Herbs and Spices Tips

A Word About Herbs

Herbs are flavoring agents from the leafy part of a plant. Examples include basil, dill, oregano, marjoram, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, coriander, and parsley.

Wrap fresh herbs in a damp paper towel, place in an airtight plastic bag, and refrigerate up to five days. For longer storage in the refrigerator, place herbs stem-side down in a cup filled with an inch of water. Cover with plastic.

Store dried herbs in a cool, dark place for up to six months. If kept longer, place in freezer to preserve flavor and aroma. Heat robs herbs (and spices, too) of pungency, so keep them away from stoves and dishwashers.

Dried herbs have concentrated flavor, so use a 1:3 ratio when substituting for fresh. For example, use 1 tablespoon dried for every 3 tablespoons fresh.

The Spice Shelf

Spices are aromatic seasonings from seeds (caraway, cardamom), flower buds (cloves), stamens (saffron), bulbs (garlic), fruit or berries (coriander, allspice, vanilla bean), bark (cinnamon), or roots (ginger, turmeric).

Store ground spices up to six months in a cool, dry place. If kept longer, store in freezer. Whole spices last up to two years because of the protective seed coatings and hulls.

Volatile oils in ground spices dissipate after a few months, leaving them less aromatic. (75 to 80 percent of perceived flavor is actually smell--think fresh-baked bread or apple pie.) For maximum aroma and flavor, grind whole spices with a small coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.

Toasting spices intensifies aroma and flavor. Place a dry skillet over medium heat. When hot, add whole or ground spices and roast for 30 to 60 seconds until you detect their scent.

Cold temperatures dull aroma and taste, so chilled foods may need more seasoning than warm items.

For even distribution, stir ground spices into dry ingredients before adding to the rest of a recipe.

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