Do you make use of basil when making your favourite meat, vegetable or salad dishes? Have you ever started your own herb garden with basil and maybe other herbs but lost interest when the leaves started to wither away and rot? Or maybe you grew the garden to a bountiful harvest and then did not know how to preserve to keep the leaves for use throughout the year? If you are guilty of both of these tragedies in the loss of perfectly good basil, then you should definately read our must-know tips about drying basil and see how you can preserve the rich fresh taste of this wonderful herb so you can enjoy it throughout the year.
Basil is one of those herbs that contain a lot of moisture so drying methods may differ with basil (to a degree) as it needs to be dried quickly so it does not mold. There are many methods to be used in drying, like air drying, (flat or hanging), using a dehydrator, using an oven or as a last resort, a microwave as high heat seems to actually cook the herb and diminishes the oils, thus reducing flavour and taste.
Before you start drying basil, it is good to know when is the best time to cut and prepare the herb for this process. Basil leaves are a beautiful colour of green, holding a rich aromatic aroma in a lush moisture-filled leaf that (when healthy) grows in large bunches. The best time to cut basil for drying is when it is holding the most oil and emits its strongest aroma; this is just before it flowers. If it has flowered already, basil can still be harvested and dried, albeit without as much oil or aroma.
During your harvesting process, always cut basil in large bunches. There is debate on whether basil should be rinsed before drying or not. Some feel that rinsing will lose some of the basil’s essential oils while others feel it needs to be rinsed. If you opt to rinse, then do so in cold water after removing insects and old damaged leaves from the bunch that you will dry.
If you are going to air dry (which is considered the best approach) for Drying Basil, then you need to place each rinsed leaf on a paper towel. Leaves should be separated so they do not touch each other and the paper towels holding them can be stacked on top of each other in layers of five. This allows plenty of room for air to circulate in between the layers for optimum drying effect without clamping the moisture together.
Using a dehydrator to dry your basil is an excellent choice if you need to dry it in large quantities. This is basically because a dehydrator is designed for this specific purpose and has plenty of room and racks where the herb can be placed in single layer while allowing maximum circulation and correct amount of heat for slow (but fast) drying process. Dehydrators can be used to dry just about anything else as well, so this is one appliance that is well worth the money invested.
Using a warm/cool oven to dry herbs is sometimes a good inexpensive choice as well. The best approach in using an oven for this process is to slightly heat it up at 140 to 200 degrees. Then, turn it off and pop in your leaves, stacked the same way for air drying. Do not get your oven too hot, as this will result in the loss of flavor. If the leaves take two days to dry, then twice a day, you will want to re-heat your oven and then immediately turn it off. This will be needed so the oven does not cool too much and the dry warm air is captured inside the oven, thus aiding the drying procedure.
You can also dry herbs (believe it or not) with a dehumidifier. Basically the process is to place branches of basil (not even single leaves) on a cake cooling racks and place the racks by the outlet being used by the appliance. This is where all of the warm dry air is released and the best place for the air to circulate between the racks.
You can also hang this herb to dry and in this instance, it is highly recommended that you forego rinsing. Cut the stalks about six inches above ground level and tie together in small bunches. Hang these bunches upside down so the oil from the stalks can slowly drop down to the leaves. Hang in a warm place but out of direct sunlight. You can put a small paper bag over each bunch to keep them dust-free; but if you do this, place several holes in the bag so air can continue to circulate or mold will begin.
After the leaves are dried, regardless of the process used, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place. The leaves can be crushed before storing or before use, but basil does retain more flavor if left whole. This herb can last for years if dried and stored properly, but for best results, use within one year. After all, you will have another batch next spring, putting you back into the pleasurable hobby of Drying Basil.
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