A Bit About Herbs
The use of herbs in cooking dates back thousands of years and it has always been believed that herbs and spices have properties that are beneficial to health, but it wasn't until recent years that scientists actually established just how good herbs are for your health. Herbs are the leaves of temperate climate plants. Temperate climates have summers and winters of similar length. For more information on Italian herbs click Here.
Below are a few quick tips on how to make the most of fresh herbs in your cooking -
Buying Fresh Herbs
- The best tip for buying fresh herbs is to buy them as close to the time when you will use them as possible, to ensure their freshness.
- If possible, buy herbs in small bundles or packages so you can use them before they lose their peak flavour.
- If buying a small quantity is not an option, split the bundle with friends or family or dry what isn't used.
- Look for herbs that are rich and deep in colour and aroma. They should smell fresh and crisp, not at all musty or dull.
- Leaves should not be wilted or discoloured.
- If you are unsure of their quality, remove a few of the stems from the bunch. If the stems alone can support the leaves, the herbs are fresh. If the stems wilt,don't buy them.
Nowadays fresh herbs are available at most supermarkets and grocers. Herbs come packaged in loose plastic bags, tied in bunches, or in plastic containers.
Washing Fresh Herbs
- It is important to wash herbs before cooking or storing them to remove dirt, grit or bugs that may have settled on the leaves. the best way is to rinse small portions under cool, running water.
- Once all the dirt has been washed away, gently shake the herbs carefully as some fresh herbs bruise very easily and loose their freshness and flavour.
- The best way is to remove excess water by lightly patting with a dry paper towel.
- For larger herb bundles, fill a clean sink or deep bowl with cool water. Place the herbs in the water and move them around to get rid of any dirt. Remove the herbs from the dirty water, drain, refill with clean water, and continue the washing processes. Follow the previous steps until your water is clear and no dirt is left behind.
- To dry, you can either gently shake the herbs or carefully spin dry them in a salad spinner, but as mentioned above this is not really the best way. Again, remove any excess water by lightly patting with a dry paper towel.
Storing Fresh Herbs
- The longer herbs are stored, the less flavourful they become. If you buy herbs a few days before you will use them, it is important to refrigerate the herbs properly to conserve their colour and flavour.
- Make sure any ties or rubber bands are removed from the herb bundles before storing.
- Throw away leaves that are discoloured or limp.
- In order to extend the freshness of the herbs for about one week, cut the stems diagonally as if you were cutting flower stems. Place the newly-cut stems in a jar or tall glass with one to two inches of water.
- Cover the herbs with a plastic bag, leaving space for air to circulate.
- Another way to store herbs is to simply place them in an open or only partly-closed plastic bag or container.
Whatever method you choose, be careful to avoid crushing the herbs. Also store your herbs in the warmest part of your refrigerator to avoid the possibility of freezing. If you don't plan on using the herbs within a week of purchase, it may be best to freeze them -
- Wash, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.
- Wrap a few sprigs or leaves in freezer wrap and place in a freezer bag.
- Seal and freeze.
Another good way to freeze herbs is to chop them, put them in ice cube trays, cover with water, and freeze. The ice around them seals out air and helps preserve their flavour and aroma, this way you can just thaw as many cubes as needed for the dish you are preparing. Remember to label the freezer bag with the name of the herb and the date. Fresh herbs will often lose their colour and wilt slightly during freezing, which often causes many herbs to look the same. Herbs that have been frozen are best used in cooked meals rather than as a garnish because of their appearance.