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October/November 2016

Getting to Know: Dried Herbs

Dried herbs can be more complex and flavorful than fresh. We use them in many dishes—and not just in a pinch.

Dried herbs can be more complex and flavorful than fresh. We use them in many dishes—and not just in a pinch.

Oregano

Most of the oregano found in U.S. stores is native to Europe, but you can also find Mexican oregano. The two plants are from different genuses, but both contain carvacrol, the essential oil that gives oregano its characteristic flavor. We found European oregano earthy, slightly sweet, and milder than robust Mexican oregano, but the two can be used interchangeably.

Rosemary

Dried rosemary isn’t a bad substitute for fresh in terms of flavor, but the hard dried needles work best in long-cooked dishes like soups, stews, and braises, where they can soften during cooking. Dried rosemary flavors our Montreal Seasoned Salt Blend and goes well with most grilled meats. Use it sparingly.

Turkish Bay Leaves

When a recipe calls for bay leaves, it generally means Turkish bay, with its tea-like (with a hint of menthol) flavor. Bay leaves don’t play a leading role but contribute to the overall savory flavor of stocks and soups. We particularly like them in our Arroz con Pollo. To maintain potency, freeze bay leaves in a zipper-lock bag.

Dill

Dried dill is a signature flavor in Eastern European and Scandinavian cuisines, where it lends bright, lemony, and grassy notes to all kinds of dishes. It’s also one of the classic flavors in ranch dressing; we use it in our Buttermilk-Ranch Pita Chips. Dried dill also works well with eggs, vegetables, poultry, and seafood.

Thyme

Thyme’s pungent, floral flavors make it well suited to red meat and poultry dishes. It’s also common in blends like herbes de Provence, bouquet garni, and za’atar. Use a third as much dried thyme when substituting for fresh; its flavor is much more intense. Dried thyme contributes to the bold herb flavor of our Smoked Roast Beef.

Sage

Sage leaves are sold whole, rubbed, or ground. To produce rubbed sage, the dried leaves are crumbled, while ground sage may include both finely ground leaves and stems. We prefer sage in its whole leaf form, but rubbed sage is a solid substitute for whole. Ground sage is dusty and bland, so we don’t recommend it. When substituting for fresh sage, increase the amount called for by half.

California Bay Leaves

These large, aromatic leaves are harvested from an evergreen tree native to California. Much more difficult to come by than Turkish bay leaves, dried California bay leaves have a potent, eucalyptus-like flavor that our tasters registered as medicinal, “like something you’d put in a cough drop.” We advise against using California bay leaves unless specified in a recipe.

Tarragon

Tarragon, with its signature licorice flavor, is an herb we often use in its fresh form, but we’ve found that dried tarragon is a great addition to rubs, spice blends, and dressings, notably our recipe for Romaine Salad with Green Goddess Dressing. Be sure to store all dried herbs in a cool, dark, dry place; heat, light, and moisture can shorten their shelf life.

Marjoram

This pungent herb is especially good in bean, lamb, and beef dishes. A core ingredient in poultry seasoning and Bell’s seasoning, marjoram is related to both oregano and mint, but its earthy, slightly musty flavor is more like that of oregano. Like other dried herbs, marjoram’s flavor will fade over time; to test for freshness, rub some between your fingers. If it still smells bright, use it; otherwise, trash it.

Herbes de Provence

This herb mix includes rosemary, marjoram, thyme, lavender, and fennel. We use it in our Slow-Cooker Ratatouille. If you can’t find herbes de Provence, replace it with 2 teaspoons dried marjoram, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (crumbled), 1 teaspoon dried sage,  teaspoon ground fennel, and a pinch of lavender.

Italian Seasoning

This blend combines all the characteristic flavors of Italy in a single jar. It typically contains oregano, marjoram, rosemary, basil, sage, thyme, and savory. These hearty flavors work best in long-cooking dishes, but you can add Italian seasoning to roasted potatoes or vegetables for a Mediterranean twist. Substitute Italian seasoning for oregano in our Mozzarella Sticks for more complex flavor.

DON’T DO IT

Delicate leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, and parsley become bland and musty when dried. Since they’re generally used to finish a dish, substituting a dried version is texturally problematic; dried versions also lack the intensity of their fresh counterparts. If you can’t use fresh, consider a different flavor profile.