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Fresh herbs are bright and delicious, and they can add a pop of flavor and color to your dishes. But you may not always have them on hand, and sometimes you might not want to buy a whole bunch just for a recipe that requires a mere tablespoon or two. There are times, though, that – like it or not – fresh herbs work so much better that swapping to dried isn’t an option. And there are also some applications in which dried herbs work so much better than their fresh counterparts.
Here’s a primer on when to swap (and when not to), and how to use herbs strategically for the best results.
To swap or not to swap?
There are times you can’t swap dried for fresh, and vice versa. If you’re adding herbs to a fresh dish like a salad, stick to fresh leaves. For garnish, fresh is a must.
In general, light leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro, chives, and tarragon work better fresh; their dried counterparts just don’t impart the same level of flavor. With hardier, woodier herbs, like rosemary and thyme, you’ll have more success with a swap.
There are also times when dried herbs work better than fresh. For spice rubs, you need dried herbs. If you’re making a long-simmering sauce, or a braise, you can add dried herbs early on in the cooking process and develop the flavor with the herbs mixed in. If you tried this with fresh herbs, they would turn bitter.
Some herbs’ flavor is also a bit different in dried form compared to fresh – not better or worse, just different. Oregano, for example, is sharper and more peppery fresh, while the dried stuff is flavorful but mild. Both are delicious, but they aren’t identical.
So, you’ll want to use the two forms in different kinds of dishes. Sprinkle dried oregano on pizza, add to breading for eggplant parm or whisk it into a vinaigrette. Add chopped-up fresh oregano to a marinade or toss some leaves into pesto in place of some of the basil.
How to successfully swap herbs
Because dried herbs are concentrated forms of fresh, you need less when you’re subbing in dried varieties. Use about one-third the amount of dried vs. fresh.
In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, swap in 1 teaspoon of dried (since there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon).
Remember to use dried herbs within 6 months of purchasing for the best potency. Can’t remember when you picked up a particular dried herb? If you open the bottle, crush a little of the dried herb between your fingers and find it isn’t fragrant, it’s time to replace it. Dried herbs past their prime won’t hurt you, but they also won’t do much for the flavor of your dishes.
What about ginger and garlic?
These two are outliers, with their own rules. There’s room in the kitchen for both fresh and dried (or powdered) versions of both.
For garlic and ginger, fresh varieties are more potent and aromatic. For stir fries, curries, sauces and other hearty dishes, fresh works beautifully.
Sometimes, however, you don’t want the texture of these fresh ingredients, or you may want a subtler flavor. In these cases, opt for dried. We like garlic powder in meatballs, for example. Often, ground ginger is more desirable in baking, as in cakes or muffins where you want a smooth texture.
In those moments when you do want to swap (or you have to out of necessity), generally you can use ⅛ teaspoon of garlic powder per clove of fresh, or ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger per minced tablespoon of fresh.
Whether you’re putting fresh or dried herbs to work in your kitchen, it’s a good idea to have a variety of different herbs (and spices) on hand. Keep reading for more herb ideas and storage suggestions: