Dried Herbs Vs. Fresh: SPICEography Showdown

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There is a widespread notion that fresh herbs are superior to dried herbs, but that is not always true. Dried herbs often perform just as well as fresh and have the benefit of lasting for longer. The fact is that both forms have their benefits and drawbacks. In order to determine how dried and fresh herbs compare to each other, we will need to consider several factors. Are dried and fresh herbs different when it comes to flavor? How do they stack up with regard to nutritional value? Below are the answers to these questions and more.

Do dried and fresh herbs taste the same?

The answer to this is, sometimes. The differences and similarities in flavor between dried and fresh herbs boil down to the chemical makeup of the individual herbs. Some herbs contain volatile compounds so that their flavors diminish when they have been exposed to high temperatures for extended periods. This can happen when the herb is dried or during the cooking process. Other herbs have compounds that are more stable, which means that they can stand up to drying and can last longer when cooked for extended periods.

Do dried and fresh herbs have the same nutritional value?

Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) is the standard test used to measure different foods’ antioxidant activity. According to the ORAC scale, most dried herbs have far higher levels of antioxidant activity when compared to their fresh counterparts. This is because there is degradation of the antioxidant compounds in the period between the harvesting of fresh herbs and when you actually use them. The drying process can dramatically slow down that degradation. Antioxidants like flavonoids and polyphenols take much longer to break down in dried herbs.

Vitamins are another story. The drying process can significantly reduce the levels of these compounds, especially in the case of vitamin C. A tablespoon of dried basil has a quarter of the vitamin C as the fresh equivalent and less than a third of the vitamin K. The omega 3 fatty acid content is also reduced from 88 mg in fresh basil to 33 mg in the dried herb.

Can you use fresh herbs in place of dried and vice versa?

The general rule when it comes to using fresh and dried herbs as substitutes for each other is to use three times as much of the fresh herb as you would use of the dry. This means that if your recipe calls for three teaspoons of fresh oregano, you would use one of the dried. The principle here is that drying concentrates many of the compounds responsible for the herb’s flavor; you compensate for that by using less of the dried herb. It is important to recognize that this rule is a general one that does not apply to every single herb. For example, the flavor of dried thyme is much less pungent than that of fresh thyme; you would need to use a lot more of it to replace the fresh version.

When should you use dried herbs and when should you use fresh herbs?

Herbs like oregano are among those herbs with compounds that can withstand the drying process. In fact, many resources recommend that dried oregano be used instead of fresh. Herbs like parsley, cilantro and chives are the opposite. It is far better to use those herbs fresh as drying them reduces their flavors almost to the point of making them flavorless.

In most cases, it is best to use the herbs that are best used fresh at the end of cooking to finish the dish. Use the herbs that are best used dried in dishes that require long cooking times.