How much difference to herbs like basil, coriander, and thyme actually make to a meal?

Question by dfgs: How much difference to herbs like basil, coriander, and thyme actually make to a meal?
I’m a student so naturally my budget is quite low. I’ve been following some recipes which I really like but they always include fresh herbs such as basil, coriander, and thyme which at a lot to the price of a meal. How much difference would it make if I cut these out?

Best answer:

Answer by Lucus
it depends on the flavors your going for. you don’t “need” them but it does taste better with them. if your worried about cost you could try substituting in dry herbs.

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  1. There is a lot of flavour in fresh herbs and they can make or break a dish.
    Try growing some if fresh ones are too expensive. Alternatively look in the cooking section in the supermarket for dried herbs (usually in bottles or plastic packets). They aren’t quite as good as fresh herbs but better than none at all.

  2. It sort of depends on the dish you are making. Fresh parsley goes with and will brighten up almost any dish. It is also relatively inexpensive. I find most slow cooked dishes like stews, pasta sauce, braised meats etc. are actually better with dried herbs. The flavor of fresh herbs will often dissipate in dishes that are cooked for over 30 minutes.

    I have succeeded in growing Basil, Thyme, Chives and oregano in a planter on my indoor window sill. The chives, thyme and oregano are going on three years. Basil plants usually last 2-3 months. If you don’t need a lot of the fresh herbs for a dish, growing your own is a much cheaper way to go. For large amount of basil, check out your local farmer’s market. If you have any outdoor space, most herbs are pretty hearty.

    Edit: For quick sauces or dishes, like marinara sauce, browned butter sauce, omelets, fish, etd, dried dill works, but other than that fresh herbs are better. I do think $ 3-$ 4 is a lot for a tiny bunch of fresh herbs especially if the recipe calls for a several tablespoons. It is also wasteful, if the recipe only calls for a spring or two. However, as the other answerer said fresh Cilantro is pretty cheap and will make or break fresh salsa which is not cooked.

  3. Here is a suggestion buy some herb plants and start your own in a flower pot. I will tell you they add so much flavor, crunch, freshness that no other ingredient can give you. It’s like putting icing on a cake or adding chocolate syrup to vanilla ice cream. It does make a difference. Recently I made some spring rolls using rice paper and veggies if I left out the Asian basil and fresh green coriander (cilantro) I’d be missing that special zing the herbs give you. Good luck. Oh you can put all three plants in one medium sized flower pot. Give it a try. Get some good potting soil too that has fertilizer that releases slowly. I better stop now or I’ll tell you more than you want to know. :)

  4. I actually don’t think these are of any real cost to most meals. But, from my experience, it usually can make or break a dish. Like Salsa without cilantro would be just horrible, and same with marinara sauce without basil. Maybe I’m lucky, but here in New Jersey, herbs aren’t THAT expensive.

    Basil is what, 3-4$ right now for a plant? Most dishes need 10 leaves maximum, and the plant is probably about 40 leaves? so it’s $ 1 to the dish. Except for the fact that the basil can be planted and the leaves will grow back? (well until the sunlight lowers in the fall again) So, just buy 1-2 basil plants and that will cover your basil use for 3/4 of the year?

    Coriander/Cilantro and parsley are cheap = $ 1-2 per bunch, and a bunch can be used for 3-4 dishes and kept in a refrigerator for a month?

    Rosemary, thyme, sage, and others come in pre-packed containers that are 3-5 each, but usually have enough in there to last for 5 dishes or so. Also, they last for a while in the refrigerator as well, rosemary can last even up to 3 months.

    But, if you don’t want to do it. Dishes will still work without them, or you can use dried versions as well. Maybe your best bet is to just make a few dishes without them and see for yourself. If you really are that low-budget, just eat rice and gravy or spaghetti all day.

  5. Basil is incredibly easy to grown indoors on a window sill. You can take cuttings and root them in water and clone the plant many times. It is an annual, and you will have to buy a new one every year. I find no matter how carefully I tend mine, I end up with dead stalks by April.

    Thyme, I find dried thyme works just fine.

    Cilantro has a very distinctive flavour and there really is no substitution. I’ve not had much luck growing it, but if you stand it upright in a jar of water in your fridge and cover the top loosely with a plastic bag (don’ secure it to the sides) it will last around a month.

  6. Herbs add a lot of flavour. Fresh herbs are generally pretty cheap, actually; it’s just that you’ll rarely use the whole bundle before it goes bad, so it feels like a waste. But generally they’re only like $ 1-2 per bundle.

    If that really seems like too much, I’d advise either
    -grow the herbs yourself -in a potted plant, keep next to a very sunny window, and/or keep a compact florescent light shining on them (just look for a CFL bulb, put it in your normal lamp). Your local grocer or farmer’s market should have teeny ones for like $ 2.
    -just use dried; the flavour won’t be as fresh and bright, but it will be similar. To convert, generally use 1/3 as much dried as you would fresh. So, 1 tbsp fresh=1 tsp dried. If you go to a bulk food store and buy them, they’re really, really cheap. (You pay by weight, so even if the cost looks like a lot it comes out to almost nothing; I always get several baggies for a dollar or less).

  7. trust me, i understand your situation. though the spices/herbs may be expensive in itself, you only get to use a little at a time, ain’t it?

    but what i do is this: i buy all my favorite spices/herbs and make a really nice mix, so i end up with a big cup of spices equivalent to the quantity of ALL combined and that tastes better (i call it my food sweetener ;), and lasts much longer.

    so this way, plus the way i cook, i only get to buy them 3 times a year or maximum 4 times a year.