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August/September 2018

Herb Keepers

Fresh herbs are essential for many recipes, but we rarely use an entire bunch at once. Can these containers keep leftover herbs fresh longer?

How We Tested

Herb keepers are containers designed to extend the life span of herbs, allowing you to use an entire bunch instead of finding it later, slimy and wilted. Resembling covered vases, they hold the herb stems in water while keeping the stalks and leaves neatly contained and protected. We previously evaluated herb keepers and named the Norpro Herb Keeper our winner, but with new models on the market, we decided to retest. We selected five models, priced from $14.86 to $30.47, and tested each one with cilantro (a tender herb) and thyme (a hardy herb). We stored two of every model in the refrigerator—one on a shelf and one in the door—each holding one bunch of cilantro and one of thyme. Curious if the herb keepers would work outside the refrigerator, we also used them on the counter with basil, a tender herb that is typically stored at room temperature.

We loaded each herb keeper according to its instructions, adding enough water to cover the bottoms of the stems without going over the maximum water fill line. For comparison, we also stored one bunch each of basil, cilantro, and thyme according to the test kitchen's preferred methods: We placed basil cuttings in a glass Mason jar with enough water to cover the stems and left the jar on the counter, and we wrapped bunches of cilantro and thyme cuttings in dampened paper towels and stored each separately in a zipper-lock bag. We checked the herbs daily, looking for any signs of spoilage. We diligently removed any wilted or dead leaves and changed the water whenever it started to look discolored. For the herbs stored in zipper-lock bags, we changed the paper towels once during testing, as the towels had ripped. Finally, we noted when there were no longer enough usable herbs—a couple of leaves of basil; just a few stalks of cilantro and thyme—in a given bunch.

Do Herb Keepers Really Work?

Within 15 days, all the basil stored in keepers on the counter had turned brown, wilted, or developed a fuzzy coating. By comparison, after 50 days of careful pruning and water-changing, there were still a few usable green leaves in the Mason jar, also stored on the counter. Cilantro and thyme stayed fresh in the refrigerated herb keepers for at least 46 days. The test kitchen method also turned in impressive numbers, maintaining these two herbs for 40 and 46 days, respectively.

When it came to evaluating the herb keepers that held the refrigerated herbs, our winner slightly outperformed the competition. Its design may have contributed to this success, as it was the only model with vents; there are L-shaped openings in each corner of the lid. Our science editor explained that these vents may be advantageous because they can help reduce humidity and condensation, which in turn reduces the risk of fungi prospering and infecting the leaves.

Ease of Use Is Critical

The biggest difference among the herb keepers was access—how easy it was to add or remove herbs, which is important if you want to use up a large bunch in small amounts. Some models were a pain to use. The worst was a tall cylindrical keeper with a lid that required us to reach our hands—and part of our arms—inside to grasp the herbs, or to pull the whole bunch out by the tops. Two other models with lids and removable inserts were slightly better, but these didn't keep herbs well organized and one of them dripped water every time we removed the basket.

Our favorite herb keepers had a base and top that were roughly the same size, providing access at the midway point of the container (and thus at the midway point of the herb stalks). These made it easier for us to get what we needed, as we could grasp the sturdy stalks instead of the tender leaves. The best model had a lidded top half that collapsed down, meaning that we could opt to open just the lid or slide the whole top down. It was also the only product with removable dividers that helped keep herbs neatly confined.

Our Favorite Herb Keeper

After almost two months of carefully tending to herbs in each of the keepers, we still liked our old favorite, the Norpro Herb Keeper ($14.86). However, a newcomer, the Cole & Mason Fresh Herb Keeper ($17.31), edged it out thanks to a few extra features. Its top can be lowered for easy access to the herbs and raised to avoid crushing tall stalks. Its convenient removable dividers allowed us to separate and corral herbs, making for one organized container. This model didn't spill or drip water, and it kept herbs looking perky throughout testing: cilantro and thyme stayed fresh for upwards of eight weeks; basil lasted for about 10 days.

That said, we were very impressed with our test kitchen DIY methods, which kept cilantro and thyme bunches fresh for more than five weeks and basil fresh for more than 50 days. Our takeaway? We don't think you need to buy a dedicated herb keeper when you can easily store herbs using either a zipper-lock bag and a few paper towels or a simple glass Mason jar. The main advantage of an herb keeper is its hard shell, which protects herbs from getting squished in the refrigerator. If that's a concern, a dedicated herb keeper may be a better option.

Methodology

We purchased five herb keepers, priced from $14.86 to $30.47. We tested the herb keepers on the counter with one bunch of basil in each and in two places in the refrigerator—on a shelf and in the door—with one bunch of cilantro and one bunch of thyme in each. For comparison, we also stored one bunch of each herb according to our usual methods. We monitored the herbs every weekday, diligently removing any bad leaves and regularly changing the water. To test durability, we knocked over empty herb keepers in the refrigerator five times and dropped them off the counter three times. We washed each model 10 times according to manufacturer instructions. Prices were paid online, and models appear below in order of preference.

Ease of Use: We inserted and retrieved basil, cilantro, and thyme from each herbkeeper, added water according to manufacturer instructions, and used each model on the counter and in the refrigerator (both on a shelf and in the door). Products ranked higher if they were easy to store, didn't drip or spill, and made it easy to add or remove herbs.

Freshness: We used herb keepers to store basil on the counter and to hold cilantro and thyme in the refrigerator, giving highest marks to models that kept herbs fresh the longest.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.