It is hard to imagine what cooking would be like without the unique flavors provided by herbs and spices. For centuries they have been an integral part of many of the world's great cuisines. Today we take for granted black pepper and the other spices over which wars where once fought. At one time only kings and other wealthy people could afford such a delicacy as cinnamon. Today all supermarkets and most small grocery stores have well-stocked spice shelves offering a wonderful selection of herbs and spices.
The term "spices" is often used broadly to include all seasonings. Spices come from the bark, roots, leaves, stems, buds, seeds, or fruit of aromatic plants and trees with usually grow only in tropical countries. Pepper, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, and turmeric are spices.
Herbs are soft, succulent plants which usually grow in the temperate zone. Until recently cooks have had to make do with very few fresh herbs, such as sage, parsley, and thyme. Nowdays you can also find fresh basil, coriander, chervil, tarragon, rosemary, and dill. Since herbs are at their best when they are young and freshly picked, it is well worth growing your own.
Hints For Using Herbs & Spices
Conventional Oven: Place clean dry herb sprigs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at the lowest setting until herbs are dry and brittle. This should take about 12 hours. Strip leaves from stems & place in small airtight storage containers.
Air Drying: Tie small bunches of herbs with string and hang upside down by the stems in a dry warm spot out of direct sunlight. Be sure air circulates freely around the bunches. Let dry till leaves are brittle. This usually takes a few days to a week, depending on the thickness of the leaves. Pick off the dried leaves & store in tightly covered containers in a cool,dry place about two weeks or till dry and brittle.
Microwave Drying: Pick when the dew has just gone off. Put on paper towels on a plate in the microwave. Zap on high for a minute to start (at that point they appear "wet"). Stir them, zap again for another minute, move around again, and zap approximately 30 seconds more or until they are dry and crumbly. Rub between your hands to break up, pick out any twiggy parts and put in small jars or baggies.
Freezing Herbs: Wrap in foil or plastic wrap.You can also chop clean herbs, place in ice cube trays & fill with water. When needed remove herb ice cubes and drop into hot cooking liquid. You can also wrap bunches of fresh herbs in foil or plastic wrap and freeze them for several weeks. You should expect some discoloration of frozen herbs. Mark the date on the container of your dried herbs. They can be kept for one year. Heat, moisture and light rob herbs of flavor. You can also make herb butters and herb vinegars.
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