Since the dawn of time people have used herbs for all sorts of reasons.
They’ve been used medicinally for ailments, many of which are still incorporated directly or synthetically in modern medicine. Herbs have also been used in cultural rites, as decorative touches in wreaths, as headdresses and as aphrodisiacs.
Herbs have also been known throughout history as good to eat.
That’s where we come in, all ye post-harvest specialists. Herbs have been around since Hercules battled a three-headed dog that dripped saliva onto Aconite, as my trusty herb source says, giving this plant its deadly poison. Along with such noxious herbs, many edible varieties have made their way into our diets, with wonderful results.
Picture that lovely line of fresh herbs in any top-notch produce department. Tangy basil, chives, lemon grass, peppery arugula, the wonderful “punch” of real oregano. I’m dating myself on this one, but who hasn’t displayed parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, in that order, on those peg hooks?
Tune into the food channels lately? All our favorite experts incorporate fresh herbs into their on-air recipes. Herbs are used in every course, even desserts and drinks (Did you remember to load up on mint for the Kentucky Derby for the mint juleps?).
Follow the path of these herbs, to the point of sale. In your store, many times that’s where today’s self-proclaimed food lovers — aka foodies — start their shopping. Which brings me to the point of this week’s message — how well are you caring for this oft-overlooked section of the produce aisle?
As a longtime buyer in foodservice, I assumed responsibility for the fresh herb category. Any package in the pick slot showing age got pitched and was replenished daily with fresh from our local vendor. Chefs get, shall we say, cranky when they received herbs that are not 100% fresh.
Same goes for retail. In your daily quality walks, herbs have to be closely inspected, culled and replenished for today’s fastidious customer. You have to know this section well, and know some basics. Rosemary is often used with potatoes, for example. Chives too. Basil is a must for salads, sauces and pesto and is cold-sensitive.
Many sources in bookstores or on the Internet can help in understanding herbs. I have a great reference: “Rodales’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs,” by Claire Kowalchik & William H. Hylton. It can easily be found online.
The thing to remember with today’s food lovers is when they know your store stocks top-notch fresh, dried or potted herbs, they become regular shoppers, and a lot of commodity-type sales result.
How’s that for an “herbal remedy” for sluggish sales?
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.