July 30, 2008

Freeze Herbs in the Summer

Fresh herbs are fantastic and summer is when herbs are at their peak. How can we continue enjoying their summer flavor well past the warm season?

Some people resort to dry herbs but I find that most dry herbs are a pale comparison to their fresh counterparts. The difference in flavor is great: dry herbs have no range or ting in flavor that is typical of fresh herbs.

A typical solution is to plant some in our garden (if we live in mild climates) or to keep some potted herbs indoors. For some people, this is impossible, either because they don't have a garden or enough space for potted herbs or because they are not able to keep any plants alive.

In my case, there are more herbs I want to keep around than actual space to keep them in, so I have found a solution that works wonders: Freezing!

Freezing preserves the color and all the range in flavor that is typical of fresh herbs. A few months ago, I made a spelt and lentil salad and added a lot of frozen thyme; as I separated the tiny leaves from the branch I could smell its wonderful fragrance. Just like fresh. I tasted the salad and it was heavenly!

Freezing is successful if you keep a few things in mind:
  • Choose clean plants. Herbs are delicate and should not be washed or rubbed because you would remove important essences from the leaf. Ever notice how when you rub an herb with your fingers, you can continue smelling it for awhile? If you rub your herbs, you'll leave precious essences on the paper towel! At this point you might as well use dry herbs.
  • Never wash your herbs before freezing, they get mushy!
  • For small leaf herbs such as thyme, oregano, dill, savory and cilantro, plan on freezing the branches or entire plant (roots removed).
  • For large leaf herbs such as basil, sage, laurel, wipe gently (don't rub) with a very soft, clean cloth ONLY if necessary. I suggest checking the undersides of sage and basil leaves.
  • Wrap herbs in a paper towel, which absorbs any humidity and avoids ice crystals from forming on your herbs, and place in a large enough freezer bag and seal, removing excess air. Put in freezer.
  • Use only what you need. Remove the needed herbs from the freezer and replace container in freezer immediately. If the herbs start unfreezing, they turn to mush.
  • Remove herbs from freezer right before using them.

Stock up your freezer with herbs now to enjoy summer goodness all year round!

And to make those just picked herbs last longer, they will last longer if you place them in a glass of water. Change the water everyday, just like you would do with flowers and you will see that this treatment will keep your herbs fresh for several days.

We would like to thank www4.ncsu.edu/~aibrantl/cookingwithherbs.html for the use of their image.