Looking for fabulous flavorful herbs to use in your fall recipes?
Tired of dull, gray & tasteless spices…?
My own journey of ‘herbal discovery’ began with the herb Thyme: I found that many of the dried herbs I purchased were shadows of their former fresh leafy selves, however, with thyme, IF I could taste anything at all, it was bitterness, even MOLD. Unpleasant enough to put me off using store bought thyme altogether. So I planted several thyme plants in my garden, and decided to use fresh.
However, with catering I often needed greater volumes than my cute little garden herb pots could supply, so I began my search for good store bought thyme in earnest. Luckily I didn’t need to go far: Lifestyle Market carries the ‘best Thyme’ ever, with a rich deep scent and dark green color. Produced by Gathering Place Trading, based on Cortes Island, B.C. Find out more about Gathering Place online: http://gatheringplacetrading.com/
Information you may find useful when looking for sources of good quality dried herbs:
Color of the dried herb ought to be similar shade of the original plant, not gray, brown or beige
Air-dried herbs will retain much of their original color as moisture gently leaves the plant, locking away the flavor components.
Heat dried plants become pale, gray or beige as a result of being ‘cooked’ by fast heat drying techniques. Sadly, the flavor is irreversibly affected: there is no hope that gray herbs will add desirable flavors to your recipes.
We may be so used to working with overly heat-dried herbs that we simply don’t know how much better they can be. To determine how well the herbs you have on hand compare to fresh, try our simple Taste & Color Test. Either plant some herbs yourself, and compare them to the dried version you have at home, OR ask some friends who have gardens if they have common herbs such as rosemary or bay growing in their yards, and ask for a small cutting. Once you’ve found a source for a sample, compare the color and the taste with the dried herbs you have at home. The results are often strikingly obvious, and may be a surprise to discover the scope of the difference, plus a boon to your palette as you discover new tastes.
As part of a natural seasonal pattern, herb plants grow and thrive over the summer months, setting an abundance of flavorful leaves which may be harvested fresh and used in cooking. These same herbs may be harvested at peak of freshness, and slowly air dried for use over the fall and winter months, until new growth appears again in the spring. This cold dark time allows the plants to rest, while our cooler season cooking methods must adjust to accommodate. When herbs have been dried slowly, much of the original flavor is preserved, and even intensified. Definitely try air drying your own herbs at home: hang or place snippings on trays made with natural materials in well ventilated area for a few days, or until they are fully dried out, remove any inedible stems, then pack herbs away in labelled brown paper bags.
Using dried herbs requires some considerations:
1) use 1/2 to 1/3 LESS in volume when using dried instead of fresh, as there is much more water content in the fresh herbs, and less actual flavor per volume; and 2) know that the flavor is locked away inside the dried herbs, so be sure to reconstitute the flavor with a bit broth, vinegar, wine or citrus juice splashed onto the herbs as they are first being cooked. 3) The natural shelf life of a dried herb is one year: in nature, all plant matter returns to the earth via the composting effects of insects, oxygenation, mold and fungus within one full turn of the seasons. Keeping herbs for longer means they may be subject to these effects, picking up molds and insects as they deteriorate in flavor and nutritional value. It is recommended to buy small batches, and rotate your supply. If you buy bulk container to top up your existing spice jars, pour out the old stuff, wash and dry container before adding new.
And be aware, the labeling on store bought herbs may indicate a long shelf life: however, this likely means the herbs have been irradiated, a practice not required to be labeled in Canada. Often listed as ‘radulation’ or simply as a ‘preservative’ on imported spices, domestic dried herb companies are not required to list radulation as a preservative on the label. If you want truly fresh dried herbs, best to shop for brands that offer certified non-irradiated, also non-gmo. And of course, all certified organic herbs and spices are free of irradiation.
Look for non-irradiated, non-gmo herbs and spices, available at Lifestyle Market on Douglas street, in Victoria BC. https://lifestylemarkets.com/
Learn more about how to cook with herbs and spices when you join Chef Laura for one of her upcoming whole foods cooking classes: classes listed on Cooking Classes page.