I may be bias, but in my opinion there’s nothing better than bringing fresh-cut, aromatic herbs into your kitchen. They fill my kitchen with good smells and they inspire my cooking. There are several ways that you can prolong that goodness and in this post I’ll list a couple of tips and methods for how to keep your fresh cut herbs fresh.
First off, it’s important to remember that flavor and fragrance are biochemical. Herbs produce heaps of compounds, like esters, amines and terpenes, that are detected by your nose and tongue. Many of these compounds are volatile, a property that helps them reach your nose and olfactory system. But this also means that these compounds are easily lost. It’s one reason why herbs are rarely washed before being sold and why local herbs are far superior to store-bought herbs, many of which travel the globe before reaching your table.
Some folks recommend washing your herbs as soon as you bring them home to remove dirt, bacteria and other contaminants from the leaves right away. If I buy herbs from the store in the dead of winter, I will often do the same, as it gives me a chance to inspect the herbs and remove contaminants as well as dead or wilting leaves.
While the herbs we sell from Smoot’s Flavor Farm are always naturally grown and exceptionally fresh, I certainly agree that you should wash your herbs before consuming, especially the ones consumed raw, such as cilantro, parsley and mint. However, I prefer to wait until I’m preparing my meal, as pre-washed herbs are difficult to dry properly before storage and waiting to wash your herbs will preserve as many of those flavor and aroma compounds as possible.
There are a few methods for prolonging the freshness of herbs and below I list two different methods that I think are tried and true. Now, if there’s ever a caveat to this advice, it’s to never put basil in the fridge. If you’ve disappointingly pulled black or wilted basil from your fridge, you know that it is the most sensitive herb to cold damage. Most herbs can withstand the cold temperature of your fridge that’s needed to keep perishable goods from spoiling, but basil simply cannot. So if you bring home basil, stick to the glass jar method.
Glass Jar Method
You can treat fresh cut herbs as you would fresh cut flowers, giving them a vase and a prized position in your kitchen where their good smells waft willfully every time you walk by. I recommend trimming the ends to remove any dried vascular tissue (the plumbing system for a plant’s water uptake), then fill a small jar or glass with enough water to cover the ends of the herbs. Don’t put too much water in the jar, as any submerged leaves will go bad quickly.
If you have a window in your kitchen, place the jar in front of it and refresh the water every couple of days. No window? No problem, the important thing is that you keep them close to your cutting board, where you’ll see them, smell them and want to use them.
Ideally, you’ll be reminded to toss them into every meal, but they should keep for several days to a week depending on how recently they were harvested, the type of herb and how often you refresh the water.
Damp Towel in the Fridge Method
This is one of the easier and more fool-proof methods for keeping herbs fresh. Take a paper towel, soak it with water and wring out the excess so it’s damp (no drips!). Place the herbs on the towel, gently roll or wrap the herbs in the towel and place it in a ziploc bag. Remove the air, seal the bag and place it in the fridge.
Hands down, I prefer this method for storing cilantro, which has a tendency to be droopy and unwieldy in a jar. Another benefit is that this method requires less fuss, as you don’t need to refresh the water. The down side is that you won’t get to enjoy the fresh aromas in your kitchen and it’s prone to neglect; you may forget about your herbs as they (somehow) migrate towards the back of the fridge.
Either way, it’s easy to keep fresh-cut herbs for at least a week. And by that time, I’ve used them up and am ready for more.