Fresh vs Frozen Herbs: the 4 Differences You Should Know
Let’s be honest, frozen herbs are way more convenient than fresh. They last way longer, and they do not require any care once adequately stored in the freezer. However, should you use them in your dishes? Do they have the same nutritional value as their fresh counterpart? Do they still taste nice? Here the 4 differences you need to know.
Hence, are frozen and fresh herbs the same? No, the process of freezing alters several characteristics of the original fresh herb such as:
- Texture: ruined by the freezing approach
- Nutritional content: only slightly decrease in vitamins
- Color: gets darker without blanching
- Culinary use: frozen herbs cannot be used as a garnish or in salads but rather for stew, soup, and sauces
How such differences affect your cooking, and what should you consider when using frozen herbs? Let’s dive in.
Fresh Or Frozen Herbs: Here the Differences
Let’s be clear
Fresh herbs will always be the best choice for your dishes. Nothing can beat the full taste, texture, and smell (yes, it is essential) of the leaves just picked up from your plant.
However, fresh herbs also require responsibility. If you grow them indoors (and you should), this requires you to provide water, light, and nutrients. If you buy fresh herbs from the supermarket, you might not be able to consume the whole bunch before they go bad. Hence, freezing is a solution.
Also, remember that one of the secrets to grow herbs, especially basil, is to prune them regularly. This is one of the 21 tricks (image below) to grow large basil.
However, how does it change an herb when frozen? Is it still tasty and full of flavor? The answer might surprise you.
As discussed by Purdue University, frozen herbs tend to taste bitter than their fresh counterparts. However, as also many chefs and gardeners agree, their flavor is way closer to their original fresh counterpart than dry herbs.
Hence here the take away:
If the taste for you is what matters, store your herbs by freezing them, not drying.
Does the freezing affect the herb texture? The texture is totally ruined by the freezing.
That light and sturdy leaves will get soft and slightly mushy. Eating them straight away, from frozen, is a terrible idea.
Here is you take away:
If the texture is what you are interested in (as perhaps you were planning to eat them raw), then avoid freeze herbs. Drying is way better. Indeed a dry herb looks and feels way better than a soft and a (bit slimy) green mass.
Here the good news
In general, a frozen herb does not change its color from its fresh counterpart. However, this is not always the case. Indeed, some herbs can turn black in the edges that have been cut. This is because of the presence of some enzymes.
The good news is that you can avoid this through a technique called blanching. What you have to do is essential:
- Place your herb in boiling water.
- Then place in very cold water to avoid the hot water cooking them;
- Dry the herb with a kitchen towel
For more details in the exact procedure, just have a look at the article below (method #3 freezing).
Here I have to be honest
There is not a unique study that details all the nutritional aspects correlated with having your herbs frozen. Each herb has hundreds of different compounds that react differently depending on temperature, light (when you freeze them, there is no light), and the presence of water (the water is partially lost during defrosting).
First things first: Frozen is generally better than fresh!
Several studies, including this one, have shown that for a large variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, their vitamin and nutrient content tends to drop after a few days. This means that it is very likely that a frozen herb (frozen when it was just picked so at its peak of vitamins and nutrients) is way richer in content that any herb that is on a counter for more than a few days.
Do not forget that it is not uncommon that what you bought as “fresh” herbs in your local store has been harvested and transported 3-4 days before. Hence, in such a case, a frozen herb is actually more nutritious than its supermarket (fake) “fresh” counterpart.
If you want to know more details, let’s have a look at the results of such studies.
However, some good results can be analyzed.
These substances have a crucial role in limiting some types of chronic diseases. Hence, eating food with a high concentration of antioxidants, like fresh oregano, sage and peppermint are well known for its high content. The good news is that several studies, like one, clearly show that antioxidant content in frozen vegetables is very close to their fresh counterpart.
Vitamin C has a vital role in our health, including creating a robust immune system, helping in repairing/generate several tissues (skin, tendons, blood, etc….). As discussed in this study from the University of California, the freezing process reduces vitamin C content from 5 to up to 50%. However, this depends on the type of vegetable considered. For instance, negligible losses in carrots but 20 and 30% losses in broccoli. No information at the moment specifically for herbs. Take away here is that freezing does reduce vitamin C content. This study also showed how freezing causes an immediate (20%) reduction of vitamin C.
Here is the takeaway
Vitamin C drops due to freezing. However:
- The vitamin C loss due to frost is comparable to what happened to its fresh counterpart left at ambient temperature for a few days as demonstrated in this study
- Vitamin C can be found in many other products (sweet potato, kiwi, pepper, etc.) and, except for a few exceptions (like basil and thyme and parsley), herbs are not generally abundant in such vitamin in the average amount we consume them.
Potassium and Calcium
Potassium and calcium are minerals important for the correct muscle and nerve functioning as well as bone development. This study found that the level of potassium and calcium stay almost unchanged due to freezing for the vegetables analyzed.
Frozen Herbs in Recipes: What to Do and Avoid
In which dishes should you use frozen herbs, and in which one should you avoid them?
As discussed earlier, the texture is negatively affected by the freezing process. Hence, avoid frozen herbs in all salads and dishes in which they are eaten raw.
Frozen herbs are more suitable for all those plates that require the herb to infuse the flavor in a liquid. This can be a soup, a stew, or any cream.
Here a trick is taken from the conclusion of a scientific study from Hacettepe University.
When cooking with frozen herbs, you should not thaw before cooking. In order to limit the vitamin C loss, use a double based stainless steel pan, the minimum amount of water, and, more importantly, cook the frozen herbs straight away.
Here are my three best recipes, great with frozen herbs.
Cream of Mushroom
A creamy mushroom soup that can be enjoyed alone with some mashed potato on the side or it can be the perfect companion for a tasty steak.
This soup requires around 30 min. This recipe is easy. You need to have
butter, oil, mushroom, onion, vegetable stock, frozen (or fresh) herbs (thyme, parsley), salt, pepper, double cream.
For the full procedure, have a look at the video below, quite clear and to the point.
This can easily be a full main course for a Sunday lunch with the whole family. This is a medium-difficult recipe and would require around 3 hours for the best results. The frozen herbs that can easily replace its fresh counterpart here is parsley. Other key ingredients are beef, onion, salt, pepper, carrots.
For the detailed process, check the good video below.
Tomato and Basil Soup
This is simple yet healthy and extremely tasty. It is quite common, especially in the north of Italy during winter. This recipe is simple and requires around 40 minutes of your time.
Here the herb that you can easily use as frozen (after bleaching) is basil. The other ingredients you need are tomato sauce, oil, garlic, salt, pepper, butter, onion, peppers, flour, bread.
Check the detailed video below for the step by step recipe and more details.
Which Herbs Can Be Frozen? Best Herbs
Freezing is a great approach to save herbs keeping their flavor. However, can you freeze any herb?
The answer is yes. From trial and error and talking with other gardeners, any herb can be frozen. Their taste and color will remain unchanged if you also remember to blanch them before, as discussed in this study.
Some herbs, however, perform better when frozen compared to their dry (the other most common way to preserve herbs) counterpart.
The herbs that you should always freeze and never dry are basil, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon. Either such herbs will be tasteless, or their taste will be seriously affected when dried.
Remember, basil is probably the most tricky to freeze and requires blanching.
Thinking of Drying Your Herbs?
If freezing does not sound appealing for you, another of the most common technique to preserve herbs is drying. The good news is that drying is an approach easier than freezing, and it also intensifies the herb aroma.
However, you have to pay this high intensity at a cost: the flavor also changes. However, this is not the end of the world, and dry herbs are still amazing nutritional and taste-wise.
Check the article below to know more about the difference between dry and fresh herbs.
How long frozen herbs last? Frozen herbs can last one year before losing their nutritional and taste, as suggested in this research.
How to defrost frozen herbs? Frozen herbs should not be defrosted before cooking. This will make them a green mush that will also suffer a loss of vitamin C (through the defrosting water). Frozen herbs should be used straight away in dishes with high liquid content.
Frozen herbs is a convenient approach to store herbs that are likely to maintain their taste, color but not the texture, for around a year. Their nutritional content, when frozen, stays unchanged, and it is even better for fresh herbs if left a week, or more, in the open air.
Many are the recipes where frozen herbs can be used. However, this should not be using herbs as a garnish or eaten raw. Also, remember to cook frozen herbs from frozen directly, not defrost them.
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