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Dry Your Herbs in the Fridge

| August/September 1993

Few people would disagree that the best way to use herbs is fresh from the garden, but from a practical standpoint, we need to be able to preserve our herbal harvests to enjoy them year round. When an herb is gathered in midmorning, after the dew has dried and before the oils start to volatilize, its flavor is at its peak; any further treatment, whether chopping, bruising, drying, freezing, storing, or leaving it on a countertop for a hour or two, will cause the loss of some of that flavor. Recent university studies have confirmed what we have long observed—that heat dramatically speeds the deterioration of herbs from their fresh state. A warming oven, a hot attic, or a microwave are a likely means to feeble flavor. Heat used in the drying process may account in part for the lack of flavor in commercial herbs and spices.

Years ago, in a rush to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table, we found an easy way to dry herbs using cold instead of heat. Left over from the meal preparation was an extra plateful of fresh herbs—some chopped, some whole—that we stuck into the refrigerator and forgot about. There it sat for a few days, uncovered, hiding behind the leftover mashed potatoes. By the time we discovered the lost plate, the herbs were crispy dry but fragrant and still flavorful. Amazingly, the parsley, dill, and chives—herbs that don’t usually lend themselves to home drying of any sort—were still green and tasty and usable.

Now, decades later, we’re still convinced that the refrigerator is one of the best places we’ve ever found to dry herbs. The secret, it seems, is frost-free refrigeration. At the time of our discovery, we had just bought a new ­refrigerator, trying out what was then a fairly new idea. In a frost-free refrig­erator, moisture doesn’t build up ­inside the refrigerator compartment. Instead, water (melted ice) from the ­automatic defrosting cycle drains into a pan near floor level and evaporates, leaving a cold, dry atmosphere inside the refrigerator compartment.

Refrigerator drying of herbs preserves a quality and flavor superior to careful air drying while maintaining the bright green color of the fresh herbs. Chopped herbs spread out on a tray or a plate and tucked away in the fridge will usually be dry to the touch within two to three days here in east Texas. Whole herbs take slightly longer, about a week. Since all the other food in the refrigerator is well covered, there is little chance that the herbs will pick up other food flavors, nor have we noticed foods absorbing herb flavors.

We like to pile up the whole stems of small-leaved herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, and marjoram. The dried leaves are easily brushed from their stems into a container. To promote drying of thick-stemmed herbs such as basil and mints, we strip off the leaves, discarding the stems, and dry only the leaves on trays. We stir the leaves two or three times a day to hasten drying and minimize wilting and discoloration. We don’t follow a rigid time schedule, but check the herbs often and wait for that moment when they are just right—dry and crispy but not so dry that they crumble to powder at first touch.

To store them, we transfer the freshly dried herbs to jars or other containers with tight lids or to plastic freezer bags (we like to double-bag to ensure freshness) and pop them into the freezer. Storing in the refrigerator is another option, but we think that freezer storage gives the best results as well as affording us the most space. The airtight containers prevent the herbs from absorbing moisture over time.

3/12/2019 12:42:32 PM

I discovered this accidentally just last year. I had leftover dill and basil from a harvest. I was worried about moisture control so I placed the fresh leaves onto a paper towel, folded them closed and placed a rubber band around them to secure the herbs (I used a fine tip marker to label them) then put them in the butter keeper of my refrigerator and forgot about them. A couple of months later I checked them and they were nice and fresh! To my amazement they were crispy and just as fragrant and tasty as the day I picked them! I came here for longer term storage ideas, I will definitely be keeping some in my new airtight spice jars for easy access and the rest in the freezer after drying! Thanks so much!!

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