Top 5 Things You Need to Know
- Taste: Herbs are all over the map when it comes to taste. Herbs offer a punch of flavor, from mild to spicy, to whatever dish they are a part of.
- Selection: Choose fresh herbs that are green and show no obvious signs of decay. Avoid wilted or shriveled herbs.
- Use: Herbs are used to add flavor to everything from baked goods to drinks.
- Merchandising: Offer a variety of fresh herbs and even consider offering live herbs. Make your produce department the destination for the gourmands in your community.
- Health: Herbs have long been used in medicine and are the basis of many medical remedies.
On the shelves
Herbs come in many varieties. Knowing how to use and care for each variety is important for consumers.
Also known as rocket and roquette, this Mediterranean salad plant is a member of the mustard family and a relative of the radish. Arugula has a pungent, peppery and slightly smoky taste that complements such Mediterranean foods as olives, garlic, tomatoes, peppers and olive oil. Arugula must be refrigerated or it will turn yellow.
Basil adds a clove-like aroma and pungent taste to tomatoes, squash, cabbage, beans, pasta, poultry, pesto or spaghetti sauce, pizza or seafood. Its taste is a combination of anise, clove and mint. Leaves vary in color from green to red-purple. Leaf size also varies, ranging from small common basil leaves to the larger leaves of lettuce leaf basil. They are delicate so handle with care. Basil probably is the most versatile of herbs. It blends well with garlic, lemon, fennel, marjoram, oregano, thyme and curry.
Bay leaves have a strong, distinctive flavor that mellows in cooling. Use this aromatic and pungent herb to season soups, stews, stuffing, poultry dishes, game, fish and tomato-based sauces. Try threading the leaves with marinated swordfish in a seafood kabob.
Chervil has a delicate flavor of parsley and mild anise with hints of licorice, pear and pepper. Chervil can be added to stews, fish and steamed vegetables, but it can also be used in salads, salad dressings, meat dishes, savory sauces and egg dishes. It makes a great chopped garnish. It can be used as a substitute for tarragon in salad dressing. The name comes from the Greek word meaning “herb of joy.”
A mild, onion- and garlic-flavored herb, chives will enhance the flavor of almost any savory dish. Use them in place of raw onion in any recipe where a milder flavor is needed. Sprinkle liberally over fish, chicken or egg dishes or a steaming baked potato. Chives enhance almost any buttered vegetable such as carrots, beans, sweet corn, squash, peas, cauliflower or mushrooms. Use the lavender flowers of chives in salads.
Also known as Chinese or Mexican parsley, this herb has an assertive, sage-citrus flavor. Cilantro is important in Southwest fare, as well as Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine. Cilantro’s name in Chinese means “fragrant plant.” Cilantro keeps longer when the roots are attached. Coriander is the dried seed of cilantro plants.
Baby dill primarily is used as a seasoning, whereas crown dill is a stronger-tasting item used for pickling. Dill plants have feathery leaves. When purchased fresh, select plants that resemble fresh salad greens. Dill seed is a popular seasoning item. Baby dill also makes a nice garnish. Dill can stand up to cooking, but it’s best to add it at the end. Dill works well in soups, sauces and salads.
Fennel has a mild licorice flavor and is a traditional fish herb. It also works well in lamb dishes, omelets, salads and herb breads. Stalks can be used in any recipe that calls for celery or they can be used in creamy celery soup. Pouring hot water over crushed fennel seeds makes fennel tea. To prepare, cut off the stems and leaves. Use the stems for flavoring stews, soups and braises and the leaves for sprinkling over dishes as you would dill. Cut out the knob-like core in the base of the bulb.
Fiddlehead fern Kevin, can we run art of this?
This is not a species of fern but a growth stage of any fern — when the tip pokes up through the soil but has not begun to uncurl. The flavor is a mixture of asparagus, artichokes and green beans with a hint of mushroom. Think of these as you would artichoke hearts or asparagus. Serve the trimmed, boiled coils with melted butter and lemon or a light cream, cheese or hollandaise sauce, or douse with vinaigrette. Use them as a first course, to garnish meats as a side dish or as a salad. To prepare, trim the base of each fern to leave only a tiny tail beyond the circumference of each circular shape. Some fiddlehead will need to have the fuzzy or papery brown covering or scales removed by being rubbed between the palms. All should be well rinsed. If you must store fiddlehead, wrap them tightly in plastic and refrigerate for as short a time as possible. Choose bright green, firm and compact ferns. They should still have their brown scales. Avoid yellow or flimsy ferns.
Similar to chives, a garlic chive has a distinct garlic flavor and aroma and a long, thin, hollow stem. However, the stalks with flowers are round and resemble regular chives. An open flower is an indication the chive was picked from a mature plant and will not be as tender as those with unopened buds. Also known as Chinese chives and ku chai, use garlic chive in both fresh and cooked dishes. Store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Horeseradish is known for its hot, spicy taste. It can be blended with vinegar and used as a condiment or added as an ingredient in mustard. Like good black pepper, it should be grated directly on the food soon before eating or its flavor will dissipate and the shreds will brown. To store, wrap in a slightly dampened towel, then a dry one. Kept in the refrigerator, it should last for a few weeks. If softness or moldy spots develop, scrape them off, remove the dampened towel and return to the refrigerator.
Marjoram has a sweeter, milder taste than oregano and is a frequent substitute for the more well-known herb. It is often used in place of sage in dressings. Sprinkle marjoram on fish or add it to a green salad or vegetables including mushrooms, carrots, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, squash, zucchini, celery, peas and potatoes. It is a member of the mint family.
A sweet- and spicy-flavored, aromatic herb, mint is a classic garnish and flavoring for summer drinks, fruit platters and frozen desserts. Mint is a fundamental ingredient in lamb dishes and many Middle Eastern, Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Like most herbs, mint can be tossed in green salads or mixed into soft cheeses.
Robustly flavored with hints of clove and balsam, oregano goes well with tomato dishes, meats, poultry, salad dressings, beans, shellfish and vegetables. It generally is used to season Mexican, Italian, Greek and Spanish dishes. It is similar to marjoram and thyme.
Most commonly seen as a garnish, parsley can add a mild, sweet flavor to a somewhat bitter flavor to foods. The stems have a stronger taste. Parsley has the ability to deodorize things. It can be used to purge onion or garlic from the pan in which it’s cooked. The most common types of parsley are those with curly, fringed leaves, and Italian parsley, which has flat leaves. Flat leaf holds up better and is preferred for cooking.
Spicy, strong, pinelike and sometimes sweet, rosemary goes well in beef, pork, lamb, fish and veal dishes. One of the more potent herbs, it must be cooked at least 10 minutes to release its flavor. That sweet smell you sniff from the grill is often rosemary. Add sprigs to barbecue coals or brush marinade on with sprigs of rosemary. Don’t use in fresh salads, as the flavor is much better if cooked.
Sage has an assertive, warm, but slightly bitter taste. Use sage sparingly, as the musty taste can be overpowering. It’s a traditional ingredient in stuffing, but you can add sage to mild vegetables that need a flavor wake-up. Blend the leaves with cottage cheese or cream cheese to add an unusual flavor. Sage is a natural salt substitute, and it cuts down the richness of game and fatty meats.
Use savory sparingly as its slightly warm, slightly sharp, peppery and clovelike taste can be overpowering. Use it in soups, on beans and as a meat and poultry seasoning. Add to eggs or toss into salads.
With a sharp, sour, lemony taste, sorrel resembles spinach but has pale green arrowhead-shaped leaves. Frequently used in soups and sauces, sorrel also is used as a salad green or vegetable. The leaves can be cooked whole like spinach. Sorrel leaves, stripped of their stems and slivered, can be used as an accent to mixed green salads or a fresh garnish to soup or cooked vegetables.
Tarragon’s flavor is spicy, aromatic and sharp, with a hint of anise and mint. Use it sparingly because its flavor can overwhelm a dish. An accenting herb, it can enhance poultry, fish and shellfish. It tends to remove the fishy flavor from fish. Use lightly in egg dishes and on broiled meats. Do not ice.
Thyme is used as a spicy, clove-like addition to Creole and Cajun dishes and to season meat or poultry stuffing. It blends well with bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley and garlic. Use sparingly as its flavor is strong.
Don’t let your herbs dry out. Keep them refrigerated and ventilated in a cool, dry spot in the produce case. If you take them out of their bags for display, be sure to keep them damp so the leaves do not get damaged. Rotate the display once a day and be diligent in culling herbs that show signs of spoilage.
Prepackaged herbs must be kept dry, so keep them away from the misters. Don’t let your herbs get friendly with ethylene-producing vegetables. The ethylene gas will cause the herbs leaves to turn yellow.
Place herbs next to cooking vegetables where they will be easy to find. Educate your consumers that herbs are best used the same day they are purchased, but the best way to store herbs is in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Display a usage chart for herbs near your herb display.
Increase herb sales by introducing your shoppers to herb combinations. Combine a strong herb with one or more mild-flavored ones and sell them as a group. For poultry dishes, bundle a celery stalk with a sprig of fresh parsley, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and a bay leaf and tie in a cheesecloth bag. For game birds, add six juniper berries to the bundle. Tie together sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, savory, mint and parsley for lamb dishes. For beef stews, add orange peel and remove the mint. For pork dishes, bundle sprigs of fresh sage, thyme and marjoram. Bundled fresh dill, tarragon and lemon zest are great for seafood dishes.
Making the sale
Know your complementary tastes. Cross-merchandise thyme and zucchini. Place basil next to tomatoes. Dill and tarragon are favorite fish seasonings. Sage is the most popular taste for poultry, and rosemary has a beautiful relationship with lamb.
Appeal to consumers’ natural affinity to cook traditionally at the holidays by promoting fresh herbs in holiday displays.
Include herbs in New Year’s promotions aimed at health-conscious consumers. Promote herbs as an alternative way to get flavor without adding harmful things like salt, fat, sugar or extra calories to a meal.
Include herbs in summer holiday and grilling displays to encourage consumers to use them in rubs and meat seasonings.
Promote herbs like basil and dill during harvest season as people begin to use up the bounty of their gardens by pickling and making tomato sauces.
No Cinco de Mayo display is complete without fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley to round out the salsa fixings.
On the plate
Take good care of your herbs as they offer important flavor in your dishes. Put herbs, except basil, in the cooler as soon as they arrive. To store herbs, wash them, pat them dry and wrap loosely in plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag. They’ll keep for about a week. To freeze herbs after they have been washed and patted dry, package in plastic freezer bags or containers.
Herbs are easy to freeze. Either cut or whole leaves can be frozen. For mint, oregano, parsley or sage, remove leaves from stems before freezing. Freeze chervil, dill, marjoram, rosemary, savory, tarragon and thyme on their stems. Freeze basil in ice cube trays after rinsing it in olive oil. Label all packages with the herb name and date of freezing. They’ll keep for up to one year. The flavor will remain fresh, although there may be a slightly softer texture in the leaves.
Know your herbs when you are creating new dishes. Some strong, dominant-tasting herbs are cilantro, rosemary and sage. Moderate herbs include basil, dill, fennel, tarragon, marjoram, savory and thyme. Delicate herbs include chervil, chives and parsley. Keep in mind that cooking will alter the flavor of many herbs. Avoid overcooking to retain each herb’s distinctive flavor. Add fresh herbs as the last step in preparing warm or hot dishes to maintain flavor, color and fragrance. Use 2 teaspoons of a fresh herb per three- or four-serving recipe of meat, vegetables or fish.
1 tablespoon fresh herbs = about 1 teaspoon dry herbs
Nutrition and health
Studies show that horseradish contains glucosinolates that have been shown to help prevent cancer. Dill, like garlic, can prevent bacterial growth. Dill also contains properties that allow it to help neutralize certain kinds of carcinogens. Fennel has been shown in studies to have anti-inflammatory properties.
At the register
4884 – arugula
4885 – basil
3062 – bay leaves
3084 – chervil
4888 – chives
4889 – cilantro
4891 – dill
4892 – dill, baby
4515 – fennel
4894 – lemon grass
4895 – marjoram
4896 – mint
4897 – oregano
4899 – parsley, regular
4901 – parsley, Italian
4903 – rosemary
4904 – sage
3139 – savory
4905 – sorrel
4906 – tarragon
4907 – thyme
In the backroom
Most herbs are shipped in packages containing 6, 12 or 30 bunches, bags or tubs.
RPC 6409, 6411, 6413
One-pound units are sold most often with some 1⁄4- and 1⁄2-lb. units.
There are no official U.S. Department of Agriculture grades for herbs, but many growers have rigid shipping guidelines. Herbs are judged on flavor, appearance, leaf shape and to a lesser extent, color.
Temperature: oregano, 48 to50 F, 9 to10 C; basil, 50 to55 F, 10 to12.8 C– temperatures lower than48 F,9 C, will cause basil to turn black; all others, 38 to42 F, 3.3 to5.8 C.
Typical shelf life: bag, five or more days; tub, seven or more days when stored at proper temperatures.
Do not mist herbs; packaged herbs retain moisture. Watering herbs creates condensation in the bags, causing premature deterioration. However, if you must remove herbs from bags for display purposes, it’s important to keep them damp. If herbs become dry from air exposure, leaf damage will occur.
Fennel stalks do not store well – only three to four days. They quickly dry out and lose their flavor. For optimum keeping, cut the stalks from the bases, wrap separately in plastic and set in the coldest part of the refrigerator. If fennel seems listless, soak in ice water in the refrigerator for an hour or two.
Fiddlehead ferns do not store well. Although they do not spoil rapidly, they quickly lose their fresh flavor and elastic tone.
Put herbs, except basil, in the cooler as soon as they arrive.
For basil, oregano and mint, black spotting is a sign of deterioration. Yellowing is an indication of deterioration in all other herbs.
Keep fresh herbs in their original plastic shipping bags in your cooler. The closed bag creates a stable environment for herbs. Should herbs ever arrive heated, open bags to release excess moisture. Leave open about two to three hours, then close so as not to dehydrate the herbs.
Pounds sold in 2011 – 89,100,409
Pounds sold in 2010 – 86,775,178
Average price per pound in 2011 – $3.83
Average price per pound in 2010 – $3.93
Retail sales in 2011 -- $341,497,635 Percent of total produce sales 2011 – 1%
Retail sales in 2010 -- $341,098,528 Percent of total produce sales 2010 – 1%
Figures do not include Wal-Mart sales.
Source: FreshLook Marketing