An herb ball is a device which is designed to hold herbs, tea, and spices for the purpose of infusing food and drinks. Many kitchen supply stores carry herb balls, which may also be labeled tea balls or infusion balls, depending on the manufacturer. As a general rule, an herb ball designed for tea is somewhat smaller than an herb ball which will be used to make herb sachets and flavoring packets.
Typically, an herb ball is made from two interlocking halves of metal mesh or from finely perforated metal. The holes allow water to seep in while holding the seasonings so that they do not burst out into the food or drink which is being infused. As the seasonings in the herb ball are heated by the water, they release aromatic and flavorful oils and compounds which will leach out into the rest of the dish. Once the food or drink is sufficiently seasoned, the herb ball is removed, emptied, and cleaned. Most herb balls have a handle or gripping chain to make it easy to pull the herb ball out.
As a general rule, an herb ball cannot be reused, because the herbs have been leached of their useful and flavorful compounds. In some cases, specific herbs can be reused; tea, for example, can often be used in multiple infusions, although later infusions may get tannic. Many manufacturers also recommend that herb balls be washed with water only, as detergent or soap can alter the flavor of subsequent dishes.
As a general rule, an herb ball should only be packed about half full, so that there is plenty of room for water to circulate, bringing out the full flavor of the herbal infusion. Either fresh or dried ingredients can be used, depending on availability and personal taste. Most people prefer to pack their herb balls as needed, ensuring that the herbs are kept in a cool dry place until use so that they will have a strong flavor. In other cases, people may prepare herb balls as gifts, including a handmade blend of herbs or spices as part of a culinary present.
If you do plan to store herbs in an herb ball, keep the ball in an airtight container and try to use it within three months. The flavors in the herb ball may change subtly as the herb ball sits, creating a small deviation from the intended flavor, but if it used quickly, the difference should not be too extreme. When not in use, keep an herb ball locked together so that you will not lose a piece, and consider keeping it in a shallow drawer so that it will not sink to the bottom of a heavy pile of large kitchen utensils.