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How do industrial kitchens thoroughly wash all dirt off of fresh herbs in the most efficient way possible (minimizing water use)?

Example: I have 20 kilos of fresh cilantro to wash to make a tomato salsa. The cilantro is full of dirt, so I want to make it completely dirt-free while using as little water as possible.

What tools and process would an industrial kitchen use to clean fresh herbs in bulk?

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    When you say "dirt" are you using the American terminology to refer to perfectly wholesome growing medium or the British terminology meaning they're contaminated by splashed mud? Are they from a known environment, or is there a risk they've been grown in untreated sewage? Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 19:00
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    I'm mainly thinking of sand, silt, clay, and rocks -- most of which are extremely hard, can damage your teeth when chewing, and are very, very unpleasant when you bite it. But, in general, anything other than the herb itself should be removed. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 19:15
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    Right, so they're soiled by mud rather than muddied by soil :-) Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 21:45
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    On a smaller scale, there have been "salad spinners" that are quite good at getting excess water off greens... by centrifugal/centripetal force... possibly after some soaking/rinsing. Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 17:56

4 Answers 4

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most farms that I use, use an agitator and a spinner. the agitator is a vat of water with high volume air bubbles introduced to gently agitate the herbs and jostle the dirt. this can refresh the slightly desiccated green, and be done for a long time. they follow with putting them in a cloth bag, and getting it into a portable unheated dryer for spinning- the model ive seen is probably a ten-ish gallon dryer. Again, its an unheated spin dryer- no heater.

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    Do you have a link to any pictures or videos of such an agitator and dryer? Are they available for purchase on alibaba or similar? Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 16:55
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    Also, what exactly is a "long time"? Seconds, minutes, hours, or days? Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 17:22
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I don’t know about ‘completely dirt free’, but putting leafy things into a large amount of water, agitating them, then lifting them out leaves much of the dirt and debris in the water.

If you let the water sit for a while, the solid matter will mostly fall to the bottom. You can then either do a new batch and risk stirring the dirt on the bottom, or you can decant it (pour or siphon off to the cleaner water on top to separate it from the dirt)

If the water gets too dirty for your liking, you can change it, or wash everything once, change the water, then wash it again in a clean change of water.

And you can repurpose any dirty water to water plants, rather than just sending it down the drain.

(Note: I am not a professional, so they may have some other redommendation)

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    And doing a couple iterations would possibly be more effective - first pass to get most of the dirt and a second to get most of what remains Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 3:28
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    Settling works well when the dirt is soil, less well when it's bits of plant. It's often worth pouring off the top, then lifting the leaves into a coarse colander and rinsing again
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 8:30
  • @fyrepenguin : agreed, it’s all about how dirty the plants were to start and how clean you need them. And some people add a little vinegar or such to the water. You can also find guides out there on how to clean vegetables to keep kosher (as they’re concerned with making sure no insects get into their food)
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 11:10
  • @ChrisH: yeah, it may be worth straining or skimming if you have a lot of plant matter. Oil will float and might need to be decanted off depending on what exactly is on the plants
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 11:12
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With such large amounts of herbs, I think Joe's answer is a good start. I would "rough wash" the herbs first by swirling them in a large container like a 10-20l plastic food container filled with water, getting the bulk of earth and dirt off, then "fine wash" in a second large container, then finally using a salad spinner to dry the herbs and remove small particles along with the rest water, as outlined in this article from SeriousEats. Change water as needed between batches.

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If the herbs are large enough and your quantity is large, run them through the washing machine several times on gentle. This beats them up a bit, but I do my mustard greens like that all the time. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with herbs if you have a lot.

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    And I say, if the herbs are large enough, meaning , they won’t fall through the holes in the washing machine basket
    – Lisa
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 4:55

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