There is certainly a time and a place for both fresh and dried herbs. But how do we know the when and where? What about non-irradiated herbs. Are they safe? Or is irradiated better? This is a common kitchen conundrum for many folks. And truth be told, there is much to know in the great big world of herbs and spices.
Some recipes are better with fresh herbs, but sometimes dried herbs are actually the better way to go. Here’s the skinny: dried culinary herbs are actual fresh herbs that have simply been dried, just like flowers. The drying preserves something that would otherwise have a very short lifespan, into a shelf-stable product with a significant lifespan.
In fact, drying herbs not only preserves them but for many, it gives them a more potent flavor. In addition, the antioxidant and polyphenol content can be higher than limp back-of-the-fridge herbs because the drying process slows the degradation of these important compounds. However, when it comes to vitamins, if high heat is used to process the herbs nutrition is usually diminished. This is especially true for vitamin C and fatty acids.
Since the herbs are dried and thus preserved in that manner, no added preservatives are necessary. They will certainly last much longer than they would have fresh, but they will not last forever. Keep in mind that the longer dried herbs sit in your pantry, potency and flavor start to degrade. Generally, after 1 year a dried herb should be inspected to confirm full potential.
Lastly, it is best to use dried herbs when the recipe calls for cooking for more than a few minutes since many fresh herbs lose their flavor and nutrient profile when exposed to prolonged heat. Herbs that are excellent when used dried are bay leaf, fennel, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.
Non-Irradiated Dry Herbs
Our selection of herbs and spices from Frontier Co-op use non-irradiation methods to ensure their purity and stamina. Seeds, bark, berries, tubers, roots, leaves and stems are evaluated for identity, aroma, taste, smell and treasured volatile oil content or they don’t get to live here. No ingredients have been sterilized by irradiation or ethylene oxide (ETO). In fact, each herb is thoroughly tested for molds, yeast, bacteria, pathogens and allergen contaminants before it arrives in the store. Only natural, sustainable processes are ever used with our organic herbs and spices. Irradiation is not one of them and we won’t apologize. Steam is used to sterilize the herbs. Extreme cold is used in the grinding process.
Irradiating food was developed by the FDA in 1963 to make food last longer on the grocery shelves (and maybe on your shelf). Ionizing radiation zaps herbs and spices killing off harmful microbes which, of course, is a good goal. However, the good bacteria which contribute to better sensory appeal, and the vitamins and enzymes which contribute to good health, die off, too. Instead of sizzling herbal products with intense X-rays, gamma rays, or electron beams, organic uses fully natural and historic processes. After all, who knows what long-term effects of daily radiation in our food really is?
Avoid nuclear solutions to food security which are so often promoted in an effort to save some food producer money. Guard your own food safety with organic, non-irradiated food choices. Consider going organic in shopping for prepared dishes, frozen meals, and culinary sauces — the herbs and spices must be non-irradiated by law in those organic foods.
On the other hand, consider fresh herbs. Beautiful and fragrant, they can add both flavor and color to all kinds of dishes. Having your own herb garden is the best way to utilize fresh herbs. The closer to harvesting that you can enjoy them, the more flavor and nutritional value they will have. Another way is choosing local fresh herbs when in season from our organic produce selection.
Did you know that fresh herbs are further classified by whether they are hard herbs or soft herbs? Hard herbs are typically those that are a bit too potent to be eaten raw and do better when cooked into a dish. Think rosemary or thyme. Soft herbs are those that have a lighter flavor and are best enjoyed in their raw state, like parsley, chives, or basil.
Did you know that common parsley has the distinction of being the 2021 focus of National Herb Week this year? Sprinkle parsley fresh when you plate your recipe and see friends and family delight.
Dried or fresh can often stand in for one another. However, some are only recommended in their fresh state. Cilantro, for example, loses just about all of its exotic flavor when dried. Some others that are best left fresh and raw are dill, mint, and tarragon.
Store Herbs Properly
Regardless of whether you select dry or fresh herbs, rest assured you will be boosting the flavor of your meal and getting beneficial nutrients in the mix. Keeping some dried spices on hand is always convenient and helpful when you are in a pinch in the kitchen. Just don’t keep them around too long! As long as they have not been sitting for too long, they will still make a big impact on your dish.
Store all dry organic herbs and spices in a cool dark place like a food pantry, closet, or basement. A tightly sealed container is best and refrigeration is not preferred as it can contribute to condensation. After all, we want our dry herbs dry! It is not necessary to alphabetize your containers unless you’re OCD (it’s a joke!). Glass jars with snug lids is ideal to help keep moisture out. Organize jars according to ordinary uses such as basil with oregano and cinnamon with ground cloves.
In this way, your dry herbs and spices will keep at an average of 3 years. How will you know if your herbs are too old? Smell them and taste them to see if that robust flavor sensation and aroma will contribute to your recipe’s success. It’s that simple. Generally, whole herbs like bay leaves and cinnamon sticks maintain their sensory properties the longest.
So what will it be: dry, non-irradiated or fresh herbs tonight? The proper use of spices to flavor foods can even help you cut back on the amount of salt or sugar you use. However, depending on the recipe, fresh culinary herbs bring a zingy taste and will add bright color to your plate. Naturally, when going dried seasonings, organic non-irradiated culinary seasonings are best.