Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Prepper's Pantry: Preserving Herbs and Spices

Now that harvests are pretty much complete in most of the country, it's time to start preserving our harvests. In previous posts I've talked about the equipment and process of canning, pickling, and a brief overview on spices.

Dealing with herbs and spices is fairly simple, or at least it can be. As with any food preservation process, making sure the produce is of best quality is the most important first step. Once they've been examined, sorted, and rinsed, we can move on to preservation, with different options available depending on the type of vegetation we're dealing with. Dehydrating and freezing are the two most common options, so I'll focus on those processes here.

Dehydration can be handled in an oven, an air fryer, or a dedicated dehydrator. If using a dehydrator, it's recommended to get one with a fan as that will considerably reduce the time required.

As with any other form of dehydration, the trick is to get as much moisture out as possible without burning or singing the product. This is one of the benefits of a dedicated dehydrator, as they generally operate at a relatively low temperature.

Before dehydrating the checked and cleaned vegetation, the next step will depend on the herb or spice in question. Those with smaller leaves, such as oregano or rosemary, get processed on the branches, while those with larger leaves, such as basil or bay, are separated from them. Parsley simply has its stems trimmed.

Once sufficiently dried (and if appropriate, the leaves removed from their branches) the next step is storage. Depending on intended use, they can be left relatively whole, crumbled by hand, or run though a spice grinder or spice mill to get more of a powder-like product.

Regardless, they need to be properly stored, since oxidation is the enemy. For ready use, spices and herbs can be placed in small, airtight jars and stored in a cool, dark place. Adding an oxygen absorber to each container can help preserve freshness. Longer term storage should be in vacuum sealed bags, also containing oxygen absorbers, and still placed in a cool, dark place.

A selection of dehydrated herbs from the author's pantry

Another option for some leafy herbs is freezing. The leaves are separated from the stems, rinsed, and then layered in slightly damp paper towels, before being packed in Ziploc or vacuum sealed bags. These get labeled with the date and put in the freezer. Since no moisture is being removed (in fact, more is being added), herbs stored this way should be used within a few months at most; otherwise, too much flavor will be lost to freezer burn.

There's no point to growing our own herbs and spices if we lose them to spoilage. Hopefully, these tips will keep them fresh through the long winter months to come.

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