Sage Leaf: Flavor Profile
An essential English herb (along with parsley, rosemary and thyme, as the song goes), sage is a flavorful herb from the mint family. Dried sage leaf provides a rich, almost peppery flavor, that’s slightly bitter with notes of earthy pine. Used most commonly in poultry stuffing, sage has many uses in the kitchen. The herb’s bold flavor is a key ingredient in pork sausage, as well as many Italian, Middle Eastern and Balkan recipes. Use the dried leaf in pickling blends, salads, over cheese, and in stews and sauces.
Cooking with Sage Leaf
Sage leaf is quite strong in taste, so use it sparingly. Yet, in small pinches and dashes, the herb’s spicy, mint-like flavor can elevate any savory dish. Fortunately, the dried leaves also retain almost all of their essential oils, making the flakes just as effective as fresh sage.
The herb pairs nicely with onion and garlic – a common blend in stuffing – and it’s great with other leafy herbs like rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Use the dried leaf for:
- Poultry Stuffing – Sage is a classic herb on Thanksgiving and Christmas day, used to season traditional turkey stuffing. Yet, the flavor pairs nicely with all types of poultry, including chicken and duck.
- Pork Sausage – The herb is one of many spices used in pork sausage, as it provides a sharp flavor, as well as preservation properties.
- Saltimbocca – The popular Italian dish of prosciutto-wrapped veal features sage leaf.
- Sauces and Stews – Sage provides a dash of earthiness to long-simmering stews, soups and sauces. It pairs nicely in tomato-based sauces like marinara.
- Pickling – In pickling spice blends, sage leaf helps to balance the strong flavor of vinegar.
- Salads – Sage works wonders in creamy salads. Try it in potato salad or macaroni salad.
History of Sage
Sage has a long, interesting history as a culinary and medicinal herb. The plant originated in the Mediterranean and was popularized by the Romans. The Roman healer Dioscorides prescribed sage as a digestive aid, and used it for wound dressing, for ulcers and to treat sore throats. The Egyptians, French and Germans also utilized the herb traditional medicines, with some believing it promoted fertility.
As a culinary herb, sage was primarily used in the early modern period as a meat preservative (which it’s still used for today). The Italians used it in a variety of cured meat recipes, for example. And around the same time, sage became quite popular in China.
The Chinese especially liked French sage and would trade four pounds of Chinese tea for a single pound of the herb. The commercial success of the plant provoked several European leaders, including Charlemagne, to produce the herb on a wider scale.
In cooking, the herb wasn’t widely used until the 14th century, which may have been due to it appearing in a French cookbook of the time. And the British, French and Lombards were the first to popularize its use in the kitchen. In fact, the British consider sage an essential spice still today.
Sage is a mint varietal, officially known as Salvia officinalis. The herb spouts in early spring and is a fast grower, blooming by the first weeks of summer. The plant grows oblong leaves, known for their grayish and fuzzy appearance.
Today, there are many different cultivars and appearance can vary greatly by type. Some cultivars have purple-, rose- or cream-colored leaves. It’s believed there are 700 different species of the plant in the world.
Sage thrives in mild climates, especially those throughout the Mediterranean. And it’s not uncommon to see wild plants growing along roadways in Albania, Germany, Spain and Italy. In fact, still today, a large percentage of the world’s sage is wild-harvested.
About Our Sage Leaf
Balkan countries – including Albania, Croatia and Bulgaria – produce almost all of the world’s sage. It’s grown there in abundance. We source our sage from an independent family farm outside of Drnis, Croatia.
Located in the country’s Dalmatian region, famous for its incredible mountains, Drnis has a long history in sage production. The region is known for producing some of the most flavorful sage with high essential oil content.