What’s Better? Dried or Fresh?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Donna Knopf
Posted on: June 21, 2002

Hi there - I came across your website and have a question.

My question is general, and may seem silly, but I’m just not sure: How do you know which herbs are best used fresh and which are best used dried? I’ve sort of learned a couple just by taste - like I dry oregano and crumble it up on food for a better taste than when it’s fresh. But I eat parsley fresh because it tastes better.

Is there sort of a "rule of thumb" for this? Or does it vary with each herb? If so, is there sort of a general list of which ones are better usable fresh and which are better usable dried? Or does it not matter most of the time, and you can use them either way? Can I just place various herbs, fresh OR dried, in salads, sauces, or cooking?

The herbs I have in my garden are: Angelica, Rosemary, Lemon Grass, Echinacea, Pineapple Sage, Bergamot, Peppermint, Oregano, Chives, Thyme, Marjoram, and Parsley.

I know this is sort of a wide question, and yet it seems basic, but I can’t seem to find the answer.

No, this is not a silly question at all! It is a very good question because, as you have already suspected, there is no absolute rule which format – fresh or dried – is best.

Among culinary herbs it is fair to say that most can be used both ways. There are some that are overwhelmingly preferred fresh and others that are overwhelmingly preferred dried, but even among those there are few that cannot be used both ways.

Take french tarragon as an example. You can find dried tarragon leaves in stores but if you compare their taste with fresh leaves there is no comparison: fresh leaves have the characteristic strong, almost biting, licorice-like flavour while dried leaves only have a hint. That’s because the oils in the leaves that give flavour are volatile and are easily lost during the drying process. Chives, parsley and cilantro are other examples of herbs that are best used fresh.

The oils of other herbs are not as volatile and are not as easily lost during the drying process. These are the many herbs that are quite acceptable to use in their dried form. Herbs such as rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, and savory are classic examples. Because the drying process can concentrate the oils (because water is selectively driven away during the drying process) some herbs actually taste better after drying as you have noted with oregano. Mints are like that too when used for tea. I find that while fresh oregano is okay for cooking and mints are okay for tea, when properly dried they have less of the "grassy" edge to the taste. Meanwhile, fresh mints are only used fresh as a garnish in drinks and in certain dishes such as mint julep.

The drying process is critical for dried herb quality. If the herbs are subjected to too much heat then too much of the oils will be lost. If they are dried too slowly then fungi can grow and cause the taste to go off. Herbs that are improperly stored or stored for too long can lose their flavour too. Even growing the wrong varieties of a particular herb can have an adverse effect on quality.

There are probably lists somewhere that indicate which herbs are best fresh and which are best dried. But fortunately it is easy to decide for yourself which form is best because in the end it is your own tasting that is the best guide. If a herb tastes better when dried than fresh, then you have your answer as to which to use.

Among the herbs you have in your garden, you can classify them as follows:

Best used fresh: angelica, pineapple sage, peppermint (as garnish), chives and parsley.

Best used dried: bergamot, oregano, peppermint (for tea).

Can be used either way: rosemary, lemongrass, echinacea, thyme, marjoram.

But even these divisions reflect personal preferences that might not be shared by you once you have experimented for yourself.

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