Monday, May 20, 2024

Types of Herbs and How to Use Them ⋆ 100 Days of Real Food


Spices and herbs add flavor to a wide range of dishes, from soups and stews to baked goods. This guide will teach you how to utilize the herbs and spices in your spice cabinet effectively. Whether you are a seasoned chef or a kitchen newbie, this will teach you which herbs to use and when to use them. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of herbs, exploring various types of herbs and offering tips on how to incorporate them seamlessly into your dishes.

Types of herbs.

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Cilantro

Cilantro, an herb with bright green leaves and a punchy aroma, is one of the most polarizing ingredients in the culinary world. A staple in Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisines, cilantro adds a distinct flair to a variety of dishes. 

Cilantro has a complex flavor that many describe as refreshing, citrusy, and slightly peppery. It’s often used to garnish dishes, liven up sauces, and infuse soups. However, not everyone appreciates its unique taste. Some people report a soapy flavor when they consume cilantro, a perception often linked to a specific genetic trait. This genetic factor makes cilantro a divisive but endlessly fascinating ingredient. Cilantro is one of the most popular types of herbs.

Try our Lime Cilantro Quinoa Salad!

Cut green cilantro.

Tarragon

Tarragon, a perennial herb native to Eurasia, is often overshadowed by more popular herbs like basil and thyme. Yet, its distinct, licorice-like flavor and a plethora of health benefits make it deserving of the culinary spotlight.

Unlike many other herbs, tarragon offers a flavor that is somewhat akin to anise or licorice. Its slightly sweet, mildly spicy character enhances a variety of dishes, adding complexity and sophistication. Tarragon pairs exceptionally well with poultry, fish, and vegetables, as well as in sauces and dressings.

Tarragon herbs.

Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil, a green herb with lush leaves and a fragrant aroma, is often referred to as the “king of herbs.” Renowned for its versatility in the kitchen, it is equally celebrated for its numerous health benefits.

The flavor of sweet basil is a mix of pepper, clove, and mint, with a hint of sweetness. This unique blend makes it a popular addition to an array of dishes, from Italian to Thai. Whether fresh or dried, sweet basil leaves can elevate a simple recipe into something special.

Check out this Caprese Salad with Basil Pesto!

Bunch of sweet basil.

Thai Basil

Thai Basil, a member of the mint family, is a lesser-known but equally impressive cousin of the more popular sweet basil. Distinguished by its vibrant purple stems and narrower leaves, Thai Basil offers a unique flavor profile that complements various Asian cuisines.

Thai Basil boasts a complex flavor, blending notes of licorice and anise with a mild spiciness. This makes it an essential ingredient in numerous Thai, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian dishes. Its robustness stands up well to high-heat cooking, making it versatile in a range of recipes.

Thai basil.

Curly Parsley

Curly parsley, characterized by its ruffled leaves and vibrant green hue, is often relegated to the role of a mere garnish. However, this versatile herb has much more to offer in both the culinary and health spheres.

Curly parsley has a mild, slightly peppery flavor that complements a wide range of dishes. While it’s subtler than its cousin, flat-leaf parsley, it still adds a touch of freshness and complexity when used thoughtfully in cooking.

Curly parsley.

Italian Parsley

When it comes to herbs, Italian parsley (often simply called flat-leaf parsley) is a cornerstone of many kitchens. Its rich flavor and versatility make it a go-to for chefs and home cooks alike. Yet, beyond its culinary applications, Italian parsley is packed with nutritional benefits.

Italian parsley has a robust, earthy flavor that differs from its curly-leafed cousin. Its stronger taste adds depth and complexity to a myriad of dishes, from sauces to stews and beyond. Italian parsley is one of the most common types of herbs.

Try our Salmon Patties with parsley.

Italian parsley.

Sorrel

Sorrel, a leafy green herb often overshadowed by more popular choices like basil or parsley, is gradually earning its place in the culinary spotlight. Known for its sharp, lemony flavor, sorrel brings a unique zing to various dishes. Beyond its taste, it is rich in nutrients and health benefits.

Sorrel has a tart, citrusy flavor, often compared to lemon or green apple. Its acidity makes it an excellent companion to rich or fatty foods, as it can cut through the heaviness and provide balance.

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Sorrel microgreen.

Oregano

Oregano is a culinary staple that graces kitchens around the world, revered for its versatility and aromatic flavor profile. While most commonly associated with Italian and Mediterranean cuisines, the use of oregano spans diverse culinary traditions. But beyond its fame as a seasoning, this herb also boasts an impressive list of health benefits. 

Oregano’s flavor is robust and complex, combining earthy, sharp, and slightly sweet notes. This complexity makes it a versatile choice for various dishes, as it can both complement and contrast other flavors in a recipe.

Oregano leaves.

Rosemary

Rosemary is an herb that has stood the test of time, both as a culinary ingredient and a symbol of remembrance and friendship in various cultures. Its pine-like aroma and distinct flavor make it a favorite in kitchens worldwide. But what many may not realize is that rosemary offers a host of health benefits that are backed by modern science.

The taste of rosemary is strong and somewhat woody, with both piney and earthy notes. This flavor profile makes it an excellent choice for an array of dishes, offering both depth and complexity. Rosemary is one of the most popular types of herbs.

Check out this Rosemary Foccacia Bread or these Rosemary Pork Chops!

Rosemary herb.

Thyme

When it comes to herbs that have both culinary and medicinal value, thyme is a standout. This tiny-leafed herb is a fixture in many spice racks, and for good reason. It offers a unique combination of earthy and subtly floral flavors that can elevate a multitude of dishes. Beyond its culinary allure, thyme has a range of health benefits that are backed by scientific research.

Thyme has a complex flavor that’s somewhat earthy, minty, and a little bit lemony. This blend of flavors makes it versatile enough to complement a broad array of foods, from meats and vegetables to soups and stews. Like rosemary, thyme is one of the most commonly used types of herbs.

We love this Spinach Salad with Thyme!

Fresh thyme sprigs.

Dill

Dill is an herb that is often relegated to the background, but it holds its own with a unique flavor profile and an array of health benefits. Often associated with Scandinavian and Eastern European cuisines, dill offers a taste that’s somewhere between citrus and anise, lending a distinct flair to a variety of dishes.

The taste of dill is fresh and aromatic, featuring hints of lemon and licorice. Its unique flavor allows it to stand out in dishes while not overpowering other ingredients. This makes dill a versatile choice for enhancing the flavors in a broad range of recipes.

Make this Cucumber Dill Pasta Salad for an appetizer or light meal.

Fresh green dill.

Marjoram

Marjoram, often mistaken for oregano, deserves its own spotlight. This aromatic herb brings more than just flavor to the table; it offers a bouquet of health benefits as well. Marjoram has been a cherished element in culinary traditions across Europe and Asia for centuries.

The flavor of marjoram is complex yet subtle, featuring a blend of sweet, spicy, and slightly citrusy notes. This subtlety makes it an excellent choice for dishes where you want a hint of herbal flavor without overwhelming other ingredients.

Sweet marjoram.

Savory

Among the plethora of herbs gracing our kitchens, savory is often overshadowed by its more well-known counterparts like rosemary and thyme. However, this underrated herb packs a punch in both flavor and health benefits, making it worthy of a place in your culinary repertoire.

Savory offers a complex flavor that is peppery, somewhat piney, and slightly bitter. This combination allows it to bring depth to a wide range of dishes without overwhelming other flavors. It is one of the lesser known types of herbs.

Savory herb.

Chive

While chives may often be thought of as a garnish rather than a main ingredient, this vibrant herb has so much more to offer. With its subtle onion-like flavor and striking appearance, chives can take a dish from ordinary to extraordinary.

Chives impart a delicate oniony flavor that is far milder than that of their Allium family members, like garlic and onions. This makes them an ideal ingredient for those who enjoy a touch of aromatic complexity without overpowering a dish.

Chives.

Sage

Sage is a herb that has captivated the culinary and medicinal worlds alike. Known for its robust flavor and aromatic leaves, sage has been a staple in various cuisines and traditional medicine practices for centuries.

Sage offers a savory, slightly peppery flavor with notes of eucalyptus and citrus. Its bold taste makes it a potent herb, best used in moderation to avoid overwhelming a dish. However, when used wisely, sage can elevate flavors in a truly remarkable way.

Try this Sage Brown Butter Pasta!

Sage leaves.

Chervil

Chervil, a lesser-known member of the parsley family, is an herb that often gets overshadowed by its more popular relatives like cilantro and dill. However, this delicate herb has a unique blend of flavors and health benefits that make it worthy of a closer look.

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Chervil offers a light and subtle taste that is a cross between parsley and anise. Its delicate flavor profile makes it ideal for dishes where a mild herbal touch is desired. It adds a layer of complexity without overwhelming the palate. Chervil is one of the least commonly used types of herbs.

Chervil leaves.

Mint

Mint, known for its cool, refreshing aroma and taste, is a herb that transcends culinary boundaries. Not limited to a particular cuisine or dish, mint is a globally loved ingredient that offers both unique flavors and a host of health benefits.

Mint has a clean, crisp flavor profile with a cooling aftertaste. This makes it a go-to herb for dishes and drinks that require a burst of freshness. Mint can also serve as a counterbalance to spicy or rich flavors, making it extremely versatile in cooking. Unlike most types of herbs, mint can be used in sweet or savory dishes.

Fresh mint leaves.

Bay Leaf

Bay leaves are one of those ingredients that don’t grab the limelight but play an important role in enhancing flavors. Often relegated to the status of a ‘background herb,’ bay leaves contribute a subtle yet complex flavor to a myriad of dishes.

Bay leaves offer a unique blend of flavors that can be described as a mix of mint, vanilla, and subtle hints of black tea. While not overtly potent, they add depth and dimension to a variety of dishes, making them an essential part of many culinary traditions around the world.

Use a bay leaf to add flavor to this Beef Stew.

Dry bay leaves.

Tips for Using Fresh Herbs

Using fresh herbs can transform an ordinary dish into something extraordinary. To make the most out of these aromatic plants, there are some tips and techniques that can help you. Here’s how to get the best out of your fresh herbs.

Selection and Storage

Choose Wisely: Look for herbs that have vibrant colors and a fresh aroma. Avoid any with wilted leaves or brown spots.

Proper Storage: Store delicate herbs like cilantro and parsley in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag. Hardier herbs like rosemary and thyme can be kept in a cool, dark place.

Culinary Uses

Timing Matters: Delicate herbs like basil and dill should be added towards the end of cooking to preserve their flavor. Sturdier herbs like rosemary and thyme can withstand longer cooking times. Different types of herbs require different preparation.

Chopping Technique: Use a sharp knife to avoid bruising the herbs, which can lead to flavor loss.

Infusing Oils: Immerse herbs in olive oil to create a flavored oil that can be used in cooking or as a salad dressing.

Balance Flavors: Be cautious when mixing herbs. Use ones with complementary flavors, or let one herb take center stage to avoid a muddled taste.

Quantity and Measurement

Fresh vs Dried: Fresh herbs are generally more potent than their dried counterparts. A good rule of thumb is to use three times the amount of fresh herbs as you would dried.

Taste as You Go: It’s always better to start with a smaller amount and add more as needed, tasting the dish as you go along.

Health Benefits

Teas and Infusions: Aside from cooking, many herbs like mint, chamomile, and lavender can be used to make healthy and delicious teas.

Herb Ice Cubes: For a quick health boost, freeze herbs in water or stock. These can be tossed into soups or stews.

Special Tips

Herb Butter: Combine softened butter with chopped herbs for an instant flavor booster for meat, fish, or bread.

Save the Stems: Don’t throw away herb stems. They are packed with flavor and can be used in stocks and soups.

Garnish: A sprig of fresh parsley, basil, or a mint leaf can add both flavor and visual appeal as a garnish.

Fresh spices and herbs.

Fresh vs. Dried

The choice between fresh and dried herbs can make a significant difference in both the flavor and texture of your dishes. Each form has its own advantages and best-use cases. Here’s a closer look at fresh vs. dried herbs, and how to make the most of both.

Fresh Herbs

Advantages:

Intense Flavor: Fresh herbs generally offer a more robust and complex flavor profile compared to their dried counterparts.

Aroma: The oils that give herbs their aroma are more present in fresh herbs, providing a sensory experience as you cook and eat.

Color: Fresh herbs can add vibrant color to dishes, enhancing the visual appeal.

Best Uses:

Garnishing: Fresh herbs like parsley, chives, and basil make excellent garnishes.

Salads and Cold Dishes: Fresh herbs maintain their texture and flavor well in dishes that aren’t cooked.

Quick Cooking: For dishes with a short cooking time, fresh herbs can be added at the end to preserve their flavor and appearance.

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Tips:

Add fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking process to maintain their flavor and color.

Use about three times the amount of fresh herbs as you would use dried herbs.

Dried Herbs

Advantages:

Shelf Life: Dried herbs have a much longer shelf life than fresh herbs, making them more convenient for long-term storage.

Intensity: Because they are concentrated, dried herbs can offer a potent flavor, especially when added early in the cooking process.

Cost-Efficient: Dried herbs are often less expensive than fresh, especially for herbs that are out of season.

Best Uses:

Slow Cooking: In stews and sauces that require long cooking times, dried herbs integrate well and their flavors intensify.

Baking: Dried herbs are often used in bread and other baked goods where moisture is a concern.

Marinades: Their concentrated flavors make dried herbs ideal for marinades.

Tips:

Crumble dried herbs in your hands before adding them to your dish to release their oils and flavors.

Add dried herbs earlier in the cooking process to give them time to rehydrate and release their flavors.

Tender vs. Hardy

When it comes to herbs, the terms “tender” and “hardy” refer to different attributes, particularly their resilience to climate conditions and how they behave in cooking. Understanding the difference between tender and hardy herbs can help you make informed choices in both your garden and your kitchen.

Tender Herbs

Characteristics:

Delicate Leaves: Tender herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley often have softer, more delicate leaves.

Short Shelf Life: They usually wilt and lose flavor more quickly than hardy herbs.

Warm-Weather Loving: These herbs prefer warm climates and are often sensitive to frost.

Culinary Uses:

Best When Fresh: Tender herbs are often best used fresh to maintain their flavor and color.

Quick Cooking: Because they’re delicate, tender herbs are typically added at the end of the cooking process.

Salads and Garnish: Their fresh and vibrant flavors make tender herbs excellent for salads, garnishes, and dressings.

Tips:

Store tender herbs in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a sealed plastic bag.

Chop them finely to distribute their flavor more evenly throughout the dish.

Hardy Herbs

Characteristics:

Sturdy Leaves: Hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage have firmer leaves and woody stems.

Long Shelf Life: These herbs retain their flavor even when dried, making them more suitable for long-term storage.

Cool-Weather Resilient: They are often more resistant to cold and can survive in less-than-ideal conditions.

Culinary Uses:

Slow Cooking: Hardy herbs are ideal for dishes that require longer cooking times, like stews and roasts.

Marinades and Sauces: Their flavors hold up well even when subjected to heat, making them ideal for marinades and sauces.

Grilling and Roasting: The robust flavors of hardy herbs can stand up to the high temperatures of grilling and roasting.

Tips:

These herbs can be stored in a cool, dark place when dried or kept in the fridge when fresh.

It’s often better to strip the leaves from the woody stems before cooking, especially for herbs like rosemary and thyme.

Potted herbs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the 10 most commonly used herbs?

The 10 most commonly used types of herbs in cooking are basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, chives, and dill. These herbs are staples in various cuisines, offering a range of flavors from sweet and floral to earthy and pungent. They’re used in everything from sauces and marinades to garnishes and salads.

How do you use different herbs?

Different herbs serve various culinary purposes. Tender herbs like basil and cilantro are best used fresh, often added towards the end of cooking or as garnishes for vibrant flavor. Hardy herbs like rosemary and thyme can endure longer cooking times, making them great for stews, roasts, and marinades. Storage also varies: tender herbs generally require refrigeration, while hardy herbs can be stored in cool, dark places. Choose based on your dish’s needs.

What are the different types of herb?

Herbs can be categorized into culinary, medicinal, and specialty types. Culinary herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro are used in cooking for flavor. Medicinal herbs like lavender and chamomile are used for their health benefits. Specialty herbs like tarragon and sorrel have unique flavors and are often used in specific cuisines.

What are the 20 commonly used herbs in the kitchen?

The 20 commonly used herbs in the kitchen are: basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, chives, dill, tarragon, marjoram, fennel, lavender, lemon balm, lovage, sorrel, savory, bay leaf, and lemongrass. These herbs are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes.

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