Keeping an herb garden is a rewarding way to keep fresh flavor in your life. Basil, chives, thyme, oregano and a myriad of other tasty favorites are easy to grow in the garden or planted in pots perched on the kitchen windowsill ready to be picked at a moments notice. A rich bounty is always a pleasure, but it can be frustrating to see surpluses wither away before they can be used. For those facing the end of the growing season or trying to keep up with ongoing excesses from herb plants grown indoors, the harvest can be preserved using a variety of methods. But keeping flavors from fading can be a challenge.
Drying herbs is an easy way to prepare them for long-term storage and it has its advantages. Whether air-dried or baked in the oven at low temperatures, dehydrated herbs are shelf-stable and can be stored in a cabinet or pantry. Drying may be the best bet in dealing with large batches, but is not without its disadvantages. Color loss is a given, but as the herbs dry, the oils within the leaves carrying much of the flavor lose their potency. While dried herbs are a functional flavoring, they lack the punch that make fresh herbs so appealing.
Freezing bare herbs may be a better option for preserving small batches, but even then, loss of flavor and aroma are still a concern, as oils within the leaves are released. Although nothing will quite match the taste of fresh herbs, this method for freezing fresh herbs comes pretty close and does it in cooking-friendly portions.
Using a ice cube tray, herbs that will be used for cooking can be frozen in olive oil or butter in convenient one ounce cubes to trap the flavor in fresh herbs for use all year long in soups, salads, stir-frys, pastas or marinades. Portions may be thawed for use or tossed whole into recipes for a burst of flavor when fresh herbs aren’t available and store-bought seasonings just won’t do.
Freezing Herbs in Oil or Butter
- Use herbs at their peak. Immature plants have not developed their flavor and those past their prime cannot be rescued by freezing.
- Wash leaves thoroughly and remove stems and any discolored leaves. In most cases, cubes can be added to recipes without thawing and unwanted debris may be difficult to retrieve.
- Pat dry before freezing. Trapped moisture can affect color and flavor.
- Depending on type and intended use, herbs can be chopped, minced or left whole for freezing.
- Don’t overfill trays. When a cube tray is packed too tightly with herbs, edges may be exposed to the air, leading to freezer burn.
Prepare herbs, place in ice cube tray compartments and cover with olive oil or melted butter. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer.
Once cubes have frozen completely, transfer into airtight containers marked with the date, herb type and amount.
Herbs frozen in oil or butter may be stored 6 to 9 months without significant loss of flavor.