erbs not only make dishes taste better, they also make them healthier by providing a natural
flavor to recipes, thereby reducing the amount of salt and fat needed for flavor,” says Julie Tan,
certified master taster at ChefsBest and vice president of food and beverage consulting company
A Sip and A Taste, San Francisco.
Chefs, however, often rely on popular herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil,
and shy away from oddball ones. From betel leaf to ashwagandha, nepitella and bull’s blood,
uncommon herbs make up a diverse group of ingredients that add different flavors, textures and
punch to dishes and drinks.
Fresh versus dried
“Fresh and dried herbs both have their place in a restaurant,” Tan says. “It all depends on
Dried herbs pack a stronger, more condensed flavor, so it makes sense to cut in half the amount of
dried herbs in place of fresh. And they tend to do best if they’re added during cooking so their flavor has
time to infuse the whole dish—add them too late, and they taste dusty. Dried herbs also lose flavor over
time, and there’s evidence that a substantial amount of nutrient is lost in the drying process.
Although fresh herbs tend to have a softer flavor, subtlety when cooking is not necessarily a bad
thing. It’s also best not to use fresh herbs when cooking a dish that simmers for more than 45 minutes
to avoid herbs turning bitter.
Joe Flamm, executive chef at Spiaggia, Chicago, and Top Chef Season 15 winner, uses both
fresh and dried. Some, such as dried oregano, are sourced from Italy, because domestic herbs
cannot mimic the Italian terroir that delivers the right flavor characteristics. “The primary factor
in determining if fresh or dry should be used is what will deliver the most flavor and be the best
product at the end of the day,” Flamm says.
At Denver’s Citizen Rail, Christian Graves, executive chef, layers the same herb dried at the
beginning of the cooking process and fresh at the end. “Layering common dry and fresh herbs
is a good way for young chefs to learn how to blend them,” Graves says. “From there, they can
move on to using uncommon herbs.”
He adds a pinch of dried thyme to white butter beans while cooking them, and when they’re done,
the hot beans are poured into a container filled with lemon zest, garlic and fresh chopped thyme.
Consommé gets hit with dried oregano and dried thyme when making the base stock and poured
through fresh oregano and fresh thyme when it’s decanted.
Uncommonly used herbs add new
flavors and textures.
By Rob Benes