Fresh herbs and spices are one of the key requirements for fine cooking. Whether it’s something as simple as a piece of salmon with fresh dill, or something complex and sophisticated from a five-star restaurant, the difference fresh herbs and spices make is noticeable to anyone with even the most rudimentary palate. Dill is a perfect example. You can find it dried and packaged in just about any grocery store anywhere, and it will be adequate. However if you make the extra effort to buy fresh dill – be it from a fruit stand or a farmer’s market, or perhaps growing some of your own in your back yard or garden – the difference is remarkable. Sometimes, of course, economics win our and you’ll have to go with the dried stuff, but if cost really isn’t an issue, then getting fresh herbs is preferable.
Why do they taste so much better? It has to do with the flavor proteins in the dana of the actual plants and seeds that you’re cooking. These protein strands are bound up naturally, and become uncoiled, allowing the flavor to come out during cooking. Heat is, nine times out of ten, the method of flavoring whatever dish you’re using. The application of heat unwinds these strands more fully than any other method, and therefore you get more and fuller flavor from the fresh herbs and spices than you would otherwise. The dana flavor strands in dried herbs and spices have already suffered some level of degradation and lost flavor (not to mention nutrition) in the drying process. It’s actually scientifically calculated in terms of “heat” or “spiciness” by using Scoville’s – the measure of how hot or spicy a food is. There are, of course, other measures for other flavor sensations, but the Scoville is probably the best example since spicy foods are so prevalent in so many cultures.
I’m lucky since I’ve got a top notch organic fruit stand down the street from my house. It’s one of the bonuses of living in New York City, and I suppose something that doesn’t come intuitively: Fresh herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables of all kind. It’s weirdly postmodern because the City is the antithesis of pastureland and farming, yet the demand for those natural products are so high that you’re more apt to find them in the city than you would be to find them in, say, a typical suburban grocery store or supermarket. It’s one of the strange paradoxes of modern life. Regardless, it’s worth taking the time to track down fresh herbs when and where you can. They make a difference nutritionally as well as in terms of flavor, and there are no more compelling reasons than those.