Cooking with herbs is a simple way to give your food just the right sparkle of flavor and is a significant step to enhance your creations in the kitchen.
In this post you will learn:
- What Herbs Are
- Difference Of Fresh And Dried Herbs
- How And When To Use Herbs
- Types Of Cooking Herbs
What Are Herbs
Herbs are the leafy green or flowering parts of a vast array of plants, differing from spices which are the bark, seeds, roots or fruit of a plant. Herbs have unique aromatic qualities and are used in the culinary world to add flavor and garnish dishes.
Fresh Or Dried
You will hear from many culinary experts that cooking with fresh herbs is superior. However, there are times when you might not be able to access fresh herbs. Perhaps the local market won’t have what you need in stock, or if you grow your own herbs, you might not have herbs ready to harvest all the time. Maybe you want to cook something spur of the moment and you can’t make a dash to the store. In these cases, it is really nice to have dried herbs ready to use!
And… in my opinion, there are definitely times to choose dried herbs over fresh herbs. For instance, when cooking soups, stews or marinades that will be simmering or heating up more than five or ten minutes, dried herbs will still give a nice flavor. But, if you throw in fresh herbs and cook them longer than a few minutes they will lose their fresh taste. So unless you grow your own herbs, there won’t be much point in spending the extra money on buying a fresh bunch of herbs just to cook away their lovely distinctive fresh flavor.
However, if you have access to fresh herbs, by all means take advantage. Fresh herbs are a lovely addition to salads, uncooked dishes (or tossed in at the end of cooking) or as artistic garnish.
Fresh herbs are available in either fresh or dry forms and both can be used in recipes, though they are not interchangeable in a 1:1 ratio. Usually (with a few exceptions) you need to use about 3 times, or 1:3 ratio, the amount of fresh herbs as dried. So if your recipe called for 1 tsp of dried oregano, you would use 3 tsp of fresh oregano.
Dried herbs tend to be more bitter and have a less distinctive flavor than fresh herbs which are usually bright in flavor and color! It is best to use fresh herbs when making something that won’t be cooked like salads, dips, dressings, or guacamole. They will add that extra burst of pizazz and intrigue to your recipe. On the other hand, use dried herbs when cooking hot sauces, soups, or roasting meat as they will contribute to the flavor of your dish. Then, if you have fresh herbs add them at the end of cooking for added flavor and as an aesthetic garnish.
List Of Different Types of Cooking Herbs
Here is a list of common herb that will be useful to have for a variety of cuisines and recipes. Of course, there are many, many more herbs and as you develop your cooking skills and tastes, you will most likely add more to your herb collection.
Basil is a strong aromatic herb and when cooking with fresh basil it is important to add it at the end as its flavor and aroma quickly dissipate with heat. The two most common types are sweet basil and Thai basil.
Sweet basil is most often used in Mediterranean cuisine especially as garnish for pasta dishes. It has bright green leaves and a lightly sweet, fresh, and almost minty flavor.
Thai basil is used often in Thai and Indian cuisine and is wonderful in soups and curries. Its leaves are smaller and darker green than sweet basil. Thai basil has slightly spicier notes and a stronger flavor.
Bay leaves come from the laurel tree and have been used since ancient times. They are commonly used in all types of cuisine around the world. They hold up in heat and are mostly used in soups, stews, and dishes that can be simmered for long periods of time.
Bay leaves are mostly used in the dried form and added in the beginning of cooking so that they have ample time to release flavor. Bay leaves remain hard, are used as a whole leaf and are removed before serving.
Cilantro has delicate bright green leaves with a bright flavor that has herbaceous and citrusy notes. Most often used fresh, cilantro is common in Mexican, Thai, and Indian cuisine.
It is a flavorful addition to salads, guacamole, and especially salsas. Cilantro is also a great topping on tacos, or served as a garnish with sour cream.
Dill, also called dill weed, is a versatile herbaceous and fragrant herb used in many ways. It is very delicate so is best added at the last few minutes of cooking or used is fresh salads. Dill weed is in the celery family and the entire plant is edible and can be used for flavoring recipes.
Dill is used in many recipes such as fish, salads, potato salad, dips, pesto, dressings, pickling cucumbers or fermenting cabbage.
Mint is a common herb used widely around the world that is easy to grow. It is slightly sweet and has a distinct cool and fresh quality. There are quite a few varieties of mint with peppermint and spearmint being the most common.
Fresh mint is delicate and should be added at the end of cooking or as a garnish. It also is a great way to infuse cold drinks with extra flavor. It is often used in cool drinks, hot teas, in chilled fruit salads, desserts, and meat marinades and sauces.
Oregano originated in Greece and has been used for thousands of years. Today it is a very popular herb used in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine. There are a few different types of oregano that somewhat vary in taste. Oregano is from the mint family giving it a subtle earthy flavor with a slightly sweet, herbaceous and spicy quality.
Fresh oregano is very pungent so oregano is most often used as a dried herb. It adds amazing flavor to Italian sauces, pizzas, dressings, marinades or to add flavor to meat, soups and stews.
Fresh parsley has beautiful bright green leaves with a herbaceous and slightly bitter taste. It is a great herb to use fresh to add some flavor or as an attractive garnish with its colorful sturdy leaves.
When used dried, parsley can be added to soups, sauces and other dishes that require cooking. Parsley is a very versatile herb that compliments other herbs including oregano, cilantro, and thyme.
Rosemary is a unique herb in that it has strong woody stems with sturdy needle-like leaves. Fresh rosemary is also unlike other herbs because it can be used during cooking and holds up quite well making it a popular addition to roasted vegetables and meat.
Complex in flavor, rosemary carries notes of citrus, mint, lavender, pine, and sage. When used fresh, chop or crush the leaves to help release the flavors.
Rosemary can be infused in teas, olive oil, vinegar and butter. It also can be baked into bread or used in cheese.
Sage with its soft fuzzy light green leaves is known for its strong aroma that is earthy, sweet and savory and slightly peppery. It is part of the mint family and originated in the Mediterranean.
Due to its strong aromatic quality and flavor, it is best to add fresh sage early in the cooking process as opposed to the end, giving it time to mellow out. It is commonly used in stuffing recipes, sauces, sausages and vegetable dishes.
Thyme is another sturdy herb that holds up well during the cooking process. It has light green leaves, a pungent aroma, and is common in many cuisines including Mediterranean, African, Latin, European, Asian, and American.
Thyme is used both fresh and dried and actually tastes quite similar in both forms which is a bit unusual for herbs. It has woodsy, floral, and grassy notes and is a common herb in meat and vegetable dishes as well as soups, stews and savory breads.
Herbs are a wonderful way to add flavor and beauty to your cooking creations. Try them both fresh and dried and add to your collection as you develop your culinary art.
I would love to hear from you with questions or comments! Feel free to reach out in the comment section below.
I look forward to seeing you In The Kitchen With Me!
6 thoughts on “Types Of Cooking Herbs – A Short Guide”
I love herbs, and I love both dried and fresh. They are each unique in their own way I do agree, and they emit such a nice aroma. Well some do anyway.
That said, i feel that my favourite herbs mentioned within your list are basil, cilantro and thyme. I actually think all of them are, but I could devour cilantro as a salad. My better half thinks i’m crazy, but it’s that right flavour of zing with a lemon dressing on a greek salad, or a delicious addition to fish.
Great article, thank you!
Funny that you mention cilantro. Just yesterday I picked some cilantro from my garden to put on top of a curry dish I made. I didn’t even bother choping it too much, and I ate a bunch! Everytime I have someone pick it for me, I have to tell them to get more! Such a great flavor.
This is a wonderful post on cooking herbs that I wish I had read earlier on in my life. I remember when I first started to learn how to cook on a school field trip, I was taught a spaghetti recipe that involved dried basil and oregano. It was so good that I started using the herbs in almost everything else I made, which did not turn out so well. It’s definitely good learning how each herb works and what foods they go well with.
That’s really cool that you were exposed to your first cooking experience through a filed trip. Basil and oregano are excellent additions to Italian food. It’s fun to experiment with different herbs and new flavors. Have you found any herbs that you love using besides oregano and basil?
What a delightful article on herbs!
I have never really cooked with herbs. I usually cook with spices but after reading your post, you’ve definitely sparked my interest in wanting to experiment cooking with fresh herbs!
Bookmarking to refer back too so that I know which herb is best for what dish and how to cook them! Thanks!!
Thank you Lisa! I am sure you will find some herbs you really love. Let me know if you have any questions in the future!