There are some simple methods of storing fresh greens that can easily be used to dry herbs. If you want to enjoy aromatic spices and teas in winter, there is nothing better than your own homemade harvest. Plus, you can have herbs on hand in a sustainable way that will add more flavor to your favorite recipes. Read on to learn more about drying techniques so you can choose the right one for you.
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Here’s how to dry fragrant herbs that taste better than store-bought ones
For centuries, drying was the only way to keep culinary herbs from spoiling. Now there are many new products that keep herbs fresh and tricks that allow you to store them for weeks. How do you dry herbs the old-fashioned way? The answer is simple: timing and suitable conditions are everything when it comes to drying herbs. You should pick your crop before the flowers develop . Do this best on warm, dry mornings, after the dew has evaporated. Since each herb grows differently, it would be advisable to pick and prepare one variety at a time.
To prepare herbs, you must first discard all damaged leaves. Then remove large-leafed herbs like sage and mint from their stems. Leave small, feathery growths like dill and fennel on their stems until drying is complete. So if you’re drying your own herbs, make sure they’re fresh, while some store-bought ones may have been sitting around for a long time before you put them in your basket. Even if you get them freshly dried at the supermarket, you can save money by using your own herb garden for them. Moreover, dried products cost three times more, while a live plant is rather cheap. You can save the seeds and plant them again, or keep them growing and harvest them every time you need to replenish your supply. It can also be helpful if you dry all the leftover cilantro after cooking, for example.
What types of herbs are suitable for drying?
If you want to dry your own herbs, it’s good to look at what’s available and what tastes best dried. Each herb has its own nuances such as water content, essential oil content and tendency to mold, so it’s good to do a little research before you get into it. Some, such as basil, sage, cilantro and rosemary, prove easy to start because they have larger, sturdy leaves and don’t require much care before the process. Others, including tarragon, thyme and dill, need more care to remove the smaller leaves from larger stems. The good news is that you can actually dry almost all herbs. Be sure to label them at the end, though, as piles of dried green leaves start to look the same.
Remember that many amateur gardeners feel that the taste of herbs changes when they are dried. In addition, the dried version tends to offer more intense flavor. It is a slightly different taste, as fresh herbs are greener. This does not mean that dried herbs should be ignored. There are many uses for dried herbs. For example, you can add a pinch of dried basil to spaghetti sauce. Tarragon, bay leaf, mint, lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, and small-leaf herbs like thyme air dry well, making them great for beginners.
Hanging herbs to dry
Hanging herbs to dry at room temperature is the easiest and least expensive way to dry herbs. Remove the lower leaves and bundle four to six branches together. Secure them all with string or a rubber band. Place them upside down in a brown paper bag, with the stems sticking out, and tie the bag closed. You can punch small holes along the top for air circulation. Hang the bag in a warm, dark place for about two to four weeks, checking it periodically until the herbs are dry.
This process works best with low-moisture herbs such as dill, marjoram, rosemary, savory and thyme. Herbs with high moisture content will mold if not dried quickly. Therefore, if you want to air dry these types of herbs, make sure the bundles are small and in a well-ventilated area. These herbs include basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm and mint.
Oven drying method
A kitchen oven is often used to dry herbs. However, microwave ovens can also be used to dry herbs more quickly. When drying herbs in the oven, place the leaves or stems on a baking sheet and heat for about one to two hours with the oven door open at about 8o degrees. Heat the herbs on a paper towel for about one to three minutes on high, turning them over every 30 seconds. When drying herbs, microwaves should be used as a last resort. While drying herbs in the microwave is faster, it can affect both the oil content and flavor, especially if dried too quickly.
Use other techniques
Another method is to dry herbs on a tray. To do this, stack trays on top of each other and place them in a warm, dark place until the herbs are dry. Similarly, you can remove leaves from stems and place them on a paper towel. Cover with another paper towel and continue layering as needed. Dry overnight in a cool oven, using only oven light. However, drying herbs in silica sand should not be used for edible herbs. This type of herb drying is best for craft purposes.
Place a layer of quartz sand on the bottom of an old shoebox, arrange herbs on top, and cover with more quartz sand. Place the shoebox in a warm room for about two to four weeks until the herbs have dried through. Once the herbs are dry, store them in airtight containers that are labeled and dated, as they are best used within a year. Place them in a cool, dry place out of sunlight.
Store dried herbs and cook with them
Just as you buy a glass bottle of dried herbs at the grocery store, this is the best way to store dried herbs yourself. You can save well-cleaned old bottles or jars and use them, as well as take airtight plastic containers. When storing, decide if you want to keep the whole leaf or crumble it. For some produce, such as basil or mint, it is easiest to crush the leaves. The advantage of leaving the leaves whole is that you get a little more fragrance when you crush them as needed.
Overall, there is not much difference between cooking with dried herbs and preparing fresh herb plants until it comes to quantity. Since dried foods intensify the flavor, you need three times the amount of fresh herbs to add the same nuances to the recipe. Of course, fresh may taste better in some situations. Often, dried works the same way. This is especially true for dishes that are boiled, steamed, baked or fried. In addition, you can dry herbs and use them in soups, fish or salads. These ingredients show versatility and drying them gives you tasty spices that you can use in your kitchen throughout the year. So play with flavors and try a new blend of spices at your next dinner.