In case you are wondering `what’s the difference?’ between the two, I’ll explain it simply. A spice is the/a root & an herb is the leaf.
“Herbs are the leaves of the plant, while spices come from the roots, bark, and seeds.
Seasoning is (cooking) something used to add taste or flavor to food, such as a condiment, herb or spice while spice is plant matter (usually dried) used to season or flavor food or spice.
See? Feel more informed? Of course you do.
Fresh herbs and spices have a stronger aroma and flavor than commercial dried herbs and spices.
Although some flavor is lost when they are dried, it becomes more concentrated because so much moisture is removed. Most herbs contain 70 to 85 percent water. Eight ounces of fresh herbs will yield about one ounce dried.
Gathering Herbs or Picking your Own
The flowers, seeds, leaves and stems of herbs can all be used for seasoning. Leaves and stems should be gathered early in the morning before heat of the sun dissipates flavoring oils.
Leaves should be harvested before plant begins to flower and while still tender. The flavor is going to be ‘ruined’ or be a bit different than one which hasn’t flowered, or bloomed.
“When plants have begun to flower, a bitter taste develops and leaves are not as aromatic because the energy has gone into producing buds.”
Snip stems at base, taking care to leave sufficient foliage for plant to continue growing. The new leaves at tip of plant have the most concentrated flavor. You can separate or divide your snippings, I, just put everything together. I also don’t harvest very many other than at the grocery store :}). Though a few herbs here or there, often I’m using them fresh.
The flowers of some herbs may be used for seasoning. They should be harvested when they first open and while still fresh. Seeds, such as caraway or mustard, are harvested when fully mature and have changed from brown to grey.
Herbs are dry (dehydrating or hanging) when they snap and crumble easily. Stems should be brittle and break when bent. Seeds should be brittle and usually need additional drying after they are removed from seed pods.
To be certain that herbs are sufficiently dry, place in an airtight container for several days. If condensation appears on inside of container, they need further drying.
The best way to store them is in dark colored jars with airtight lids because they don’t allow light in. But not everyone can get these jars, & frankly I close the cupboard doors. You can use other containers as long as they exclude air, light and moisture. Air and light result in
flavor loss; moisture results in caking and color loss or insect infestation.
As with any other dried foods, dried herbs and seeds should be stored in the coolest place available, preferably
below 60°F (15°C), to maintain best flavor. Do not crush or grind until ready to use. Crushing exposes more surfaces to the air, resulting in flavor loss. Generally herbs & spices will keep well for 6-12 months.
Using Dried Herbs & Spices
Since herbs and spices are usually 3 to 4 times stronger than their fresh counterparts, use conservatively. Their taste should be subtle and not overpowering. The zest of dried herbs is dependent upon storage condition and length of time stored. Sharpness of flavor deteriorates with age. Some herbs, such as mint or basil, lose their flavor more rapidly than others when dried. It may take nearly an equal volume of some dried herbs to replace the
amount of fresh called for in recipe.
Which herbs or spices should you keep on hand? Of course it’s by preference really, but I suggest you have the basics. Thyme, rosemary & such can be included in a simple ‘Italian Seasonings’ blend if you’d like. Picking a jar of each up, is better, but not everyone has the space to have racks & racks of spices. I had one apartment, with a pass through, that looked like an apothecary store front. That was a few of my popular spices ;}).
Have some (salt free) garlic & onion, some paprika for the more adventurous. Your basic salt & pepper is good, & something with heat, like cayenne pepper. Ground or powdered gives you options & opens doors that may save you. A little ground cayenne pepper over the top of your casserole, is so yummy along with or instead of paprika.
I’m not going to harp on fresh or dried. The more fresh something is, the better it’s going to taste, but. . . you might change the taste of the recipe. Dried spices/herbs last for a while. They expire or become less potent, but are better than not having any spices.
For easy copying here is a bulleted list.
- Italian Spices
- Onion powder
- Cayenne Pepper- ground or powdered
- Paprika (smoked Spanish)
- Salt (use reduced sodium if need be)
- Black Pepper (ground or whole)
- Nutmeg or Cinnamon
Those are enough to get you started, cover many dishes, & really get them tasting very well. You can go on from there, & as you cook, you’ll add a few here & there. Things like pink, green or white pepper are for the more advanced gourmet cooking, but I couldn’t see making an Alfredo sauce with out white pepper, & I like to include Bay leaves to my Bechemal sauce (just how I am).
Unless they sponsor me, I am not going to pick one spice producer over another. There are better ones, as there are cheap ones. I of course have my preferences, duh. Freshly picked is awesome, but lets face it, if you don’t use them all of the time, they wither on there own.
Make as many herbs & spices on your own, that you can. There are many stores that carry the “fresh” version of these herbs & spices. Often you can clean & prep them, then toss them in to the oven at 200 for a couple hours, then the off for a few hours. I’ll give that a try this winter & see how it stacks against my dehydrator.
Here is the oven vs. dehydrator update I was talking about. The oven is fine, but just takes way too long. I can stack a few different things in the dehydrator (always could), & dry them, where I am kind of limited with the oven. Fruits can get a little sticky on the dehydrator trays sometimes, but the drying overall is so much better.
Auto off is always a great feature. On my stove it’s a cook time (oven). On the dehydrator a trick I use is one of those switch timers. I leave the plug active for the time needed to dehydrate something, plus a few minutes, & switch it off. Works great so far.
Here we have parsley & chives. The chives were chopped before drying. Like any sprig type of spice, the leaves were pulled off after drying.
Below you can see that I stacked some things to dry. Everything has a different time to dry. Also, determine if you want the item, super dry to become powder, or just dry to store. It will come with time learned, or check your dehydrator specs.
Things will re-hydrate with water (shape), but many will have a different taste to them, after being re-hydrated. Most will just be more intense & full of flavor.
Always label & date your stuff. Here you can see what very dried celery looks like. One re-hydrated it looks like celery, but not so much (at first glance) in a jar. You don’t have to get all fancy with the labels, I do my own, so matched them up to the spice jars I had on hand.
There you have it. Herbs & spices ready in time for the big holiday push! Even if you don’t cook everything, your home is going to smell awesome drying these. Just an FYI, dill doesn’t dry very well in home. It took over everything & was quite scary!