Ultimate Guide to Cooking with Herbs

The ultimate guide to cooking with some of the most popular culinary herbs. Learn what they look like, how to use them and which ones you should always have on hand! 

One of the best ways to add flavor and excitement when you’re cooking is to add herbs. I cannot think of a meal that I did not add an herb of some kind. Whether I am using them to make my Brined Fried Chicken, adding them to Shrimp Taco Sauce or adding them to my favorite Flat Iron Steak Recipe, herbs are a major part of my success in the kitchen.

If you’re not sure which herbs to use, what to do with fresh vs dried or what the ratio of fresh vs. dried is then this helpful guide is exactly what you need!

Let’s talk about some of the most popular fresh herbs first.

Some of the most popular fresh herbs that you will find in the grocery store are Cilantro, Parsley and Italian Parsley.

Photo of Cilantro, Parsley and Italian Parsley

CILANTRO: Cilantro is an herb that is closely related to parsley and looks similar but has a very different flavor. Cilantro has a fresh, almost citrusy taste. Unless you’re part of the population that has the genetic trait that makes it taste like soap, you’ll love adding cilantro to your tacos, to soups, salsas and on grilled meats.

PARSLEY: There are two types of parsley: curly parsley and Italian parsley. Italian Flat Leaf Parsley is more flavorful than it’s curly sibling and is my parsley of choice to add fresh flavor to dishes or for use in chimichurri. Curly parsley is mainly used as decoration. However, both are great to add to green smoothies!

Another very popular herb that you will find on hand in most grocery stores and in abundance in gardens during the summer, is basil. There are actually a few different varieties of basil but the two you are most likely to find in the grocery store are: Sweet Basil and Thai Basil.

Photo of Sweet Basil and Thai Basil

SWEET BASIL: This is by far the most common type of basil. This is the herb you will want to use when you are making pesto, in pastas and in caprese recipes.

THAI BASIL: Thai basil is not nearly as common as sweet basil, but it is one of my favorite herbs when I’m looking for sweetness with a bit of spice. I love to add some fresh chopped Thai basil to my stir fries. You will notice that the two basils look similar but you can tell it is Thai basil by the purply stem.

Other herbs that you will likely find in smaller packets in the produce section of your grocery store include: Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Dill and Tarragon.

ROSEMARY: Rosemary is an evergreen herb. It tastes earthy with flavors of lemon and pine. The needles can be tough so after removing them from the woody stem, you’re going to want to make sure to chop them fine. And rosemary is pretty strong so use it sparingly in dishes.

SAGE: A pungent herb that is common in European and American cuisine. It has a minty and earthy taste and is very strong so you’ll want to use it sparingly as well. It is great when added to dishes that cook for a long time like braised meats. You’ve also probably noticed it’s a popular American Thanksgiving herb, as it is key ingredient in many stuffing recipes. Make sure you cook sage though, when served raw the soft cotton like texture is not pleasant to eat.

THYME: Thyme is one of my favorite herbs. And I love it for its peppery flavor. Like rosemary and sage, it is very pungent so a little goes a long way. To use fresh thyme, you will need to remove the leaves from the woody stems. If you’re using whole thyme in a soup, you’ll want to make sure you fish out the stems before serving your dish.

DILL: Dill is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES. It is a very delicate herb and should be chopped right before you are about to use it. I use it when I make dill pickle chicken wings, chicken salad and my easy ranch dip recipe. Fresh dill is something that I usually have on hand in the summer as it’s great for making pickles with garden cucumbers and adding to salads.

TARRAGON: Tarragon is not an herb that I use a lot but I do absolutely love it with shrimp, like in my Tarragon Shrimp Salad . The taste of tarragon is similar to anise or licorice. The flavor can easily overpower a dish if you use too much so add in increments until the dish tastes good to you.

USING DRIED AND FREEZE DRIED HERBS IN COOKING:

In my opinion, dried herbs get kind of a bad rap. Fresh herbs are delicate, can spoil faster and are not always easy to come by. Dried herbs are great to keep on hand so that you can add some herby flavor to your favorite dishes any time you like.

Here are some of the dried herbs that I always keep on hand:

Overhead picture of dried herbs

BASIL: Fresh basil is great when you have it, but when it’s out of season it can be harder (or more expensive) to get your hands on. For this reason, I always keep dried basil on hand. It has the same sweet flavor and I add it to pasta sauces and soups. I just wouldn’t recommend using it on something like caprese, as it won’t have the same taste/texture as fresh.

FENNEL: Fennel Seeds come from the fennel plant. Both plant and seeds have a mild licorice flavor. If you’ve ever bought Italian Sausage, chances are there was some fennel in there. I love adding it to my easy pizza sauce, homemade sausage and soups and stews.

OREGANO: Oregano is one of my favorite herbs for whenever I am making an Italian or Mediterranean dish.  There is a variety that is called Mexican Oregano that has more of a citrus flavor than its Mediterranean counterpart. Oregano has an earthy pungent flavor and I find it’s smell intoxicating when I’m making my favorite spaghetti and meatballs recipe.

SAVORY: If I had to pick one herb that is my go to, the herb I try to add to just about anything, it would be savory. Savory is very close to thyme and has a similar pepper flavor. It is excellent with green beans and I love it with chicken and potatoes too. It’s also a must for any stock I make.

DILL WEED: Like basil, fresh dill can be harder to come by/more expensive when it’s out of season. For this reason, I always keep a freeze dried version of dill in my spice cabinet. I use it exactly like I would fresh dill.

CHIVES: I also like to keep freeze dried chives on hand. They had a subtle oniony flavor to dishes like soups and stews. They are also a great addition to eggs, dressings and roasted potatoes.

Ratio for Dried Herbs to Fresh Herbs:

Dried herbs concentrate the flavor a bit more. For this reason, as a general rule, use 1/3 of the amount of dried than fresh. For example, if a recipe called for 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary, you would use 1 tablespoon of fresh.

Cooking with different herbs should be fun and enjoyable, not overwhelming. I hope you find this Ultimate Guide to Cooking with Herbs useful. Happy Cooking!

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Hi! I am Des! Welcome to Life’s Ambrosia where Dinner is served and memories are made. Here you will find over 1000 tried and true recipes for every possible occasion. In the last 10 years, this blog has helped millions of families put dinner on the table and create food memories. Let me help you too. Read more »

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