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Making Your Herbs Last: Simple Tips for Fresher Flavours

Fresh herbs add a burst of flavour and vibrancy to dishes, elevating everything from soups and salads to marinades and sauces. But keeping herbs fresh past a couple of days can be more than a challenge, with many of us whipping out that parsley to find it's already wilted. But we've got a few easy hacks to make this common kitchen blunder a thing of the past!

Despite their incredible flavour and culinary versatility, fresh herbs are often underutilised in home cooking, with a significant portion ending up in the trash rather than on our plates. One of the primary reasons for this waste is the challenge of using up herbs before they spoil. Unlike staple ingredients with longer shelf lives, such as grains or canned goods, fresh herbs have a relatively short window of freshness, often lasting only a few days before wilting and losing their potency. This limited shelf life can lead to frustration and waste for home cooks who find themselves unable to use up their herbs before they spoil. Many people end up buying bundles of fresh herbs with the best intentions, only to watch them languish in the refrigerator until they become limp and unappealing.

As a result, valuable resources are wasted, including both money spent on purchasing the herbs and the energy and water used to grow and transport them. In addition to the challenge of using herbs in time, many people struggle with knowing how to store them properly to maximise their freshness. Improper storage conditions, such as leaving herbs exposed to air or storing them in overly humid environments, can accelerate spoilage and hasten their demise – yep, we’ve all come upon a wilted bunch of parsley that seemed perfectly fine the day before! Without the proper knowledge or tools to preserve their herbs, home cooks are left feeling frustrated and defeated, resigned to tossing out wilted bunches of once-vibrant herbs. This cycle of waste not only impacts our wallets but also contributes to broader issues of food waste and environmental sustainability. According to estimates, millions of pounds of fresh herbs are discarded each year! But past the environmental blunders, there are other reasons to make sure you're not wasting these tasty ingredients. Herbs are not only good for their ability to take your curry from ‘meh’ to restaurant-worthy, but also for their impressive nutritional content.

This curry would not be the same without the fresh burst of coriander - unless you're in the 'it tastes like soap' camp. (Heathens!)

Despite their small size, many herbs are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that contribute to overall health and well-being. For example, parsley is rich in vitamin K, which plays a crucial role in bone health and blood clotting, while basil contains high levels of vitamin A, an important nutrient for vision and immune function. Additionally, herbs like cilantro and mint are potent sources of antioxidants, which help protect the body from oxidative stress and inflammation. By incorporating a variety of herbs into our meals, we not only enhance the taste and aroma of our dishes but also boost their nutritional value, making them even more nourishing and satisfying. Here’s a rundown:

  • Basil: Rich in vitamin A, which supports vision health and immune function. Basil also contains antioxidants such as flavonoids and volatile oils that have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Parsley: A good source of vitamin K, which is important for bone health and blood clotting. Parsley also contains vitamin C, which supports immune function, and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote eye health.
  • Coriander: Contains antioxidants such as quercetin, kaempferol, and beta-carotene, which have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Coriander also contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like potassium and manganese.
  • Thyme: Rich in vitamin C, which supports immune function and skin health. Thyme also contains compounds like thymol and carvacrol, which have antimicrobial properties and may help fight infections.
  • Rosemary: Contains rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory effects and may protect against certain chronic diseases. Rosemary is also rich in vitamin A, calcium, and iron.
  • Mint: Contains menthol, a compound that has been shown to have pain-relieving and digestive properties. Mint also contains antioxidants like rosmarinic acid and flavonoids, which may help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • Dill: A good source of vitamin C, which supports immune function and collagen production. Dill also contains compounds like eugenol and limonene, which have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
  • Oregano: Rich in antioxidants such as rosmarinic acid and thymol, which have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Oregano also contains vitamin K, which is important for bone health, and minerals like iron and manganese. 

With a little care and attention, you can savour the taste of summer herbs all year round, adding a touch of freshness and vitality to every meal. By following these simple tips, you can make your herbs last longer and enjoy their fresh flavours in your cooking for weeks to come:

Proper Storage

One of the key factors in preserving the freshness of herbs is proper storage. To keep your herbs fresh for as long as possible, store them in the refrigerator in a container or plastic bag lined with a slightly damp paper towel. This helps maintain the humidity levels needed to prevent wilting while also preventing excess moisture that can cause herbs to rot.

Trim and Prep

Before storing your herbs, take the time to trim the stems and remove any wilted or discoloured leaves. This not only improves the appearance of the herbs but also helps prolong their freshness by eliminating any areas that are prone to decay. Additionally, consider washing and drying your herbs thoroughly before storing them to remove any dirt or debris that can contribute to spoilage.

Revive with Water 

If your herbs have started to wilt, don't despair! You can often revive them by giving them a quick soak in cold water. Simply place the stems of the herbs in a glass of water and refrigerate for an hour or two. This helps rehydrate the herbs and restore their crispness, making them look and taste fresher.

Freeze for Later

Another excellent way to extend the shelf life of herbs is by freezing them for later use. Chop the herbs finely and place them in ice cube trays, then cover with water or olive oil and freeze until solid. Once frozen, transfer the herb cubes to a resealable plastic bag or container and store them in the freezer. These herb cubes can be added directly to dishes while cooking, providing a convenient and flavourful addition to your recipes.

Dry for Preservation

Drying herbs is a traditional method of preserving their flavours for long-term storage. Hang bundles of fresh herbs upside down in a cool, dry place with good air circulation, such as a kitchen or pantry. Once the herbs are completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. Dried herbs can be used in cooking or steeped in hot water to make herbal teas.

Use Them Wisely

Finally, to make the most of your herbs and minimise waste, use them wisely in your cooking. Add fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking process to preserve their delicate flavours, and avoid subjecting them to prolonged heat, which can cause them to lose their aroma and taste. Additionally, consider incorporating herbs into homemade sauces, dressings, and marinades to maximise their impact and add depth of flavour to your dishes - and you've got the added benefit of significantly extending their life! Keep jars of herb-infused sauces in the fridge for weeks, and the freezer for months.

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