Substituting Dried Herbs for Fresh Herbs: What Amount?

Posted on 11 Apr 2017 02:09

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You may have read that you should never use dried herbs in your cooking. But you do, don't you? What's more, you make tasty food with dried herbs. Sure, in a perfect world we'd always use fresh ingredients. However, depending on the preparation, dried herbs can sometimes be even better. But, what if you have to substitute dried herbs in a recipe calling for fresh?


Amount of Dried Herb To Use

The rule usually given is to use about half the amount of dried herbs as fresh herbs. However, this doesn't work well with every dried herb. It depends on how well the particular herb stands up to drying and how much flavor (essential oils) it retains. Herbs that dry well such as rosemary, oregano, and sage, will have a lot of flavor, so you are better off starting with 1/4 to 1/3 the amount of herb the recipe calls for in fresh. So, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of chopped fresh sage, for instance, you might want to start with a teaspoonful of dried and adjust the recipe to taste.

drying herbs

Herbs hung for drying.

drying herbs

Herbs hung for drying.

But applying this rule of thumb carte blanch to all other herbs may not work. Basil, for example, doesn't retain as much of its flavor in the dried form as oregano does. Therefore, you might need to use a lot more dried basil than dried oregano, which will quickly become overwhelming when used in excess. Instead of worrying about exact amounts, though, just use a more handy cooking rule: Always taste as you cook! Start with the minimum amount of dried herb and taste periodically to decide whether you want to use a bit more. Typically dried herbs will be used in dishes which are cooked for long periods, so you'll have time to adjust.

In the article linked above, I mentioned some herbs which dry well and retain their flavor, and herbs which don't dry as well, losing some flavor. Here is a recap.

Herbs That Dry Well

Typically the less tender herbs with tough leaves or woody stems dry well.

For example, herbs like rosemary, oregano, lavender, and thyme. These types of herbs don't have a lot of water in their leaves and full of essential oils.

Bay leaves dry well, too, but they are the leaves of a tree so do not fall into the typical herb category.


Herbs That Don't Dry Well

More delicate herbs with soft stems tend to no dry well, losing a some or even most of their flavor. If you've ever heard a chef trashing dried parsley and calling it, well, trash, this is because parsley retains almost no flavor at all when dried!

Some herbs which do not dry as well are basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, lovage, and marjoram and thyme.

These are herbs which have a lot of water in their stems and leaves, so are very difficult to dry in the first place.

Dried Mint

If you've ever had mint tea made with dried mint leaves, you probably realized that it has plenty of mint flavor. So, mint is an exception to the rule. It does have soft delicate leaves but it dries pretty well.

Oddly enough, most of the familiar cooking herbs are in the mint family, including most of those above, are in the mint family but this is no indication of how well they stand up to drying. When I say mint here, of course, I am referring to those herbs which have "mint" in their name, such as spearmint.

You Can Use Both Dried and Fresh Herbs in the Same Recipe!

Some sources are so hung up on the fresh versus dried herbs debate that they create a dichotomy: You will either use fresh herbs in your cooking or substitute dried herbs if you are ignorant, vulgar, or desperate. In reality, you can use both, starting with a dried herb at the beginning of cooking and adding some fresh herb at the end to reinforce the flavor and bring in a fresh, vibrant taste, will often yield better results.

But, as many attest, sometimes dried herbs are no substitute. As a general rule, if a recipe calls for a large amount of fresh herb, meaning it relies on the herb for most of its flavor, dried herbs will never work at all. This should be a bit obvious, though, You could never make pesto with dried basil, after all.

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