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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

We Tried 5 Methods for Storing Fresh Herbs and There Was a Clear Winner

published Aug 26, 2023
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Fresh herbs are culinary powerhouses we lean on to add flavor and color. Just a handful of chopped fresh parsley can transform a dish from flat to fresh, while a sprig of fresh mint can elevate a drink from boring to undeniably refreshing.

But using up fresh herbs isn’t always easy — especially when recipes rarely call for an entire bunch to be used, which results in a stockpile of leftover herbs in your crisper drawer that ultimately go to waste. After just a day or two those beautiful, leafy bunches of herbs wilt and discolor. Throwing out the unused herbs is one of the most dreaded parts of buying them (they’re expensive!), so we often avoid purchasing them just to prevent that from happening.

To help save your herbs from going bad, we put five common storing methods to the test. We bought a bunch of fresh parsley, divided it into five equal portions, and stored it for an entire week. Every day we checked in on it, monitoring how fresh each method kept the parsley. Some of the methods performed better than others, but there was one clear winner that kept the parsley fresh all week. Here are the methods we tested.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How We Tested These Herb-Storing Methods

The first thing I did was search the internet for the most reliable and trusted methods of storing fresh herbs. After a bit of research, I narrowed it down to five storing methods that were the most popular. The first two methods I decided on were wrapping them in paper towels and stashing them in zip-top bags. Some people claimed that using dry paper towels worked best, while others swore by damp paper towels, so I tested both methods. The second most popular storing method I came across was storing them in a few inches of water in Mason jars, like flowers. Again, this method had a bit of discrepancy online. Some people claimed that covering them loosely with a zip-top baggie worked best, while others claimed that keeping them uncovered was the way to go, so I tested both. I also wanted to test storing the herbs directly in their bag from the produce section to see what would happen, so I used this method as the control.

To keep things fair, we divided the same bunch of Italian, flat-leaf parsley into five equal parts for the test. I let the tests sit in the fridge for one week and checked in every day.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Storing Method: Stored in a Mason Jar of Water in the Fridge, Covered (aka the Covered “Bouquet” Method)

  • Rating: 4/10

About This Method: One of the most popular methods for storing herbs I came across online was the “bouquet method.” This method of storing herbs has you place the herbs stem-side down in a Mason jar filled with water, just like you would a bouquet of fresh flowers (hence the name). The idea is that the stems drink up the water and keep the leaves crisp, hydrated, and fresh. Within this method, there were two sub-methods that people swear by: Some people cover the top of the herb bouquet with a plastic bag, while others leave it uncovered. This test is for the covered variation (more on the non-covered one below), which was a bit more common and the logic seemed to check out: According to Bon AppétitThis method allows moisture to stay in while ethylene escapes,” resulting in herbs that stay fresher for longer. I placed the parsley in a Mason jar filled with a few inches of water, loosely covered the top with a large zip-top bag, and popped it in the fridge.

Results: This method did not work very well. A lot of the parsley was wilted and the leaves became limp and lost their color.

My Takeaway: Not only did it seem like there was no benefit to covering the parsley, but it also actually seemed to make it wilt faster. The parsley was sad, wilted, and no longer fit to to cook with. I sadly had to throw out about 50% of it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Storing Method: Wrapped in a Dry Paper Towel and Stored in a Zip-Top Bag

  • Rating: 5/10

About This Method: Hands-down the most common method I found online for storing fresh herbs is to roll them in a paper towel, place the roll into a zip-top baggie, and stash it in the fridge. But, again, there are two camps that people stick to for this method: Some people use dry paper towels, while others claim that damp towels work better. This first test uses dry paper towels. The idea is that the dry paper towel absorbs the excess moisture that can cause the herbs to wilt, and the dry environment prevents them from growing mold. It’s the same logic behind storing fresh salad greens with a paper towel. The idea seemed to check out, but the results proved otherwise.

Results: This method was not very successful. The paper towel (despite starting off dry) was wet by the third day. The herbs were still green, but pretty limp. The stems were no longer crisp and perky, and the leaves lost their structure.

My Takeaway: The herbs were still good enough to be chopped up and thrown into a recipe that gets cooked (like falafel), but I wouldn’t use them in a salad or as a garnish. For the amount of effort it took to wrap the parsley, I don’t think this was worth it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Storing Method: Stored Directly in Produce Bag

  • Rating: 7/10

About This Method: We used this method as the control. We stored the parsley directly in the grocery store produce bag and stashed it in the fridge — no trimming, washing, or drying at all. We lightly rolled the bag up and placed it seam-side down in the fridge.

Results: This method was surprisingly successful. The herbs stayed moist, perky, and crisp. There wasn’t a ton of wilting and they remained bright green and relatively fresh. The main issue is that the tops of the herbs that were nearest the opening of the bag dried out and wilted — and the bag accumulated a good amount of moisture that caused some of the leaves to get slimy.

My Takeaway: This method wasn’t terrible, so if you’re pressed for time you can leave your herbs in their produce bags. After a week, almost the entire bunch was useable and I only had to throw away about 20% of it. It was surprisingly successful.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Storing Method: Stored in a Mason Jar of Water in the Fridge, Uncovered

  • Rating: 7.5/10

About This Method: This test was just like the bouquet method, only without covering the top of the herb bundle with a bag. I placed a bunch of parsley into a Mason jar filled with water and popped it directly into the fridge.

Results: This technique kept the parsley fresher than the covered variation, but the results were still not that impressive. I only had to throw out about 20% of the parsley, which is about how much went to waste in the control method.

My Takeaway: This method did seem to extend the shelf life better than just storing it in the produce bag, but only marginally. And the biggest downside is that any leaves that come into contact with the water get slimy. It’s a pretty solid method of storing herbs, and it beat out most of the other tests, but it’s not a game-changer.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Storing Method: Wrapped in a Damp Paper Towel and Stored in a Zip-Top Bag

  • Rating: 9/10

About This Method: This method is the same exact process as the paper towel-wrapped method, only using damp paper towels instead of dry. You just wrap them in a damp paper towel, place the roll into a zip-top baggie, and store it in the fridge. But the trick is to make sure that the paper towel is damp, not wet. Getting the paper towel too wet can result in mold growth. We ran our paper towel under water and wrung out the excess moisture. HuffPost notes that this method is best for “herbs such as cilantro and parsley,” and The Pioneer Woman also swears by using damp paper towels to store her herbs, so I was eager to give it a try.

Results: This method worked significantly better than wrapping the herbs in dry paper towels. After a week in the fridge the parsley looked just as fresh as it did when I first bought it.

My Takeaway: The damp paper towel remained damp all week, but it never seemed like it was too wet or sopping. I didn’t have to throw out any of the parsley and it was just as crisp and green as the day I bought it.

The Biggest Takeaways

After testing all of these methods for storing herbs, the clear winner was wrapping the parsley in damp paper towels and storing it in a zip-top baggie. It kept the parsley fresh and vibrant, and there was practically no spoilage — even after seven days. But if you are short on time or simply don’t have zip-top baggies on hand, storing herbs in grocery store produce bags is surprisingly successful. It doesn’t keep them as fresh, but it beat out several of the other methods and is a great, easy alternative.

Your turn: What’s your go-to method for storing herbs? Let us known in the comments!

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: We Tried 5 Methods for Storing Fresh Herbs and Found a Clear Winner