Still, despite its culinary prowess, having fresh basil on hand at all times isn't always doable. It can feel wasteful to buy a bunch at the grocery store when a recipe only calls for a tiny bit. Or, maybe you've tried keeping a basil plant alive and failed (been there). The solution? Dry basil.
Dry basil makes it super convenient to add the herb to any dish while eliminating food waste. According to Serena Poon, a celebrity chef, nutritionist, and reiki master, dried herbs can stay fresh for about a year as long as they're kept in a cool place away from moisture.
Flavorwise, you may taste a difference between dry basil and fresh basil, but in a good way. "The flavor tends to be a bit more earthy than the bright flavor of fresh basil, so it can lend to dishes in different ways," Poon says.
While fresh basil is great for salads, as garnish, or in made-to-order dressings, Poon says dried basil is the way to go if you're making something warm and cozy. In particular, she loves adding dried basil to sauces and seasonings. "Blended together with other seasonings and oils and heated really helps the basil flavors soak into a composition," she says.
Beyond just flavor, basil also provides numerous health benefits. "Basil oils are known to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties," Poon says. "It has also been shown to support decreased inflammation and stress and improved immune function, cognition, and oral health."
In short, you need basil in your life. And dry basil, in particular, is great to have on hand for spontaneous dishes. And while yes, you can purchase already dried basil at the grocery store, drying it yourself is actually pretty easy.
How to dry basil
There are many different ways to dry basil. Poon prefers doing so in a dehydrator as it's the easiest method. But if you don't have one at home, you can get the job done in the oven on very low heat or by hanging it up. Here's how to dry basil in three different ways, step by step.
Start by prepping your herbs
No matter what method you're using to dry your basil, start by gathering all your fresh basil leaves in a large bowl, Poon says.
Next, wash and de-stem all the leaves. (If you're opting to hang dry your basil, Poon advises skipping the de-stemming step.) Once your basil’s nice and clean, pat them between paper towels to remove extra moisture. Don't skimp on this step. Poon says it's important that all the leaves are fully dry before placing them in a dehydrator or oven.
Using a dehydrator
First spread the fresh basil leaves onto the dehydrator rack, Poon says. Then set it to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the basil leaves to dehydrate for up to 24 hours. Poon recommends checking in every few hours to see if the basil is ready.
In the oven
Start by spreading the basil leaves onto a cookie sheet. Next, Poon instructs setting your oven to the lowest temperature, ideally 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the cookie sheets in the oven for 90 minutes up to four hours. Poon emphasizes that it's important to keep an eye on the basil while it's in the oven as you don't want it to burn or catch on fire.
Poon points out that this method is not as consistent as a dehydrator or oven results-wise, takes way longer, and tends not to work in humid climates. With that in mind, if this is the simplest option for you, take your bundle of fresh basil—remember, this basil-drying method requires that you leave the stems in tact—and tie a string around the stems, Poon says.
Next, place a paper bag over the basil leaves, and attach it to the stems with a rubber band. Once that's secure, hang the bag upside down with clothespins or strings in a cool, dark place. Poon says it can take about a month for the basil to dry using this method, and whatever method you try, she says you'll know when your basil is dry and ready when you can grab a piece of it with your hand and it crumbles.
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