Making your own blends of herbs and spices is one of the joys of using herbs.
Not only does it cut down on the cost of purchasing prepared blends, you will also get a fresher blend, as it's difficult to know exactly how long herbs have been in a container in the store.
One of the best places to buy dried herbs is from a reputable health food store, either in your local neighborhood or online. The dried herbs should have a nice aroma, still be green and crumbly, instead of powdery. The more powdery dried herbs are, the less intense the flavour.
Avoid powdered dried herbs. But you can purchase powdered spices. What's the difference? Spices are generally made from the seeds or pods of a plant and have a more intense flavour, so they are more likely to last longer as a powder. However, you can buy some spices whole, like allspice or cinnamon bark, for example, though these are used for specific purposes.
Herbs are made from the leaves and branches of a plant, which tends to break down quicker and does not last as long. The texture should be slightly crumbly. If possible, ask the store owner where the herbs have been sourced and how long they have been in the store. This will give you some clues as to the herbs longevity.
Generally, herbs should be used within six to eight months of purchasing them. Store the herbs in a cool, dark place in a sealed container that keeps the herbs free of air or moisture. Do not put the herbs in glass jars next to the stove. While this tends to be a common practice, it is not a good idea as the heat from the stove will cause the herbs to break down and lose flavour quicker.
You can also dry your own herbs by hanging branches to dry in a cool, dark place. Put them upside down in a brown paper bag with an elastic around the ends. Once the herbs are dry, strip the leaves off and put them in airtight containers stored away from heat and light. Use a mortar and pestle to grind the herbs when you need them so the flavor is always fresh.
Once you have a selection of dried herbs, you can experiment with using them and making different blends, such as herbes de provence, bouquet garni and Chinese 5 spice. When using dried herbs remember that the flavour is more intense than with fresh herbs. Generally you will use half the amount of dried herbs compared to fresh herbs.
For more information on herbs, join the Herbal Club, the definitive resource on herbs.
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