For centuries Herbs and Spices have been an integral part of many of the world's great cuisines. Today
we take for granted black pepper and the other spices over which wars where
once fought. At one time only kings and other wealthy people could afford
such a delicacy as cinnamon. Today all supermarkets and most small grocery
stores have well-stocked spice shelves offering a wonderful selection of
herbs and spices.
It is hard to imagine what cooking would be like without the unique flavors
provided by herbs, spices, and the many seasonings available.
The term "spices" is often used broadly to include all seasonings. Spices
come from the bark, roots, leaves, stems, buds, seeds, or fruit of aromatic
plants and trees which usually grow only in tropical countries. Pepper,
allspice, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, and turmeric are
Herbs are soft, succulent plants which usually grow in the temperate zone.
Until recently cooks have had to make do with very few fresh herbs, such as
sage, parsley, and thyme. Nowadays you can also find fresh basil, coriander,
chervil, tarragon, rosemary, and dill. Since herbs are at their best when
they are young and freshly picked, it is well worth growing your own.
How To Preserve
The faster the
herbs dry, the more flavorful the resulting dried herb will be.
Place clean dry herb sprigs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at the
lowest setting until herbs are dry and brittle. This should take about
12 hours. Strip leaves from stems & place in small airtight storage
Air Drying: Tie
small bunches of herbs with string and hang upside down by the stems in
a dry warm spot out of direct sunlight. Be sure air circulates freely
around the bunches. Let dry till leaves are brittle. This usually takes
a few days to a week, depending on the thickness of the leaves. Pick off
the dried leaves & store in tightly covered containers in a cool, dry
place about two weeks or till dry and brittle.
Pick when the dew has just gone off. Put on paper towels on a plate in
the microwave. Zap on high for a minute to start (at that point they
appear "wet"). Stir them, zap again for another minute, move around
again, and zap approximately 30 seconds more or until they are dry and
crumbly. Rub between your hands to break up, pick out any twiggy parts
and put in small jars or baggies.
Wrap in foil or plastic wrap. You can also chop clean herbs, place in ice
cube trays & fill with water. When needed remove herb ice cubes and drop
into hot cooking liquid. You can also wrap bunches of fresh herbs in
foil or plastic wrap and freeze them for several weeks. You should
expect some discoloration of frozen herbs. Mark the date on the
container of your dried herbs. They can be kept for one year. Heat,
moisture and light rob herbs of flavor. You can also make herb butters
and herb vinegars.
Making Herb Vinegar
following are the guidelines that I have perfected over the last 18
years of teaching and making herb flavored vinegar. The method used is
for a mild delicate flavored vinegar that is pleasing to the eye, as
well as delicious used in cooking."
- by Alleta Huston
vinegars have a long shelf life. Use herb vinegars in vinaigrettes and
marinades or to add zest to cooked vegetables.
Making Herb Vinegar.
Hints For Using Herbs
Substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs: Dried
herbs are stronger in flavor than fresh leaf herbs. When adding dried
leaf herbs to a recipe that calls for fresh ones,
substitute 1/3 the
amount called for in the recipe.
using dried herbs, crush them in the palm of your hand or between your
fingers. This will release the flavor quicker. Use only one
strong-flavored herb (rosemary, sage, winter savory, etc.) in a food. A
strong-flavored seasoning may be combined with several mild-flavored
ones. Whole herb leaves are a better choice than ground or powdered
herbs because they hold their flavor longer in storage; pulverize just
Substituting whole spices for ground spices: When adding whole spices to a recipe that calls
for ground spices,
use 1 1/2 times as much as the recipe call for.
Increasing a recipe:
When doubling a recipe, do not double the herbs and spices.
Increase them by 1 1/2 times and then taste,
adding more if necessary.
general, always taste for seasoning before adding salt.
Don't season more than one dish in a meal with
the same herb. Also, every dish on the menu does not need to be herbed -
two or three at the most is enough.
Use only one (1) strong-flavored herb
(rosemary, sage, basil, mint, dill, marjoram, tarragon, thyme, etc.) in
a dish at a time. However, a strong-flavored herb may be combined with
several mild-flavored ones (chervil, chives, parsley, savory, etc.) for
Grinding & Crushing Herb
Grinding or crushing herbs and spices
immediately before cooking releases the aromatic flavor of the herb or
spice and will deepen the flavor of any dish.
For crushing a small amount of herbs or
spices, a mortar and pestle is quick to use and you can control the
coarseness of the grind.
For large batches of herbs and spices, a
spice mill or a coffee grinder is convenient and quick.
To simply crack or crush some spices
without grinding them to a powder, place the spices in a sturdy plastic
bag and then set on a cutting board. Bear down with the bottom of a
heavy saucepan or a heavy wooden rolling pin.
If you are grinding spices to add to
delicate baked goods, sift them after grinding to get rid of any woody
bits and pieces.
Buying Herbs & Spices
Most herbs and spices are sold both
whole and ground. It is preferable to buy whole spices and grind
Shop in a busy store for your herbs
and spices. Busy stores are more likely to move their inventory
rapidly and thus have fresh herbs and spices. Consider buying
high-quality spices from reputable mail-order companies.
I, personally, have found that they are always
very fresh and aromatic.
Don't buy herbs or spices that look
faded or uneven in color.
For whole spices, check that there is
very little powder or broken bits in the container.
For ground spices, the finer the
grind, the better the quality.
When buying spices and herbs from a
large bulk bin, make sure there is plenty of aroma.
Don't buy more than you can use with 6
months to 1 year.
What is bouquet garni?
Bouquet garni (boo-Kay gahr-NEE) are little bundles of
herbs and spices tied together with twine or wrapped in cheese cloth.
These packets of herbs and spices are added to soups,
stocks, sauces, braises, or any dish with a lot of liquid and requiring
a long simmer. This technique keeps all the herbs and spices together,
making for easy removal when the dish is cooked.
Some cooks leave a few inches of twince on the bouquet
garni and tie the end to the pot handle for easy removal. Others let the
package swim freely in the pot.
How much is a sprig?
Unless a recipe
specifies a length of a sprig, a sprig is about a 4-inch piece of stem
with the leaves still attached.
How much is a bunch?
A small bunch of herbs
is equal to a small handful of sprigs, a little less than 1 inch in
diameter, 3 to 4 inches long and about 1-half ounce by weight.
A large bunch would be
equal to a medium-size handful of sprigs, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter
and 1 ounce by weight.
Handling and Storage
of Herbs and Spices:
Whole spices will keep their flavor indefinitely as long as they are
kept in tightly closed containers away from heat and light. Herbs in
leaf form will keep longer than herbs in ground form. Ground spices and
herbs will keep their flavor for up to a year after purchase (whether
opened or unopened, as long as they were fresh when purchased and kept
in tightly closed containers in a cool place. If kept at room
temperature, in a pantry for example, herbs and spices will keep for
only 6 months.
Never store herbs and spices next to or above
the stove (this will shorten their life). To tell if a herb or a spice
has lost its flavor, smell it - if it has no aroma, it should be
Growing Fresh Herbs
Nothing is better than the flavor of fresh
Why not grow your own and have fresh herbs
when you need them?
Herbs are very easy to grow in your garden
or even in a kitchen windowsill. Most herbs can be started from seeds,
but it is much easier to buy small plants for a head start.
When your herbs come into bloom, add the
flowers to your soups, salads, or use as garnishes.