Herbs may be small, but they are still very potent in terms of their flavor profile. With just a few small leaves, you can transform what seems like a mediocre, bland, or derivative dish into a mesmerizing masterpiece.
Take a plain tomato sauce, for example. Sure, some people like a simple sauce, but variety is the spice of life. Add a few basil leaves to the basic tomato sauce and watch it come to life in mere moments.
If you want a delectable pasta sauce, herbs are essential.
However, several questions then arise: What are the best herbs for cooking? Are all herbs created equal? Is it true that some herbs have medicinal qualities?
What if I am allergic to herbs? Are some herbs spicy or bitter? What if I choose a poor mixture or concentration of herbs?
As can be seen, herbs should not be taken lightly. The right herbs can help elevate a dish to new heights in the culinary world.
Here, our focus will be on 11 fresh herbs that every kitchen should have in order to cook up hundreds of incredible recipes that will tantalize your taste buds for decades to come.
11 Essential Herbs for Cooking that You Need in Your Kitchen
Basil is considered a very significant culinary herb that is a must in virtually every kitchen in the world. There is actually a popular variety of basil that smells similar to a mix of cloves and licorice.
When most people think of mint, they think of a cool and refreshing dessert platter. In truth, mint is a very versatile herb that can be used to improve the flavor of both savory and sweet meals. For example, mint goes well with lamb dishes.
Many vegetable and fruit salads will also benefit from adding mint. If you wish to cook with mint, then we would suggest spearmint as your first choice.
Arguably, rosemary is the most intense and aromatic of all of the herbs for cooking that we have on this list. The leaves are needle-like in appearance and produce a flavor that resembles strong lemon-pine. Rosemary works well with extra-virgin olive oil. It also complements garlic and roasted garlic quite nicely.
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Greeks love to sprinkle oregano on their salads, while Italians prefer to adorn their pizzas with it. Some will infuse oregano into their pasta and pizza sauces as well.
Also, marjoram and oregano look very similar, so it is easy to confuse them. Marjoram tends to be more delicate and a tad sweeter, while oregano often packs a more powerful aroma and taste.
While there are many different types of thyme available, most chefs will opt for French thyme when cooking their meals. Thyme actually pairs well with many other types of herbs, including sage, rosemary, and oregano.
There are over a dozen types of thyme to choose from, and the earthiness that thyme is known for makes it one of the most favored herbs for cooking for goose, lamb, and pork.
Cilantro is also sometimes referred to as Chinese parsley or coriander. Regardless of what you wish to call it, it should be known that cilantro is a somewhat controversial herb. That is, some people love it, while others abhor it with a passion.
It may be an acquired taste, so proceed with caution. Expect an undertone of anise as well as an aroma that is rather pungent.
Parsley should be seen as a sidekick rather than a dish’s main part or highlight. Still, it is a solid accompaniment that can help give a dish an added kick or boost. The flavor that it produces is mild and somewhat grassy.
Curly parsley is also more subdued in flavor when compared to Italian parsley, which is a flat-leaf offshoot or variant of curly parsley.
Chives are known for their onion-like flavor. Therefore, if you love the taste of onions, then chives will soon become your best friend. However, there is one caveat that you should be aware of if you wish to work with chives.
That is, chives are very sensitive to heat. The delicate onion flavor that they generate will be destroyed when exposed to high temperatures. Thus, you need to toss them into your pot or pan at the very last minute in order to maximize their potency.
If you want to further augment their flavor, we would suggest that you slice them very thinly. You can also use chives that have been finely clipped if you need a garnish in a pinch. Chives are a superb option for baked potatoes, as well as quesadillas and many vegetable and chip dips.
Dill is known the world over for its incredibly clean and fresh scent. It is one of the most popular herbs in the world, and it is also known for its delicate flavor. The leaves are both delicate and light, and dill has become a staple herb for cooking in Eastern and Northern European cuisine.
In addition, dill works superbly with pickles, as well as beets, cucumbers, green soups, cream, salmon, and cured fish.
Sage is actually an exotic herb that is native to the Northern Mediterranean region. It is one of the most commonly used herbs for cooking in the area. Sage is known for its narrow and tall leaves, as well as its rather fuzzy texture.
The flavor is quite musty and is somewhat reminiscent of mint, cedar, eucalyptus, and lemon. Sage is commonly used in France in order to make pork and sausage dishes. It is also used for stuffings and works quite well with cured meats.
The Italians use sage in order to make veal. As for North Americans, sage is commonly used for dressing and turkey platters. Sage should be used sparingly, as too much can quickly overwhelm a dish and render it inedible. In this case, less is more.
Tarragon is native to Western Asia and Siberia. However, it is most commonly used in France. Tarragon is commonly added to white wine vinegar. The end result is a licorice-like flavor and aroma that is rather sweet.
If you enjoy chicken that has been coated with mustard, then tarragon can be added to the mix. It also pairs well with omelets as well as fish-based platters. However, where tarragon really shines is with bearnaise sauce. In fact, it is an essential ingredient of bearnaise sauce.
The peppery and bittersweet taste that tarragon produces can be quite nice when used sparingly and strategically. However, tarragon should be added near the end of the cooking process, as it is susceptible to heat.
The general rule of thumb is to use a small quantity of tarragon when cooking, as a little will usually go a long way with this potent herb.
So Many Herbs for Cooking, So Little Time!
We hope our guide has helped you learn more about the world of herbs and their multiplicity of benefits and properties. If you do not use herbs for cooking, now may be the time to begin experimenting with different herbs as well as different herb combinations.
The right herbs can imbue a meal with flavors that can really help elevate its taste. Even basic meals and snacks can be given a new lease on life with the right herb combinations. The freshness and nutrients that some herbs can provide are truly unrivaled.
Speak to your doctor or a nutritionist if you have any doubts about the benefits of herbs or if you are concerned that you may be allergic to certain types. For example, people who suffer from Crohn’s Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome should talk to a medical professional in order to discuss certain food intolerances.
Some herbs are also very spicy, so if you have a sensitive stomach, then you may want to avoid spicy herbs or reduce their concentration while cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Add As Many Herbs As I Want To When I Cook?
No. Herbs should be used sparingly. Most of them are very strong and add a lot of flavor to your meals. Also, combining several herbs at once tends to prevent unwanted results since not all herbs work with each other. Read the full guide to learn more about fresh herbs and cooking with herbs.
Are Fresh Herbs Stronger?
No. Dried herbs are actually up to 4 times stronger. Fresh herbs can offer more flavor with some options, though, so make sure to take this into account when cooking and choose the right combination of dried and fresh herbs for the meal you're making. Read the full guide to learn more about fresh herbs and the best ways to herbs in your kitchen.
How Do I Remove Herbs From Soups After Cooking?
The simple way to do this is to use cheesecloth bags. Alternatively, you can tie them in bouquets or bunches for easy removal from gravies and soups. Remove the herbs when the taste you want is achieved. Read the full guide to learn more about cooking with fresh herbs.
When Should I Add Herbs When Cooking?
For a more distinct flavor, add your herbs when cooking is close to end, when your meal is almost fully cooked. If you want blended flavors, add them at the start of cooking. Herbs and ground spices will readily release flavors. With long cooking, like with stews, add the herbs close to the end time.
References & Useful Resources
Cooking Light: 11 Herbs Every Cook Should Use
Click And Grow: Chives Plant Pods
Love & Lemons: Greek Salad Recipe
English Gardens: Top 10 Herbs For Your Kitchen
Healthline: 8 Surprising Benefits And Uses of Tarragon
All Recipes: Everything You Need To Know About Sage