How to Dry Herbs at Home
Stop the insanity of buying ridiculously overpriced dried herbs at the grocery store! Drying your own herbs at home is one of the easiest things to do to DRAMATICALLY increase the quality of your home-cooked meals, and is one of the most economical things you could do for yourself as well.
In the Spring, buy some fresh herbs from your local garden center; you know, things like basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, and sage. Plant them in your yard and make sure they get regular watering. They require no other care than that. They add beauty and fragrance to any flower bed, plus you get to snip them all summer long to add to your cooking. And, depending on your climate, many are winter tolerant and will grow again in the Spring (like thyme, sage, oregano, and some rosemary).
When Fall hits, cut batches of your herbs to start drying. Clean them in water first, and then dry them with your preferred drying method. You’ll likely get more than you need, so give some away to friends and family. They make perfect Christmas gifts!
Drying Herbs at Home Using a Food Dehydrator
This is a great way to dry your herbs. It is quick, easy, and preserves the color of the herbs fairly well. It also gives the added bonus of strongly fragrancing your home as you do it. Simply place your smaller leafed herbs (like thyme and tarragon) onto your dehydrator trays as is, stem and all. The little leaves won’t fall through your trays this way, and will be easier to strip off the stems once dried. For larger leafed herbs (like basil and sage), strip the leaves off the stalks first before placing the leaves onto the drying trays. Dehydrate on the lowest setting, usually 95°, for 6-8 hours. I usually just do mine overnight.
Drying Herbs at Home Using the Oven
If you don’t own a food dehydrator, you can alternately dry your herbs in your oven. Just place your herbs on a baking sheet and rack, turn your oven on its lowest setting (usually 200°), crack the oven door open, and let dry for about 3-4 hours. This method of drying doesn’t preserve the color of the herbs as well as when using a food dehydrator, but does a good job of preserving the delicious herb oils and flavors all the same.
Dry Herbs at Home by Hanging to Dry
This is the simplest and oldest way of drying herbs there is, and is the method that has been used for thousands of years. It is the best method to use if drying very large batches of herbs at a time. Simply wrap a bundle of washed herbs together with twine and hang in a well ventilated area (or a large open area like a garage). Drying times will vary based on the herb, but most will be dried in about a week. I’ve found the color of the herbs fade with this method, but they’ll still be more colorful than the crap you pay an arm and a leg for in the store. They’ll have a lot more flavor as well.
Dry Herbs at Home in Your Refrigerator
I have found this to be an exceptional way of drying things like bay leaves. I can’t grow a bay laurel tree in my climate, but I can buy fresh bay leaves at the store for about $2. I use what I need fresh, then just simply open the container they came in and leave them in the refrigerator. After about a week, sometimes less, they are perfectly dried out and retain all their green color in the process. I then pick them off their branches and stick them in the bay leaf jar I bought years ago for about $6. To me, they have a better flavor than that original store-bought container had years ago, and are a fraction of the cost. Give it a try and you’ll never buy dried bay leaves again.
How to Store Dried Herbs Once Dehydrated
Now that your herbs are all dried out, how do you get them into small enough pieces to pack away in jars? You can chop the leaves in a coffee grinder (used only for herbs and spices); but be careful not to chop too finely! You can also place them in a zip top bag and crush them with a rolling pin. But my favorite way of breaking up the leaves is to simply rub them in my hands. This allows me to pick out any stems and also allows me to have better control of the size of my leaf pieces. Just keep rubbing your hands together, letting the dried pieces fall through your fingers, until you’ve achieved your preferred piece size.
Once crushed, simply place in old herb jars (basil in basil, oregano in oregano, etc.), or in new jars that you label yourself. Most stores sell herb/spice jars if you look around enough (always in the bulk section if the store offers that). If not, you can also just place in mason jars with a label on them.
How Long Can I Keep Dried Herbs?
Dried herbs will lose their flavor with time. When they are first dehydrated, they are every bit as pungent and delicious as fresh herbs, but with time, the oils break down and they stop seasoning your food as well. You really should replace your herbs every year. Home dried herbs seam to last a bit longer to me than store bought, perhaps only because they are so freshly dried when I start to use them. But regardless, toss last year’s batch when you dry this year’s bounty. One day of effort will keep you happily cooking for a whole year.
What is the Ratio of Dried Herbs Vs. Fresh Herbs?
Remember, dried means concentrated flavors and concentrated mass. The typical ratio is 3:1, meaning 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs can be substituted with 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon).
The Bald Gourmet finds joy in simple things like growing and drying his own herbs. It makes cooking and eating a joy.
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