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Shopping for Herbs

Do you have a recipe that requires fresh herbs but you don’t know where to buy them? Need more information on how much fresh herbs are generally included in a single package, or want to know how to convert recipes that call for dried herbs into recipes that call for fresh? What are some uses for leftover herbs when a package includes more than you need for a specific recipe? This guide can help you answer these common questions.

Packaged Herbs

Fresh herbs come in many packages, amounts, and varieties. When you are shopping in your grocery store, you can usually find packaged herbs in clear, plastic containers in the refrigerated produce section, sometimes near the lettuces, mushrooms, or other vegetables. These plastic containers often come in different sizes such as 1/4 ounce, 3/4 ounce, 1 ounce, 2 ounces, or 4 ounces. The benefit of these packages is that the plastic container provides a clean and convenient way to store the herbs in your refrigerator when you get home. The plastic packaging also means that other people have not touched the leaves in search of the best-looking package. Different stores carry different varieties of herbs in packages. Some carry only the most popular, such as basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, oregano, dill, mint, and bay leaves. Others carry as many as twenty-five different varieties. If your store does not seem to carry what you are looking for, always feel free to ask the produce manager; he or she may have just what you’re looking for tucked away in the stock room. If not, your request may encourage your store to start carrying that particular item. fresh-cut-herb-clamshell-sizes-2013

Herb Bunches

Usually located very near the packaged herbs are fresh herb “bunches.” As you can probably guess, this is a bunch of herbs held together using a twist tie. Herb bunches usually weigh about 1 ounce, depending upon the grocery store and fresh herb retailer. Bunches are an economical way to purchase herbs; often times you receive more herbs per ounce than you would by buying a plastic container. Be sure to check each bunch well and look for damaged, slimy or dried leaves, as these herbs can sometimes break down at a quicker rate than the herbs in plastic containers.

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Living Herbs

Some grocery stores also carry a line of living herbs. These are herbs that are either hydroponically grown or grown in soil but that are still attached to the root, thus they are still “living.” Some stores carry only living basil plants, but other stores carry a wider variety of these living herbs. You will usually find living herbs in the middle section of the produce department, away from the refrigeration. Many stores place them near the tomatoes. The benefit of buying fresh herbs this way is that you can keep them alive in your kitchen and snip the leaves off to use in your cooking as needed.

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What Type to Buy

So how do you know which type of herb product to buy? It depends on how you intend to use the herbs. The living herbs are a wonderful addition to a kitchen as they are aromatic, colorful, and very easy to use. You will need to give them some water every other day, but you can trim the leaves as you like and the plant will last in your kitchen for 10-20 days. If you prefer to have fresh herbs that you can store in your refrigerator or if you want to use a large quantity of herbs all at once, then either the packaged herbs or herb bunches would be your best option. These herb products should be used within 7-10 days of purchase.

Common Questions

Is there an expiration date on herbs?

The answer is: not exactly. As soon as the herbs are cut from the root, the decaying process begins. Some herb varieties decay at a quicker rate than others. For example, chives and arugula may only last in your refrigerator for 5-7 days while thyme and rosemary may last for 15 or more days. The best way to judge whether the herbs are still good is to look at them. If herbs are developing slimy leaves, mold, or a bad odor, discard them immediately. If you do not notice any of these signs of decay, you can safely assume that the herbs are still good to use. Do remember though that basil and oregano need to be treated differently than other herbs. They need to be stored in the warmest part of your refrigerator (their ideal temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit). If they get too cold, you will notice “cold damage” on their leaves; this appears in the form of dark spots. If you find dark spots on your basil or oregano, consider storing these item in the drawer of your refrigerator or keeping them on your kitchen counter. If your herbs do develop dark spots, they are still okay to use as long as the leaves are not slimy and do not have mold on them. Their flavor will still be strong.

If a recipe calls for a a certain volume of chopped herbs, what amount of packaged herbs should you buy?

This is a very common question. When you purchase herbs, they are whole; the leaves are not chopped. Most recipes call for the herbs to be chopped or minced. If you buy a 1/4 ounce package, it usually contains about 2 tablespoons of chopped herbs. A 3/4 or 1 ounce package will contain about 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped herbs. An herb bunch will contain about 3/4 to 1 cup of chopped herbs, and a living plant may contain up to 2 cups of chopped herbs.

Got leftover herbs and don’t want to waste them?

You have many different options. You can visit our recipe section for more recipe containing your herb of choice. You can also visit our hints and tips section or our section on using leftover herbs. On the “30 Seconds to Taste” page, you can find out how Morgan Mint uses fresh herbs in everyday meals.

Can living herb plants be planted outside?

Keeping living herbs in the kitchen allows you to have easy access to them and is a daily reminder of the wonderful flavors that fresh herbs can add to your meals, but some people prefer to keep their herb plants out of doors. To plant your living herb outside, simply remove the plant and roots from the plastic pot in which you purchased them and transplant them into your garden or into a larger pot. It is best to keep most herb plants in a partly sunny location, avoiding full sun if possible. Water your herb plant when the soil is dry, and cut the leaves as you need them for your meals.

Have a recipe that calls for dried herbs but prefer to use fresh?

Generally, you need three times the amount of fresh herbs as dried. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of dried herbs, you should use 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs.  You can see a video on substituting fresh herbs for dried here.

If I buy herb bunches, what is the best way to store them?

You can find the information here in our hints and tips section.

What is the best way to chop herbs?

Different herbs require different chopping methods. Click here to see the best way to prepare fresh herbs.

5 Comments

  1. esther Polichio
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Can I plant the fresh herbs I bought in soil?

    • freshherbs
      Posted November 29, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      You can plant the living culinary herbs. To do so, simply remove the plant and roots from the plastic pot in which you purchased them and transplant them into your own garden or into a larger pot. It is best to keep most herb plants in a partly sunny location, avoiding full sun if possible. Water your herb plant when the soil is dry, and cut the leaves as you need them for your meals.

    • freshherbs
      Posted February 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      It is recommended that the plants stay in your kitchen and used in your everyday cooking.

  2. Tom Eppeland
    Posted December 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    How can I buy your living herbs or where can I buy your living herbs?
    We live in Geneva IL.

    • Dawn
      Posted December 5, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Hey Tom

      I live outside Peoria, IL and I got my plants at Fresh Market in Peoria. Hope this helps!

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