Tarragon: prized for its flavor and aroma

What is Tarragon?

Tarragon is highly valued for its distinctive flavor and aroma, which is often described as sweet, slightly licorice-like, and reminiscent of anise or fennel. It is actually a perennial herb from the sunflower family. A perennial herb that is typically propagated through cuttings or division of the root clump. It is native to both southern Russia and western Asia. Nowadays it also grows across North America and Asia.

Tarragon is used as a culinary herb and is particularly popular in French cuisine, where it is a key ingredient in the classic herb blend known as fines herbes. It is commonly used to flavor sauces, dressings, vinegar, and mustard. Furthermore, it pairs well with dishes such as chicken, fish, eggs, vegetables, and even certain fruits like strawberries. It can also be used fresh or dried, though the fresh leaves tend to have a more pronounced flavor.

Aside from its culinary uses, tarragon has also been used in traditional medicine for its potential digestive and appetite-stimulating properties. However, it’s important to note that the medicinal uses of tarragon should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

History & background

Tarragon has a rich history and background that spans centuries.

  1. Tarragon is believed to have originated in the Eurasian region, specifically in southern Russia and western Asia. It has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans were familiar with the herb and valued it for its aromatic properties.
  2. It gained popularity in medieval Europe, where it was used both as a culinary herb and as a medicinal plant. It was highly regarded for its supposed ability to treat various ailments, such as digestive issues and toothaches.
  3. Its popularity further increased during the Renaissance period, particularly in France. It became an essential herb in French cuisine and was incorporated into various dishes, sauces, and condiments. French chefs recognized its unique flavor and began to incorporate it into classic dishes like Béarnaise sauce.
  4. Tarragon’s culinary uses continued to evolve and spread beyond France. It became a key ingredient in herb blends like fines herbes, along with parsley, chervil, and chives. Its flavor became associated with refined and delicate dishes, and it was also commonly used to enhance the flavors of poultry, seafood, eggs, and vegetables.
  5. French tarragon is the most highly regarded variety for culinary purposes due to its superior flavor. Russian tarragon is less commonly used in cooking due to its milder flavor and lack of the characteristic aroma.
  6. Its popularity extended beyond France and gained recognition worldwide. It found its way into various cuisines, including Russian, Central Asian, and Mediterranean.

Today, tarragon remains a beloved herb in the culinary world. Its distinct flavor and aroma continue to be cherished in French cuisine and beyond, and it is widely available in fresh and dried forms.

What form does it come in?

Tarragon is available in different forms, including fresh, dried, and as an extract or oil.

  1. Fresh
  2. Dried
  3. Extract/Oil

Fresh tarragon is highly prized for its vibrant flavor and aroma. The leaves are slender, narrow, and slightly glossy. You can find fresh tarragon in the produce section of well-stocked grocery stores or farmers’ markets. It is best to use fresh tarragon soon after purchase to enjoy its fullest flavor.

Dried tarragon on the other-hand is a convenient alternative when fresh tarragon is not available. The leaves are dried and crumbled, which concentrates their flavor. Dried tarragon can be found in the spice section of most grocery stores. While it does not have the same potency as the fresh herb, it can still add a hint of flavor to dishes when rehydrated or added directly during cooking.

Tarragon extract or oil is a highly concentrated form of tarragon flavor. It is typically obtained by steeping the leaves in alcohol or by extracting the essential oils from the plant. The extract or oil is often used sparingly in recipes to provide a strong flavor. It is commonly used in sauces, dressings, and marinades.

Additionally, the leaves can be used to infuse vinegar or oil, creating flavored condiments that can be drizzled over salads or used in cooking.

Fresh tarragon is typically preferred for its robust flavor, while dried tarragon is convenient and has a longer shelf life. Tarragon extract or oil can be used when a concentrated flavor is desired.

Dried Tarragon Leaves

Dried Tarragon Leaves by McCormicks.

Created from French sourced tarragon plants. Produced in the USA.
No preservatives or added MSG. Kosher-free and no fat.

3.5 ounce airtight container – store in a cool dark space.

Is Tarragon good for you?

Tarragon is an herb that is often used for culinary purposes due to its distinctive flavor. While it is generally considered safe for consumption, its health benefits are not well-documented and more research is needed to make definitive claims about its potential positive effects on health.

However, tarragon does contain certain compounds that may offer some health benefits. For example, it is a good source of antioxidants, such as polyphenols, which help protect the body against oxidative stress and inflammation. It also contains some vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and potassium, although the amounts are generally small.

Moreover, it has been used in traditional medicine for various purposes, such as improving digestion, stimulating appetite, and reducing menstrual pain. However, scientific evidence supporting these claims is limited.

It’s worth noting that tarragon is not recommended for pregnant women in large amounts as it may stimulate the uterus. Also, some individuals may be allergic to it, and it may interact with certain medications, so it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

In summary, while tarragon can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, its specific health benefits have not been extensively studied. It should be consumed in moderation and as part of an overall varied and nutritious eating plan.

Flavor profile of Tarragon

So what is the tarragon flavor profile? Tarragon has a distinct flavor profile characterized by its slightly bittersweet and licorice-like taste. It is often described as having a hint of anise or fennel flavor. The intensity of the flavor can vary depending on the freshness and quality of the herb.

The flavor is often described as delicate and subtle, yet it can add a unique and aromatic note to dishes. It pairs well with various ingredients and is commonly used in French cuisine, particularly in sauces like Béarnaise sauce, as well as in marinades, salad dressings, and herb blends.

The herb’s flavor can complement a range of foods, including poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms), tomatoes, and vinegar-based dressings. It is also a key ingredient in certain liqueurs, such as absinthe.

It’s always best to add it near the end of the cooking process or use it as a finishing herb to preserve its delicate flavor. Additionally, using the fresh leaves rather than dried ones can provide a more pronounced and vibrant taste.

Overall, its unique flavor profile adds a distinctive touch to various dishes and is valued for its culinary contributions.

Cooking with Tarragon

Tarragon is a versatile herb that can enhance the flavor of many dishes.

Tarragon is a key ingredient in classic French sauces like Béarnaise and Hollandaise. The pleasant herbaceous and slightly sweet flavor means it also pairs well with vinegar, making it a great addition to salad dressings and marinades.

It complements the flavors of chicken, turkey, and other poultry. Try using as a seasoning for roasted or grilled poultry, added to chicken salads, or incorporated into stuffing or meatball mixtures.

It pairs particularly well with seafood, especially fish and shellfish. It can also be used in sauces for fish dishes, added to seafood salads, or used as a seasoning for grilled or roasted fish.

Add a unique twist to various vegetables. It works well with roasted or sautéed mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, and green beans. You can also incorporate it into vegetable soups or stews for added flavor.

It can elevate the taste of eggs, whether you’re making omelets, scrambled eggs, or quiches. Also it adds a subtle, herby note that complements the richness of eggs.

It can be combined with other herbs to create flavorful blends. It pairs well with parsley, chives, thyme, and basil. You can use these herb blends to season various dishes, such as roasted vegetables, grilled meats, or pasta sauces.

Remember adding it towards the end of cooking to preserve its taste. You can use fresh leaves or dried tarragon, but keep in mind that fresh tarragon will have a more vibrant flavor.

Common uses

While tarragon is commonly used in cooking, it can also have other uses beyond the culinary realm, such as:

  1. Herbal Tea: The leaves can be infused in hot water to make a soothing herbal tea. It is believed to have calming properties and can be enjoyed on its own or combined with other herbs like chamomile or mint for a more complex flavor.
  2. Aromatherapy: The aromatic qualities can be harnessed in aromatherapy practices. Tarragon essential oil or dried tarragon can be used in diffusers or added to massage oils to create a relaxing and uplifting atmosphere.
  3. Natural Freshener: The leaves have a pleasant scent that can help freshen up indoor spaces. You can place dried tarragon leaves in sachets or mix them with other aromatic herbs to create potpourri for a natural air freshener.
  4. Herbal Remedies: It has been used in traditional medicine for its potential health benefits. And has been historically associated with aiding digestion, stimulating appetite, and relieving menstrual discomfort. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before using tarragon for medicinal purposes.
  5. Infused Vinegar: Tarragon-infused vinegar can be made by steeping the leaves in vinegar for a period of time. This infused vinegar can be used in salad dressings, marinades, or as a flavorful ingredient in various recipes.
  6. Herbal Cocktails: It can be used as an ingredient in cocktails to add a unique flavor twist. Its aromatic and slightly sweet profile can complement spirits like vodka, gin, or even rum. Tarragon can be muddled with other ingredients or used as a garnish for a visually appealing and flavorful drink.

If you’re considering using tarragon for non-culinary purposes, it’s always a good idea to consult reliable sources or seek guidance from professionals in the respective fields, such as herbalists or aromatherapists.

Other alternatives

If you’re looking for alternatives to tarragon in cooking or seasoning, you could use anise, fennel or licorice. Similar in flavor but each with their own unique taste.

Have a look at our substitutes section for ideas on what you can use in place of tarragon.