By Julia Dowling Rutland
October 18, 2002

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 airtightplastic bag, and refrigerate up to five days. For longer storage inthe refrigerator, place herbs stem-side down in a cup filled withan inch of water. Cover with plastic.

Store dried herbs in a cool, dark place for up to six months. Ifkept longer, place in freezer to preserve flavor and aroma. Heatrobs herbs (and spices, too) of pungency, so keep them away fromstoves and dishwashers.

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

The Spice Shelf

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

Store ground spices up to six months in a cool, dry place. Ifkept longer, store in freezer. Whole spices last up to two yearsbecause 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 flavoris actually smell--think fresh-baked bread or apple pie.) Formaximum aroma and flavor, grind whole spices with a small coffeegrinder or mortar and pestle.

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

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

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