Dried herbs in the kitchen - a small addition, high pro-health value

Food additives, in the form of spices and herbs, were used thousands of years before our era for medicinal purposes and to preserve food or to improve the taste of dishes. Spices can come from different parts of the plant. They are most often used fresh, dried or frozen. There are several different divisions of spices. Herbal spices are distinguished in the flavor category, in addition to spices and seasoning vegetables.

Spices can also be divided according to the origin or content of bioactive compounds. Most often, however, herbs are distinguished into groups according to their morphological origin, i.e. according to the part of the plant from which the spice is obtained.

Dried Herbs

Dried Herbs Buy Online In Ireland

In this category, we will focus on dried herbal spices that are obtained from the leaves of spice plants. This group includes, among others: basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, lovage, tarragon, savory and rosemary. We will present their nutritional value, biologically active substances present in them, health-promoting properties and the possibility of using them in the kitchen.

The use of spices in Ireland

The spice market in Ireland and around the world is growing steadily. There is a 10% increase in the value and turnover of spices per year.

Irish people eagerly reach for traditional single-ingredient spices or mixtures such as: herbes de Provence or herb pepper. They are most often used for culinary purposes, less often for pro-health purposes. High availability and a wide range of spices on the domestic market favor their consumption. The unfavorable fact, however, is the frequent use of universal spices containing salt (vegeta type) among older consumers.

The frequency of use of natural dried herbs and spices among Irish people varies: some eat them daily (about 15%), others several times a week (18%) or "occasionally" (30%). There is a growing interest in various spices in regional cuisines, and at the same time, seasoning mixtures for specific dishes are also often used.

Ireland mainly imports herbs and spices from abroad. Our domestic share constitutes approx. 1% of both imports and global exports. Seasonal demand for spices is noticeable, e.g. festive and cucumber. The Irish market is dominated by a few leading consumers and private labels of supermarkets. Internet sales of herbs and spices are also growing. Apart from dried herbs, fresh herbs and their extracts are also popular.

Replacing salt with herbs

A very important health aspect is reducing salt intake, mainly to lower the incidence of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in Ireland. In order to improve or add flavor to dishes, it is worth replacing, at least partially, the use of salt with fresh or dried herbs. This issue was highlighted in the Pyramid of Healthy Nutrition and Physical Activity for adults, with a pictogram with herbs and spices on its side, next to the crossed salt shaker.

Drying herbs

The greatest availability of herbs occurs during the harvest season of fresh raw material. However, after harvesting, herbal plants are unstable due to the high presence of water (70-85% for the herb and leaves) and enzymatic activity.

Drying is one of the most commonly used methods of herb preservation and preservation. Drying herbs reduces the biochemical changes taking place in them, inhibits the growth of microorganisms, but it can also affect the chemical composition of the raw material and its organoleptic properties. It can take the form of natural drying, using solar radiation and ambient temperature, or in the form of more modern convection methods (drying with hot air) and sublimation (freeze-drying - dehydration of the material by freezing it earlier). Another way of preserving the product is the use of microwave radiation, the use of which allows to preserve the sensory and nutritional properties of the raw material to the greatest extent.

Acceptable forms of herb preservation are infrared radiation methods, as well as food irradiation with X rays. Products subjected to ionizing radiation do not pose a threat to human health. Radiation methods allow the product to be sterilized without heating it and without adverse changes in the composition or organoleptic properties of the raw material. Irish law requires irradiated products to be properly labeled. The Ambrosia online store offers only naturally dried herbs.

The influence of the drying process on the content of biologically active compounds is ambiguous. Most often, convection methods, characterized by high temperature and long process time, cause greater degradation of active substances, however, these changes depend on the species of herb.

Fresh plants are characterized by a higher total phenolic compound content, which correlate with the antioxidant potential of the raw material. Both fresh and dried oregano and fresh thyme have been found to be the herbs with the highest antioxidant content.

It has been shown that microwave drying allows for the preservation of the best color and more biologically active compounds in herbal oregano and basil dried in comparison to convection and sublimation methods. Microwave drying is also a process that is on average half the time shorter than convection drying. This leads to a reduction in thermal degradation and oxidation processes, preserving the antioxidant properties and the desired aroma of spices. Drying with the use of microwaves allows for obtaining high-quality herbs.

Droughts obtained in this way are still rich in bioactive compounds with pro-health properties. It should be remembered that drying, regardless of the method and temperature, affects the chemical composition of the herbs. In the case of thyme oil: the proportion of thymol, β-caryophyllene, γ-terpinene and myrcene is reduced, and carvacrol and p-cymene are increased. Freezing or convection drying at low temperatures has proven best to preserve the fragrance.

From the above information, we can conclude that there are many methods of herb drying, and it is necessary to choose the appropriate method depending on the type of raw material and the purpose of its use.

Microbiological quality of dried herbs

The microbiological quality of spices and herbs in terms of the number and type of microorganisms present in them varies greatly in the tested samples of commercially available products of this type. Spices contaminated with microorganisms may cause undesirable sensory changes in food products, shorten their shelf life, and even adversely affect the health of the consumer. Although bacterial spores are often present in herbal products, their amount usually does not exceed the maximum permitted levels and does not pose a health risk to consumers.

Fungi and yeast were rarely found in herbal samples available in stores. However, there is a risk of mold contamination of the herbs (especially during natural drying). These, in turn, can be a source of toxic aflatoxins, so you should buy herbs from trusted producers and take care of the appropriate storage of spices, preferably in glass, screwed containers, protecting the product from moisture and light.

The nutritional value of herbs

Dried herbs are characterized by a high concentration of minerals. The leaves / herb of basil, savory, marjoram or thyme and oregano contain large amounts of potassium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese.

B vitamins, vitamin C and carotenoids are the most common in spice plants. Marjoram, thyme or lovage provide the most ascorbic acid among herbs, but you should remember about its loss during drying. The major part of the chemical composition of herbs are carbohydrates (about 60 g / 100 g) [16].

Bioactive compounds contained in herbs

The most important non-nutritional ingredients, belonging to biologically active compounds, contained in herbs and spices are: essential oils, alkaloids, phenols, glycosides, carotenoids, tannins, phytoncides and dietary fiber.

Essential oils are volatile substances that give spices their fragrance. Chemically, they belong to the group of isoprenoids, which are divided into species-specific terpenes. Especially thyme, rosemary and marjoram contain large amounts of essential oils - incl. thymol, carvacrol.

Another large class of bioactive compounds in herbs are the flavonoids found in thyme, basil, oregano and lovage. Quercetin, coumarins and anthocyanins are the substances most commonly found in dried herbs. They give these spices not only a characteristic color, smell and taste, but also are responsible for the health-promoting properties of these products.

Herbal spices, such as: marjoram, thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon are characterized by a high content of tannins with a bitter aftertaste.

Health-promoting properties of herbs

The main health-promoting effects of dried herbs include their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, resulting from the presence of phenolic compounds. Basil, oregano and thyme have the greatest antioxidant potential among spice herbs. These herbs can be used in inflammatory diseases, also in the form of extracts and topical ointments, e.g. in rheumatic diseases.

The extracts obtained from the above-mentioned dried herbs have the ability to scavenge free radicals and chelate metals, which proves their antioxidant effect. Marjoram also has similar properties. Thanks to this, the use of spices reduces the risk of many diseases and also helps to slow down the aging process.

Antibacterial and antifungal properties are also characteristic of most spice herbs. Essential oils obtained from herbs are used in cosmetics, thanks to their antiseptic properties. It has been shown that oregano is one of the most active against microorganisms. Oregano is active against a wide range of bacteria and molds, including Escherichia coli, Enterobacter, Bacillus, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Candida, Fusarium, Aspergillus, Rhizopus and Penicillium. For this reason, it can be used as a natural food preservative, e.g. of animal origin (meat), limiting the growth of microorganisms that cause food spoilage and food poisoning.

Extracts of rosemary and marjoram, thanks to their antimicrobial properties, can also be used as a food preservative.

Thyme can also be categorized as an antibiotic agent because it has antibacterial properties (for example, it works against Escherichia coli and Streptococcus feacalis), it also prevents the formation of mold and can inhibit the development of aflatoxins. Studies have shown that thyme oil inhibits the growth of Helicobacter pylori.

Another study found that dried oregano, thyme and rosemary inhibited fungal colony growth more effectively than sodium benzoate.

Another health-promoting effect of dried herbs is to support the digestive process by stimulating the secretion of gastric juice, carminative and limiting excessive fermentation. They are shown, among others, by marjoram, thyme or oregano. Oregano is also anti-diarrheal and helps in the absorption of nutrients. Lovage is a component of stomach drops, prevents flatulence, and rosemary and thyme stimulate the appetite. Thyme has relaxing properties. In addition, basil and marjoram reduce the secretory and peristaltic activity of the intestines, which determines their anti-diarrheal effect (similar to oregano).

It has an expectorant and antispasmodic effect as well as a general protective effect on the respiratory system. Thyme is also used as an expectorant and relaxant, which is why it is perfect for treating respiratory system infections.

A positive effect on the urinary system has, among others, oregano, marjoram and basil, thanks to improved kidney function and slight diuretic properties. Lovage is used in urinary tract infections and prevents the formation of kidney stones.

The use of selected herbs in the kitchen:

  • Basil added to pizza, pesto, sauces - enriches the flavor of tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, green peas, cucumbers; suitable for egg dishes, fish, white cheese pastes and oil flavoring.
  • Thyme goes well with cheese, meat, fish (especially sea fish); can be added to salad dressings, vegetable salads, egg dishes, vegetables, legume seeds, poultry and game, tripe and a variety of soups; is used in the production of herbal liqueurs.
  • Lovage sauces and soups (recommended for broth), salads and vegetable casseroles, cheese, meat stuffing, for butter and scrambled eggs.
  • Marjoram meat sauces, canned food, alcoholic beverages (vermouths), meat dishes (pork, beef), vegetable and meat dishes (stews, pea soup), tripe, legume seeds; salad dressings, stewed meats, poultry, grilled fish, pizza, spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, green vegetables
  • Oregano is used for meats (fried, stewed), salads, soups, sauces (e.g. for spaghetti), pizza; goes well with tomatoes and zucchini
  • Rosemary added to, for example, roasted lamb, fish, potatoes, vegetables (zucchini, eggplant) and rice; it can also be used in the production of (tomato) soups, sauces, casseroles and grilled dishes


Natural plant spices, although consumed in relatively small amounts, are of particular importance in human nutrition. They give the desired organoleptic properties to dishes, but also constitute an important preventive element of the diet due to the high content of bioactive compounds. It is worth using both fresh and dried herbs.

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