When Is It Okay to Use Dried Herbs?

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Most recipes for marinara sauce call for either dried oregano or Italian seasoning, which is mostly dried oregano and basil. When I was working on a recipe for my own red sauce, my immediate thought was replace the dried herbs with fresh. Imagine my surprise when I found after cooking two sauces side by side, one with dried oregano and one with fresh, that there was barely any difference at all! Why was that?

Many chefs assert that fresh herbs are superior to dried herbs, and they're right—most of the time. Most herbs contain flavor compounds that are more volatile than water, which means that the drying process that removes water also ends up removing flavor.

But it's not always the case, and here's why: Savory herbs that tend to grow in hot, relatively dry climates— like oregano, for instance—have flavor compounds that are stable at high temperatures and are well contained within the leaf. They have to be, in order to withstand the high temperatures and lack of humidity in their natural environment. With these dried herbs, as long as you cook them for long enough to soften them, the flavor is just as good as with fresh—and they're a whole lot cheaper and more convenient to use. This chart shows you which herbs are best used fresh and which will fare just as well when used dried (in cooked applications).

Fresh vs. Dry Herbs

Herbs Best Used Fresh  Herbs That Can Be Used Dry (When Cooked) 
Parsley  Oregano 
Basil  Rosemary 
Mint  Marjoram 
Cilantro  Bay Leaf 
Chervil  Thyme 
Chives  Sage 
Dill  Savory 

Excerpted from The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science with permission from the publisher.