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How to Substitute Dried Herbs for Fresh (and Vice Versa)

How to Substitute Dried Herbs for Fresh (and Vice Versa)

By Joe Sevier, Joe Sevie, Lauren Joseph, Kendra Vaculin

Your timing should vary, too: Add fresh herbs near the end of cooking, rather than at the early stages when you'd add dried herbs. For garnishing, add fresh tender herbs off heat; in a slow-cooked braise, add rosemary, oregano, or other sturdy fresh herbs about 30 minutes to 1 hour before the braise is done, but not earlier, since fresh herbs can turn bitter if cooked for too long.

Wilkins says that not all herbs follow his rules: "Some herbs like thyme, tarragon and basil dry quite well; others like cilantro and parsley add a nice color, but don’t pack much flavor punch," he says. In those cases, he says, fresh is best. (And frozen might be the best backup move.)

Perhaps most importantly, Wilkins notes "it helps to become familiar with each of the dried herbs in your cabinet for best results." Smell them and taste them when you're first opening the container. And then read his advice on a few of the herbs we use most often below.

Basil

"Sweet domestic basil loses some of its complexity and kick when dried—Egyptian dried basil is more assertive and works very well for dishes with longer cooking times. If using dried sweet basil, add it at the end of cooking so that the flavor remains vibrant."

Bay Leaves

"At the Spice House, we recommend cooking with dried Turkish bay leaves for their complexity and nuance. Fresh “California” bay leaves are available on the market but are not a good substitution because of their strong medicinal flavor."

Dill

"The flavor of dill is diminished when drying, but the color is very good," says Wilkins. That means you can scale up the one-third rule to one-half, or even higher. (Meaning: if your recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh dill, start with ½ tablespoon dried.) It's worth remembering that when you're using dried herbs, especially in something like a cold sauce or dip, the flavor will need time to develop, so mix the sauce together and store it in the fridge for an hour before you plan to use it.

Chives

"Freeze-dried chives maintain a sweet oniony profile and a bright green color," says Wilkins. Use them as a garnish for baked potatoes, casseroles, and soups; or stir into dips, sauces, and dressings.

Cilantro

"The flavor of cilantro is greatly diminished when it's dried," says Wilkins. For that reason he recommends using fresh cilantro whenever possible. Before yours goes bad, consider making a green sauce to freeze!

Lemongrass

"Dried lemongrass stalk is very assertive," says Wilkins. The stems are also tough and won't really soften up. For that reason, he recommends breaking up the dried stalk (1 dried stalk = 1 fresh stalk) and dropping it into "a muslin bag for easy removal" once the dish is finished cooking. This also means you'll only want to use lemongrass in a recipe with plenty of liquid so the flavor can infuse.

You can also pulverize dried lemongrass into spice pastes like those for Thai curries, though the bright citrusy flavor of the stalks will be somewhat diminished.

Marjoram

"The flavor of dried marjoram is concentrated and more pronounced" than fresh, says Wilkins, so you'll want to stick to the one-third rule. He also says that this is one of those hardy herbs that can stand up to longer cooking times, so feel free to add it to a braise or grind it into a spice powder for roast lamb.

Want a second opinion? Maddi Behzadi says this classic Persian dish just doesn't taste right without both fresh and dried cilantro. Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

Mint

"The flavor of dried mint is concentrated and more pronounced, so stick to the one-third rule. Use dried peppermint for tea or in sweet dishes, and dried spearmint for savory cooking."

Oregano

"Oregano's flavor is concentrated and more pronounced when dried. Use Greek or Turkish (i.e. Mediterranean) oregano whenever a recipe doesn't specify a type. Save Mexican oregano [which is actually a totally different plant] for Mexican cooking—the earthy, grassy notes are essential to authentic flavor, but if you use too much it will bite you back."

Parsley

Wilkins says: "The flavor of parsley is greatly diminished when dried. Use fresh whenever possible." Or plan ahead and stash chimichurri or Italian salsa verde in your fridge.

Rosemary

"The flavor of dried rosemary is concentrated and more pronounced, and it can stand up to longer cooking times" says Wilkins. He recommends sticking to the one-third rule in most cases. However, rosemary is one of those herbs that can come in a variety of dried styles: whole needles, cracked needles, and powder. If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles or 1 sprig rosemary, substitute with 1 teaspoon dried needles; if it calls for 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary (from about 3 stems), substitute with 1 teaspoon cracked needles or 1/2 teaspoon ground, powdered rosemary.

If using whole or cracked needles, "allow for enough moisture and cook time to let them soften before eating," Wilkins says. "Dried rosemary needles are perfect for slow roasts and braises. You can use cracked needles in much the same way, just use a bit less. Ground rosemary has the most surface area exposed, so the herbaceous, piney flavor compounds are extremely potent. Use it sparingly in soups, spice rubs, or kneaded into the dough for dinner rolls."

Sage

Sage follows the same rules listed for rosemary, above.

Tarragon

"Tarragon loses some of its oomph but maintains very good flavor when dried. Add it to your dish near the end of cooking so it remains vibrant."

Thyme

"Mediterranean-style dried thyme is very concentrated when dried and can stand up to longer cooking times. French-style dried thyme is more delicate and has a flavor profile much closer to fresh thyme leaves."