If all the foods we love for their delicious flavor were placed into one circle, and all the food we love for the valuable nutrients they contain were placed in another, you would find herbs in the intersection of those two circles. Not only do they add vibrant smells, flavors, and colors to the food we make, but they add more than a dash of health-promoting nutrients, too.
The only problem with fresh herbs is that they don’t stay fresh for long, and often you only need a little at a time. How can you have the health and flavor benefits of fresh herbs without wasting them? It’s easier than you think. Read on to find out why you should be eating way more fresh herbs than you probably are, as well as the world’s easiest and most effective method for freezing what you can’t use.
Why Herbs Improve Our Health
The impressive nutrient value of herbs comes from the high concentration of polyphenols they contain. Polyphenols are plant compounds with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research indicates that polyphenols can help to treat or prevent heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and more. Much of the testing done on polyphenols to date has been done with concentrated solutions, but emerging evidence supports the idea that we can also access the myriad benefits of polyphenols by adding herbs to our food.
How to Avoid Food Waste
When many of us purchase fresh herbs for a recipe, however, we run into a problem—leftovers! Herbs are typically sold in bunches, and unless you’re making a pesto, it’s unlikely you’ll use them all up in one dish. Because fresh-cut herbs are extremely fragile, you have a limited window from when you purchase them to when they’ll begin to wilt and decay.
To avoid waste, simply chop and freeze any extra fresh herbs you have on hand. Freezing the herbs will, of course, change their texture, but their flavor will be beautifully preserved. To maintain maximum flavor intensity, we recommend the following method.
The Best Way to Freeze Fresh Herbs
To keep your fresh herbs tasting fresh for as long as possible, follow this method of covering them in a neutral oil and freezing them solid:
- Begin by chopping the herbs, then them inside a zipper-lock bag and coat them in oil without a strong flavor of its own—sunflower oil would be a good choice.
- Seal the bag, carefully squeezing out excess air as you do.
- Place the bag on a plate or baking sheet, and spread out the herb mixture inside to make a thin, even layer, then place in the freezer until frozen solid.
The high surface to volume ration created by forming the herbs into a flat sheet means the herbs can be both frozen and thawed as quickly as possible, which helps protect their flavor. When you’re ready to use the herbs, simply cut off the quantity you need with a knife or kitchen shears, reseal the bag, and place it back in the freezer for later use.
Lock In Active Enzymes
If you would prefer to store the herbs without adding oil, you can still take steps to lock in as much flavor as possible. Fresh herbs are living things whose flavor comes from active enzymes and compounds. Herbs frozen in water take longer to thaw than herbs frozen in oil, which means more flavor leeches away.
If you blanch the herbs before chopping and freezing them, you can maintain fresh flavor for longer. Blanching deactivates enzymes, and also allows more herbs to be packed into a smaller space and therefore melt faster.
After blanching and chopping the herbs, you can substitute water for oil and use the steps listed above.