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Cooking with Herbs and Spices

Article by: Allrecipes  |  Picture by: Allrecipes
Cooking with Herbs and Spices
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Dry or fresh? Ground or whole? How long can I keep them? These are just some of the answers you'll find in this useful article about using herbs and spices in your cooking.
 
 

Storage Tips for Dried Herbs and Spices

Keep spices and herbs in a cool, dark place away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight e.g. not over the stove, or near a window and ideally in airtight bottles.
Whole spices and herbs maintain their freshness longer than ground ones e.g. cumin seeds will keep better and longer than ground cumin. The shelf life of properly stored spices and herbs is approximately 4 years for whole spices, 2-3 years for ground spices and 1-3 years for leafy herbs, depending on the herb.
Test for Taste

Spices and herbs do not go off but they do lose their strength and taste as they age.
There are three ways to check if you need new herbs or spices - look, smell and taste. Once the colour is fading and/or a fresh aroma or taste is not apparent, they need to be replaced. Rub a small amount between your fingers. If the spice or herb is not fragrant, or has only a faint smell, then it is probably time to replace it. If you find you are using a larger amount of a spice or herb than usual, replace it.
How to Use

When using your herbs and spices, ideally shake the contents into your measuring spoon. If you need to put a spoon into the bottle or packet sure the spoon is completely dry as any moisture introduced into the bottle will also result in caking and flavour loss. Do not sprinkle spices and herbs directly from the bottle over a steaming pot. Steam introduced into the bottle will hasten the loss of flavour and aroma. You also risk the contents caking. Replace bottle lids tightly immediately after use.
Storing Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs can be stored in the fridge for up to five days. Store in an open plastic bag with a piece of paper towel. For storage up to 10 days (depending on the type and freshness), place the bouquet of herbs, stem end down, in a tall glass and fill with cold water. Change the water every two days to maintain freshness. Depending on how hot it is where you live, you can store herbs out of the fridge this way as well.
Using Fresh Herbs

Only wash the amount of the herb you will be using. Shake dry or blot dry with a towel but the herbs do not need to be totally dry to be used. Pick the leaves off of the stems. The leaves are now ready to be torn, chopped or used whole, tossed into a salad or pasta, or used in soup or sauce. Discard the stems or save them for flavouring soup stocks.
Subsituting Fresh Herbs for Dried

Dried herbs have a stronger taste, so the general rule of thumb is to convert a teaspoon of dried herbs into a tablespoon of fresh herbs: for example, use two tablespoons of fresh basil instead of two teaspoons of dried basil. Hresh herbs are best added at the end of the cooking process to preserve their flavours.
General Tips
  • Ground herbs/spices release their flavour more quickly than whole. Ground spices, such as ground thyme or ground cumin, can be used in recipes with short cooking times or can be added near the end of cooking for recipes with longer cooking times.
  • Whole spices need a longer time to release their flavour. They work well in longer-cooking recipes like soups and stews.
  • Robust herbs like sage, thyme and bay leaves stand up well over long cooking times, while milder herbs like basil, marjoram and parsley should be added at the last minute for best results. This is especially true for fresh herbs.
  • Rub leafy herbs in the palm of your hand to release the flavour and aroma. If you are doubling a recipe, increase spices and herbs by one-and-a-half times to start. Taste, and add more if you need.
  • Spices and seeds such as fennel, cumin, sesame seeds and white peppercorns may be toasted to intensify their flavours. Simply add the spice to a dry, heated frypan and toast until aromatic, stirring occasionally.
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