you’re cooking.

4. Rub dried herbs between your fingers before using.

How you’re adding dried herbs to a dish makes a difference, too. Instead of just sprinkling them in the pot, rub dried herbs between your fingers to crush and break them up first. This simple step releases some of the oil left in the leaves, which equals another dose of flavor.