Using fresh herbs in your cooking is one of the simplest and most affordable to boost a meal from basic to brilliant. Some herbs also have lots of health benefits, so adding them to your diet can have more benefits than just adding more flavor. But for the home cook, making more use of fresh herbs can seem daunting, as there’s a lot of choices out there. And you might have a lot of questions.
Does it make a difference if you buy organic herbs? What do the different herbs taste like? When should you add them to the cooking process? Which herb should you add to which dish? Which herbs are good for which health benefits? Are there herbs for adrenal function or with anti-inflammatory properties? With this guide to common fresh herbs, you don’t have to walk past the fresh herb stand at the market anymore and feel confused about how to use them. Here here’s how you can use them.
Parsley looks very similar to cilantro, but the taste is quite different. Parsley is much milder. Parsley’s flavor is more earthy and mildly sweet. Parsley and cilantro do look similar, so when you’re buying your herbs, make sure you’re choosing the right one. Parsley has a more pointed shape of leaf than cilantro. One cup of chopped parsley can provide you with over one thousand percent of your daily value of vitamin K. Parsley is also rich in myricetin, a flavonoid that could have some anti-cancer properties. You can use parsley at the end of your cooking to finish your dishes. It works really well in lots of dishes, including tabbouleh, roast potatoes, pasta dishes, and grain dishes. It can also work well in salads and sandwiches.
Tarragon has a bright, peppery taste, but is still a little bit sweet, almost like anise. Tarragon is one of the most underused fresh herbs, as many people aren’t really sure what to do with it. However, we should be using it, as tarragon contains magnesium, iron, and zinc. However, the amount of tarragon that we usually use to cook with doesn’t contain enough to make much difference. You can add some tarragon to your dishes at the end of cooking, or by making some use of the fresh leaves. A great summer recipe to try is tarragon chicken salad with pecans. Tarragon pairs very well with chicken, and the pecans add some tasty texture and some filling dietary fiber. For dinner, try Mushroom and White Bean Pasta with some tarragon.
Basil is probably the most popular fresh herb around and one that most people do feel comfortable using, even if it’s only on pizza and pasta. Basil has a sweet, aromatic, and slightly peppery flavor. Like other fresh herbs, it’s rich in plant polyphenols. These are believed to prevent some chronic diseases. Basil pairs well with Mediterranean flavors, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s ever cooked with it, and usually works best when it is added at the end of the cooking. |For something a bit more unusual, basil also works well as an accompaniment to fresh salads, such as a Spring Strawberry Salad.
Thyme has a minty, earthy flavor, with a hint of pine and lemon. It is thought by many health experts that the oil from thyme could have antimicrobial properties. Thyme is also a very good source of vitamin C, so it’s a great one to add to your cooking. Thyme works very well for adding some more flavor to soups, stocks, stews, roasted vegetables, and beans. Thyme is usually added towards the end of cooking a recipe, such as in Mushrooms with Thyme and Bulgar.
It’s very common to get thyme and rosemary confused if you’re not used to working with fresh herbs. If you don’t use either very often, the two can taste quite similar. Rosemary could also be described as having a lemony flavor with a touch of pine, but it has a more woody taste than thyme does. If you’re standing in the herb section at the supermarket and can’t work out which is which, the main visual difference is that rosemary looks like a branch from a pine tree. Rosemary is a good choice to add to your food as it is a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamin B6. Research has also shown that rosemary could work to deter some of the formation of carcinogenic compounds during the grilling of food. Rosemary is best used during cooking or in marinades. You can also use the sprigs as skewers, such as for Shrimp.
Sage is most popular with Fall dishes, and most people only use it at Thanksgiving with their turkey. Sage is a member of the mint family, which many people don’t realize, and is slightly bitter with a mild sweetness and floral tones. Sage also contains flavonoid and polyphenol compounds, which act as an antioxidant. However, if you’re cooking with sage, you do need to remember that is quite a delicate herb that can easily be overpowered, so you should be using it at the end of cooking. Sage is fantastic in pasta, compound butter, and deserts.
Cilantro is a very divisive herb. Some people love it, whereas others absolutely hate it. Cilantro, for some people, is a little bit citrusy and pungent, whereas other people find that it has a very unpleasant soapy taste. This difference can make cooking with it a risk, as it’s a hard flavor to hide for someone who doesn’t like it. Cilantro is the Spanish translation for the leaves of the coriander plant. You can use cilantro in the cold stages of your food preparation, rather than in your cooking. It’s popular in Mexican, Asian, and Indian dishes, like curry and couscous.
Dill is a very underrated fresh herb, that a lot of people aren’t quite sure how to use. In fact, dill is used in more dishes than many people realize, including in tzatziki and dill pickles. Dill can taste both sweet and sour, and it also has a hint of citrus. Dill is also a good source of calcium and iron. The flavors can work well with lots of different dishes. You can use it on salads, baked potatoes, or in savory baking, like muffins.
Oregano is a very popular herb in Italian cooking. It is sort of pungent, woodsy, and bold, but still has a sweet spiciness. Lots of us have used dried oregano on pizza, but the fresh version is a lot less common. Some people find oregano too pungent to use in its raw form. If you want to use fresh oregano, use it in the last fifteen minutes of cooking to combat this pungent flavor. Fresh oregano is great in a pot of beans, a lemony marinade, or a marinara sauce.
Everyone knows what to expect from the flavor of mint, because of toothpaste, if nothing else. Fresh mint has a much stronger, sweeter, and earthier taste than dried stuff. Mint has been used for a long time to treat stomach complaints. In fact, some research has linked it to treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (also known as IBS). Mint is most commonly used in Middle Eastern dishes and tea. It’s also a great addition to green smoothies.
Don’t be afraid of cooking with fresh herbs. With some experimentation, you can get all the benefits of them and add more flavor to your food.