If you’re a fan of French dishes, you’ve probably heard of tarragon spice. The French use tarragon to flavor everything from chicken Fricassee to Béarnaise sauce. With its rich flavoring and fascinating history, tarragon spice has plenty to offer for cooks who know what to do with it.
Technically an herb, tarragon comes from the Artemisia Dracunculus shrub, a shrub related to sunflowers. Tarragon is characterized by its long and dark green leaves, and it has its best flavor during spring. Tarragon’s roots are long, coiled and fibrous, resembling tangled snakes. Years ago, the shape of its roots often linked tarragon to dragons; it was thought that tarragon could repel them and heal wounds from creatures such as snakes and rabid dogs.
The two main types of tarragon are French tarragon and Russian tarragon. The supermarket variety is typically French tarragon, which emits sweet and spicy flavor with hints of fennel and anise. Russian tarragon is the inferior relative to French tarragon. Though its flavor is similar to French tarragon, it's noticeably weaker.
Tarragon is known for its flavor when combined with white wine vinegar, which preserves its freshness. Some cooks use the leaves and flowers of tarragon as toppings for eggs, fish, shrimp, salad, mushrooms and tomatoes. Chopped tarragon also adds flavor to condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise, tartar sauce and vinaigrette. Other herbs also benefit from tarragon combinations; the spice enhances the flavors of dill, thyme, garlic and bay leaves. Tarragon should be used sparingly because the flavor can be strong in large amounts.
Ancient Greeks used to use tarragon to soothe toothaches. Tarragon was also used to prevent heart disease. Some cooks substitute tarragon for salt to reduce sodium intake for people with hypertension. Another popular use of tarragon is as a digestive aid to prevent stomach problems. Persians often used Russian tarragon to increase appetite. Tarragon is also a good source of antioxidants.
Purchasing and Storage
Tarragon tastes best when consumed fresh. When purchasing tarragon, avoid herbs that appear old or shriveled. Tarragon contains volatile essential oil that's lost when tarragon is dried. Fresh herbs should be stored on the top shelf of the refrigerator; Tarragon lasts up to two weeks refrigerated. Some cooks keep tarragon in water-filled vases so it stays fresh. The website Chow suggests that consumers using dried tarragon make sure the herb doesn’t have faded leaves and aroma.