French Tarragon: Flavor Profile
Tarragon is a distinctive culinary herb, quite popular in French cuisine. The herb’s known for its subtle anise, licorice-like flavor, and it pairs nicely with chicken and fish. A dash of French tarragon adds depth to any dish and is a favorite flavor enhancer of any chef.
The herb is included in many French spice mixes, including Herbes Fines. The reason: Its spicy, fennel-esque flavors deliver a bit of heat and herbal tang in spice blends. On its own, the herb is perfect for vinaigrette, red sauces, soups and hearty stews.
Cooking with French Tarragon
Dried tarragon leaf retains a lot of its spicy, licorice flavors, yet its heat is subtler than fresh tarragon. That’s why many chefs prefer dried tarragon, as its much less likely to overpower a dish. A volatile herb, tarragon’s flavors do stand up to heat for long. Add it towards the end of cooking for the brightest notes of anise and spice.
The French call tarragon the “king of herbs,” and you’ll find it in numerous French dishes – including Bearnaise sauce. Yet, the herb has many uses, and it’s found in North American, Russian and European cooking. A few common uses for French tarragon include:
- Chicken Dishes – Tarragon naturally complements chicken, no matter the preparation. Use it to bring spiciness and depth of flavor to grilled chicken, creamy chicken casseroles, or chicken salads.
- Oil Infusions – Dried tarragon is commonly infused with olive oil, creating a spicy blend that’s great with beef.
- Sauces – From creamy sauces, to meat sauces, tarragon is an effective flavor enhancer. It’s widely used in creamy French sauces, and its herbal spiciness blends nicely with tomato.
- Stews and Soups – The herb is widely used in hearty dishes, ratatouille, and long-simmering stews. Just remember: Add tarragon towards the end of cooking for the most vibrant flavor.
- Creamy salads – Tarragon is more vibrant than rosemary, but it brings a similar flavor. You’ll find it in many creamy salads – including potato and egg salads.
Looking for a French tarragon substitute? Chervil, fennel or anise seed offer the closest flavors.
History of French Tarragon
Compared to other European herbs, tarragon is a relatively new introduction, having been cultivated for just 600 years. (Oregano, on the other hand, has been used in Europe since the 9th century B.C.)
Today, the herb grows widely throughout Europe and North America. Yet, tarragon is believed to have originated in Siberia. It didn’t arrive in Europe until the 10th century, when the Mongols are thought to have propagated the herb while invading Italy. The Mongols were the first to use the herb; they used tarragon in food, as a sleep aid, and also for freshening their breath.
Tarragon, still, didn’t arrive in France until the 14th century. It’s believed St. Catherine of Siena is said to have brought the herb to France, while visiting Pope Gregory VI. And throughout the later years of the Middle Ages, tarragon was a popular ingredient in folk medicine. The herb was used to treat indigestion, mouth ulcers, nausea, and arthritis.
By the 1700s, tarragon had become widely used in France as a culinary herb. Chefs used it primarily to season chicken and sauces, and by the early 1900s, it was named one of the Herbes Fines, along with parsley, chives and chervil.
There are several varieties of tarragon, including Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculoides pursch) and Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida). Yet, French tarragon is the herb most commonly used in cooking.
It is a perennial herb in the sunflower family, and sprouts aromatic sprigs of green leaves. The tarragon plant typically grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet. The plant rarely flowers, and as such, it’s common propagated by root division.
The roots of the plant are dug up and carefully split. And the new root balls are replanted. Typically about 3 to 5 transplants can be created from a single parent plant. The plant is harvested in early summer, and the leaves are available dry or fresh.
About Our French Tarragon
We source our French tarragon from…. You guessed it, France. Today, France continues to be one of the largest producers of tarragon (along with California). Yet, we’ve found that our French growers know what they’re doing. We consistently receive the most flavorful, slightly bittersweet, and licorice-like tarragon from France.