Q. Do dry herbs and spices have the same nutritional benefits as their fresh counterparts or are they only good for flavor?
A. It depends on which herbs and spices (and which nutritional benefits) you’re talking about!
- Cinnamon, for example, is only consumed in its dried form but powdered cinnamon has been shown to help modulate the rise in blood sugar after meals.
- Ginger can be used either as a fresh root or as a dried powder but either way, has anti-inflammatory benefits. Same with garlic and onions.
- Dried spices like cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper all have high ORAC scores, which indicate antioxidant potential. A teaspoon of these spices is comparable to a serving of blueberries or strawberries.
Clearly, there is still plenty of nutritional benefit to be had from dried spices.
The Difference Between Fresh and Dried Herbs
When it comes to green herbs, some nutrients–and some flavor compounds–will inevitably be lost in the drying process, and more will be lost with extended storage. But that doesn’t mean that all dried herbs are nutritionally worthless.
How Do Fresh and Dried Herbs Compare, Nutritionally?
One ounce of fresh basil, for example, provides 30% of the DV for vitamin A, 145% of the DV for vitamin K, 8% of the DV for vitamin C. It contains 88mg of omega-3 fatty acids and has an ORAC value of 1200.
One tablespoon of dried basil (which is roughly the same amount) provides just 4% of the vitamin A, 43% of vitamin K, and only 2% of vitamin C. It only has about 33mg of omega-3 fatty acids. Apparently, quite a bit is lost in the drying process–although a third of a day’s supply of vitamin K is nothing to sneeze at. It’s also possible that the dried basil they analyzed had been sitting on the shelf for a while and that a fresher sample would have fared better.
And despite the loss of certain nutrients, the ORAC value of equivalent amounts of dried and fresh basil is actually about the same, which suggest that both are a significant source of antioxidants.
Dried and Fresh Herbs Both Have a Place in Your Kitchen
For maximum flavor and nutrition, you want to pick your herbs right before you use them. All fresh vegetables–including herbs– will lose nutritional value just sitting in your refrigerator, or the grocer’s case.
See also my podcast on growing and using herbs.
When fresh herbs aren’t an option, dried herbs still are a source of both nutrition and flavor. But again, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of flavor or nutrition from a dusty bottle of dried herbs that’s been in your cupboard for several years. Every fall, I dry a supply of oregano, rosemary, mint, and thyme—just enough to get me through the winter until I can start growing them outside again.
Monica Reinagel is a board-certified, licensed nutritionist and professionally trained chef. Her nutrition blog and coaching programs are found at NutritionOverEasy.com. Monica's “sane and scientific” approach and “foodie-friendly” advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, CBS News, Morning Edition, and in the nation’s leading newspapers,magazines, and websites. She’s a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Scientific American, Food and Nutrition magazine, My Fitness Pal, a featured commentator for WYPR-FM and WOSU-FM, as well as a busy public speaker and educator.She’s also creator of the Nutrition Diva podcast, one of iTunes’ most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts since its debut in 2008, with more than 400 episodes and over 28 million downloads in 189 countries. Monica is the author of six books, including Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet,The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan, and How to Win at Losing. Professional affiliations include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the American College of Nutrition, and the Association of Health Care Journalists.