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What is Rosemary?

Uses, purchasing, and storage.

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Fresh Rosemary

Fresh Rosemary

Photo by Craigles75 [flickr]

Rosemary is an aromatic herb that has a long history of both culinary and medicinal use. Rosemary grows in bushes with wood-like stems and short, pine like needles. Although this herb resembles pine in both appearance and scent, it is actually a member of the mint family. Rosemary is a perineal evergreen that is often grown as an ornamental shrub because of its ability to withstand harsh conditions.

How is Rosemary Used?

Rosemary is most often used to season meats, especially lamb, pork, and chicken. Chopped rosemary can be added to bread or biscuit dough, and the flavor will infuse throughout during cooking. Potatoes, beans, and lentils also pair well with rosemary. Rosemary can be quite potent and is therefor usually used sparingly.

Because both fresh and dried rosemary can have a tough, pine-needle like texture, it is usually chopped or crushed with a mortar and pestle before adding to recipes. Sprigs of rosemary with the stem intact can be added to soups and stews and then removed prior to serving.

To remove the leaves from a rosemary stem, simply pinch the tip of the stem and pull backward toward the base and the leaves should easily pull away. Further chopping of the leaves is usually done to prevent large, tough pieces of the herb.

Rosemary, along with other herbs, can be used to flavor olive oils and cheeses. The popular combination of rosemary and olive oil has found its way into crackers, chips, and soft cheese spreads. Rosemary and black pepper has also become a trendy gourmet flavor combination.

Dried vs Fresh Rosemary

Because rosemary has a low moisture content even when fresh, it retains its flavor after drying. Dried rosemary tends to have even tougher leaves and should definitely be crushed or chopped prior to adding to recipes. Dried rosemary should be kept in an air-tight container away from light and heat. When stored properly, dried rosemary will retain flavor and potency for up to a year.

Fresh rosemary is often sold in bunches or small packages containing a few sprigs. Fresh rosemary should be kept refrigerated, either in the original plastic packaging or wrapped lightly in plastic. Fresh rosemary is hearty and when stored properly should retain flavor and potency for up to two weeks.

When faced with an overabundance of fresh rosemary, it can be easily dried at home for storage and later use. To dry rosemary, simply tie sprigs together and hang the bunch inverted in a dry place. Make sure to keep the rosemary away from moisture to prevent mold and fungus growth. Once dried, store the rosemary in an air-tight container away from heat and moisture.

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