Dried herbs and spices are critical tools in every pantry transforming simple dishes into something special, flavorful and different each day. Here are 10 tips for using dried herbs and spices.
10 Tips for Using Dried Herbs and Spices
- Date the bottles. When you open new bottle, be sure to write the date on the container or a label. Dried herbs and spices last from 6 months to 1 year. They don’t spoil, but they do lose their potency and flavor.
- Freshness. How to tell if your herbs and spices are old? The smell test. If they don’t have a strong fragrance, the flavor is likely gone. Toss them and buy a new bottle.
- Buy new-to-you herbs and spices in small quantities to experiment, then in larger quantities to save money when you find the ones you use most frequently.
- Storage. Store herbs and spices in a cool dark place, away from sunlight and heat in an airtight container. Sun and heat accelerate their expiration. Some people store them in the freezer for longer staying power.
- Add them at the start of cooking or about 20 minutes before the end. Dried herbs and spices need time and moisture to re-hydrate during cooking to release their flavor. With spices it will depend on the recipe. I add mine to sautéing onions and oil to release their scent and flavor when making a chili, stew or sauce.
- The rule for substituting dried herbs for fresh is 1:3. Example, use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs versus 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) of a fresh herb. Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor, so you use less. Their taste can also be a bit different than the fresh version. As always, taste and adjust for your personal preference.
- Rub dried herbs between your hands to release the natural oils before putting into the pot. A trick my mom taught me years ago.
- Herb or spice? Dried herbs are the leaves of the plants. Spices are from the stems, bark (like cinnamon) and seeds of plants. Some plants produce both. Cilantro is the leaf form of the plant and coriander is the seed which is ground into a spice. Here's more information.
- Spices are most often used in dried form. Some come in whole and ground forms, such as nutmeg, mace and cinnamon. Whole spices stay aromatic for longer periods but you have to grind them yourself. Ground is usually more convenient to use.
- To reduce sodium in your diet, ramp up the flavors in your foods with herbs, spices and salt-free blends to make up for less salt.