Natural Foods Merchandiser

Herb knowledge leads to smokin sales

Produce Perspectives

Our customers often have questions about produce and how to prepare it. If our produce clerks don?t know an answer, they can usually cover with the ever-popular, ?Oh, I just sauté it with a little butter and garlic.? Heck, foam packing peanuts would be good with garlic and butter.

Most produce departments are really lacking in knowledge about herbs.
But that technique won?t work with fresh culinary herbs. And I have to say, most produce departments are really lacking in knowledge about what herbs are, how to use them and how to store them. This is not a good situation, since most of our customers don?t have a very good idea of herbs? culinary value, either.

It being October (sort of the unofficial start to the indoor cooking season), I thought I would look around for some good resources so we can teach our staffs some of the benefits of these wonderful kitchen companions. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, the timing couldn?t be better, given the part herbs play in so many holiday recipes.

Here are some interesting ideas I found on the Shenandoah Growers Inc. Web site at It?s a good place to start your training.

  • Fresh herbs extend the natural flavors of the other ingredients in recipes.
  • Because of herbs? delicate flavors, prolonged cooking can be harmful. Add fresh herbs near the end of the cooking time.
  • Dried herbs are stronger than fresh herbs because their flavors are concentrated. If a recipe calls for dried herbs and you wish to substitute fresh herbs, use three times as much.
  • Chop fresh herbs and add them to cooking water, either directly or tied up in a cheesecloth bag, to enhance flavors.
  • When making bread, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped herbs per 1 pound loaf for a more complex flavor.

Now that your staff knows some of the basics, the next consumer question to prepare for is: ?What is the best way to store herbs?? There are a couple of different ways. While herbs need water to stay fresh, it is best to keep the leaves dry since excess moisture will cause them to break down more quickly. To store as a bunch, put herbs in the refrigerator with their stems in water.

Since herbs are new to many of your customers, they may not use all of their herbs in a timely manner and may wish to preserve some by drying them.

To dry fresh herbs, tie them in bundles and hang them upside down in a dark, warm, dry spot, or suspend them inside a brown paper bag and tie the bag around the herb bunches. Store the bags in a warm, dry place for several days. I found this information at, a site you can pass on to your customers.

Customers should know, however, that drying herbs destroys their antioxidant properties. Another option is to wrap fresh herbs in self-closing plastic bags and freeze them. Leafy herbs, like basil, should be blanched first.

It would be difficult to teach your crew about the differences and benefits of every fresh herb out there, so just concentrate on the most common: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon and thyme. If they can master these, it will make a big difference in your herb sales during the holidays and the rest of the year.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 10/p. 32

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