Cooking with Dried Herbs and Spices

No kitchen should be without these culinary heroes.

By FamilyTime


A large number of home cooks give little thought to the jar of oregano and bottle of bay leaves lurking in the kitchen cabinet. The ground cinnamon and allspice are barely noticed.

What this means for most of us is that our dried herbs and spices are outdated, lacking in flavor and appeal, and underused.

All three are sorry states of affairs. None needs to be so.

Dried herbs and spices add zest and zing to dishes, provide great depth of flavor, and have the ability to turn a humdrum meal into a remarkable one.

The Well Stocked Herb Shelf
When thinking of your supply of dried herbs, forget the notion of a spice rack. Herbs and spices do best stored in a dark, cool cupboard - not sitting in a rack in the bright, hot kitchen.

Buy quality herbs and spices, not generic or bargain labels. The brand names may cost a little more, but the product is generally superior. They last for months and so pay for themselves with good use.

Buy only those you need for a recipe or that you will likely use in the course of the next few months. Purchase them in small amounts.

The Seasoned Herb and Spice Cook
For most culinary uses, dried herbs release their good flavor when crushed. You can do this in the palm of your hand using your thumb, by rubbing the leaves between your fingertips, or by crushing them with a pestle in a mortar.

Spices are at their most aromatic when ground or crushed, too. These are the woody portions or the seeds of plants, while herbs are the leaves. If you find yourself cooking with a lot of spices, invest in a spice grinder.

The herbs and spices you add at the early stages of a recipe will impart a subtler, more mellow flavor than that from the herbs added at the end of cooking. Follow a recipe and once you identify the flavors you like best, experiment.

The Ruthless Herb Cook
Good cooks never keep herbs or spices past their prime. Throw herbs away after six or seven months; get rid of spices after a year or so.

When you buy new herbs, use a black marker to date them. Don't be shy about tossing them when it's time. They lose flavor rapidly after several months.

The Accomplished Herb Cook
If you hate throwing things away - and most good cooks prefer to use ingredients economically and judiciously - use herbs and spices often during their months in your kitchen.

Add herbs to soups, stews, sauces and salads. Use them in marinades and rubs for meat and fish. Think about how much better lamb tastes with rosemary, chicken with thyme, and tomato sauce with oregano.

Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal and paprika on fish or potatoes. Add ginger to marinades and stir-frys.

Once you start thinking about using dried herbs and spices, your imagination takes flight - and you remember all the good things you have always loved because of the touch of herb, kiss of spice.

The Herbs and Spices Every Kitchen Needs
Different cuisines rely on different herbs and spices and your favorite will have its own lexicon. For general cooking, stock the following - and any others you particularly like:

Dried Herbs:
Bay leaves

Sesame seeds