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Fine dried herbs, where best to buy?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

There are a few items I'd like to have a high grade of, Thyme, Bay Leaf and real Chipotle (made from juachinago peppers) to name a few.  What purveyors are recommended?  What particular herbs do you feel especially warrant spending more for?

post #2 of 17

I'm a fan of drying herbs myself.  Find the freshest thyme you can find and dry it by washing very well and drying on a soft clean cloth then allowing it to dry on its own.  Moisture will make it rot so make sure to wick away all moisture.  Same goes for sage, bay leaves, rosemary, and oregano.  Don't bother drying parsley, basil or dill - they lose their flavor where as the others I listed benefit greatly from drying.

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post #3 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Koukouvagia View Post

the others I listed benefit greatly from drying.

 

Hey Kouk', I can't agree with that comment?!! The flavor profile changes, the texture changes, that we can agree on - but "benefit"?

 

IMO nothing beats fresh herbs, and I absolutely love cooking with fresh Thyme, Sage, and rosemary. For most of my applications, such as, say, a braised dish, I wouldn't touch the dry version of those herbs with a 10 foot pole. If I'm making coq-au-vin, or a pot roast for example, I'll add a lot of fresh thyme. If I don't have fresh thyme on hand, I just won't put any thyme at all - but certainly not dried thyme. 

 

Rosemary and Sage, same thing: I'd rather not use them than use the dried version. 

 

Oregano I rarely find fresh so usually use dried, but for other applications such as a dry rub for grilled meats for example - in which case I sometimes use dried herbs such as thyme and rosemary. 

 

Bay leaves I've often heard benefit from drying, but since I have a bay leaf tree outside my kitchen it's just more practical for me to go and pick a fresh leave or two whenever needed - and I like the flavor. I never actually really tried comparing the two. 

post #4 of 17

I thought chipotles were just dried and smoked jalapenos, not some more exotic chili.

 

I'd say your best bet for those is to find a Mexican market where the turnover is likely to be swift--but I'd say even there what you're likely to get are smoked jalapenos. 

 

Otherwise,  Penzey's and Kalustyan's are both reputable purveyors and both have websites.


Edited by ChicagoTerry - 1/3/13 at 12:06pm
post #5 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by French Fries View Post

 

Hey Kouk', I can't agree with that comment?!! The flavor profile changes, the texture changes, that we can agree on - but "benefit"?

 

IMO nothing beats fresh herbs, and I absolutely love cooking with fresh Thyme, Sage, and rosemary. For most of my applications, such as, say, a braised dish, I wouldn't touch the dry version of those herbs with a 10 foot pole. If I'm making coq-au-vin, or a pot roast for example, I'll add a lot of fresh thyme. If I don't have fresh thyme on hand, I just won't put any thyme at all - but certainly not dried thyme. 

 

Rosemary and Sage, same thing: I'd rather not use them than use the dried version. 

 

Oregano I rarely find fresh so usually use dried, but for other applications such as a dry rub for grilled meats for example - in which case I sometimes use dried herbs such as thyme and rosemary. 

 

Bay leaves I've often heard benefit from drying, but since I have a bay leaf tree outside my kitchen it's just more practical for me to go and pick a fresh leave or two whenever needed - and I like the flavor. I never actually really tried comparing the two. 

 

This may be a matter of personal preference.  I myself like to add dried herbs to braises like coq-au-vin or pot roast, right from the start of cooking.  If I have fresh I add it at the end but most of the time I'm quite happy to use dried thyme - part of the reason is that I don't grow herbs myself and some of the fresh herbs I find at the markets are not impressive at all where as the wild thyme I pick up from my hikes in Greece has a fantastic flavor, and dries beautifully.  And I have always preferred dried oregano to fresh.

 

Fresh is best, who'll argue with that?  However if time and money are any concern then drying herbs is a great option and it will add a ton of flavor to food.  The poster was asking about dried herbs so my reply was about dried herbs.  And yes, I think that herbs benefit more from drying than throwing them away when they go bad in the fridge. 

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post #6 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Koukouvagia View Post

The poster was asking about dried herbs so my reply was about dried herbs.  And yes, I think that herbs benefit more from drying than throwing them away when they go bad in the fridge. 

 

Certainly, certainly, Kouk'. Maybe I misinterpreted you after all, by "benefit" I thought you meant that the dried herb was superior to the fresh herb. My sister also picks fresh wild thyme in Provence and then dries it and brings it to me... but still I prefer the fresh thyme I get from the supermarket here in L.A. And I put it in the beginning of cooking my braises - in fact I usually put it in the oil at the very beginning while browning the meat and veggies! Maybe I'm spoiled with the quality of the herbs we can get at supermarkets around here: it's not on par with the wild herbs but certainly it's good enough. I used to use much more dried herbs but ever since I got used to using fresh herbs it kinda turned me off from the dry ones. 

post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 

I'm new to using fresh herbs and actually FF, found I don't care for the flavor of fresh Thyme or Sage in many meat dishes, but do use them fresh with vegetables.  Dried is a totally different though not necesarrily inferior experience as Kouk' pointed out, and here I will literally count the number Thyme leaves as the amount becomes critical with chicken, shrimp, cheese and pasta dishes, too much and you really blow it.  And there are dishes I even [often] prefer dried garlic with, and of course onion powder has its place.

 

But boy I feel half silly about this post all the sudden, as Kouk' says you can dry 'em yourself, and possibly not do better than that. 

 

Thanks for the suggestions CT, and yes the juachanaga, translated Red Snapper, a tough fleshed red chile, is the real chipotle.  Traditionally it is allegedly suppose to be smoked with peacan wood, though I don't expect to find that anywhere locally or online.

post #8 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by French Fries View Post

 

Certainly, certainly, Kouk'. Maybe I misinterpreted you after all, by "benefit" I thought you meant that the dried herb was superior to the fresh herb. My sister also picks fresh wild thyme in Provence and then dries it and brings it to me... but still I prefer the fresh thyme I get from the supermarket here in L.A. And I put it in the beginning of cooking my braises - in fact I usually put it in the oil at the very beginning while browning the meat and veggies! Maybe I'm spoiled with the quality of the herbs we can get at supermarkets around here: it's not on par with the wild herbs but certainly it's good enough. I used to use much more dried herbs but ever since I got used to using fresh herbs it kinda turned me off from the dry ones. 

 

Living in a small apartment and having a brown thumb ensures that I don't have the ability to grow my own.  Buying fresh herbs can be very expensive, especially if you only need a little.  I'm amazed at how large a bunch of parsley or rosemary can be, and expensive to boot considering I can't use all of it.  It's a huge dilemma for me because I love cooking with herbs in every dish.  I wonder if the quality of the herbs would be different if I grew it myself but like I said, half the time I am quite disappointed at the lackluster flavor of fresh thyme and oregano especially.  When I have bought fresh thyme I've dried what I didn't use and then compared the dried stuff to what I've brought over from Greece - no comparison. 

 

I have to say, bringing fresh rosemary into the house makes my day.  But I'll use the dried stuff in a pinch.

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post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 

So Kouk' clarify that please, was the dried stuff from Greece better or no so good as the stuff you dried yourself? 

 

I also would really like to hear from others on where they source their herbs.

 

Rick

post #10 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick Alan View Post

So Kouk' clarify that please, was the dried stuff from Greece better or no so good as the stuff you dried yourself? 

 

I also would really like to hear from others on where they source their herbs.

 

Rick


The stuff from Greece I picked myself while I was there and I dried it myself too.  It is far superior (even dried) to any fresh thyme I have found in my local markets here in NY.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Koukouvagia View Post


The stuff from Greece I picked myself while I was there and I dried it myself too.  It is far superior (even dried) to any fresh thyme I have found in my local markets here in NY.

 

 Oh how I would love to have that Thyme, I'm nuts about it and the quality does seem to vary dramatically.

post #12 of 17

Where to source herbs, etc? 

 

Ethnic Markets. 

 

All kinds of ethnic markets. They are my favorite places on the planet.

 

I buy dried chilies of all kinds from one of the several Mexican markets around my neighborhood. Chicago is a very Mexican city, so it's not hard to find chilies of all kinds, fresh, dried and in cans, imported from Mexico. The prices are great, the packages generous and the turnover is swift, so the flavor is always good. I can't say I've ever seen the chili you mention and I can't find a reference for it on line or in any of my Mexican or Latin American cookbooks.  Every source I can find says chipotles are by definition jalapenos. I'd like to know more.

 

 I buy dried thyme and oregano from Greece still in bundles on their branches and find them very flavorful, though definitely different than fresh. And Greek thyme is a much more assertive herb than French thyme. I get the Greek bundles at various ethnic markets around the city--Mexican, Balkan and Middle Eastern.

 

Middle Eastern Markets are pretty reliable sources for good -quality dried herbs but some things just don't dry well. Basil, tarragon, mint, cilantro, parsley--don't bother. Fresh basil is best kept made into a sort of pesto--minced in a food processor with olive oil and frozen. Tarragon keeps better in vinegar. Mint, cilantro and parsley are really only good fresh. I almost never use dried sage. I think it tends to taste musty. Dried Rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, oregano and herbes de Provence do have a place in my kitchen.

 

I grow my own fresh herbs on sunny windowsills in my apartment. Right now they are all looking pretty pitiful because of lack of light but I'm still snipping fresh sage, rosemary and French thyme from plants I started this summer. If I need more fresh herb than my plants can provide, I buy the expensive little packages from the market and dry whatever I don't use immediately.

 

For spices, I go to Indian and Middle Eastern markets because of the freshness, prices, quantities and variety available. There's also a European deli/grocery where I can find the odd thing not available at any of the Asian markets.

post #13 of 17

Personally, I wouldn't touch dried herbs with a bargepole, with very few exceptions: dried oregano and bay provide a desired flavour, while others are vastly inferior to the fresh herb. The flavour changes so much that they become unpleasant. Dried thyme tastes like cough medicine, for example. Here in Europe, any supermarket offers potted herbs, and even out of season, they are (just) OK. I try to grow as many herbs as I can find room for outside my restaurant, mainly rosemary, sage, thyme, mint and marjoram, and they don't need much talking to - I don't have a green thumb, either.

 

Having said all that, I occasionally get dried sage and mint from friends in Greece which are surprisingly aromatic and not completely without merit (although different to the fresh stuff). My dried oregano is always brought back for me from Greece - it's amazing. Even after keeping it in jars for a year, it's still as aromatic as bought oregano. I don't know how the Greeks do it, but the climate must be absolutely perfect for wild herbs to thrive and for drying them quickly.

 

BTW, ChicagoTerry, French thyme is a type of thyme, usually considered the most aromatic and authentic. There are hundreds of different types of thyme, including some with a strong lemon flavour or hardly any flavour at all. Most likely, the good stuff from Greece is actually French thyme.
 

post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Recky View Post


Having said all that, I occasionally get dried sage and mint from friends in Greece which are surprisingly aromatic and not completely without merit (although different to the fresh stuff). My dried oregano is always brought back for me from Greece - it's amazing. Even after keeping it in jars for a year, it's still as aromatic as bought oregano. I don't know how the Greeks do it, but the climate must be absolutely perfect for wild herbs to thrive and for drying them quickly.

 

BTW, ChicagoTerry, French thyme is a type of thyme, usually considered the most aromatic and authentic. There are hundreds of different types of thyme, including some with a strong lemon flavour or hardly any flavour at all. Most likely, the good stuff from Greece is actually French thyme.
 

 

The climate is perfect, it's got to be - especially in Krete where agriculture is the biggest driver of the economy. 

 

I don't know about french thyme in greece, but I know that the thyme I find in Greece looks very different than the thyme I find here in the states.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #15 of 17

My understanding is that French Thyme is the variety "thymus vulgaris" and the Greek variety is a wild thyme-"thymus serpyllum."

The flavor and appearance of dried bunches are definitely different. I've never seen the Greek variety in its fresh state to compare it to the common thyme plant I grow on my windowsill and in my garden. I've also grown lemon thyme--"thymus citriodorus"- in the past, which has a nice flavor.

post #16 of 17
Thread Starter 

Very interesting, all I can say is that in my first foray into fresh herbs I was not lucky.  The cuttings I bought looked like beautiful healthy specimens, from a store known for having exceptional produce, yet these herbs were not especially aromatic, and I can only describe their flavor as a little odd,  and the cheapest dried Sage and Thyme I have used in the past produced better.

 

On your experiences I will of course have to explore this further.  I will also implore my spouse to remove a few decorations providing me some window space.  Meantimes I will explore more markets in the Boston area, and seek out these exceptional Greek imports.  My thanks to everyone.

 

Rick

post #17 of 17

Herbs  I lived in NY for years , fresh herbs were fair. Came to Florida where I expected Utopia ! Boy was I wrong.  example to make a decnt Pesto in NY I needed a bunch of basil. Down here I needed 3 to get same flavor intensity. The growing season here is to fast and crop does really not have time to develop a great  flavor..  Same with Tomatoes, Strawberries and many others.  So local sometimes is not better. Only decent crop here is Oranges, Lemons  and KIwi

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