Substitute for Tarragon
Tarragon is a common herbal ingredient, like many are, but it adds so much dimension to a dish. Whether you’re making a rice pilaf with glazed chicken, or a quiche with queso—choosing the right flavor accentuations is always going to be critical.
Remember, organic herbal ingredients like tarragon often have a very distinctive flavor with an intensive aroma too. It is easily defined by its telltale pointed leaf structure, and rather unique grey-green coloring.
What Does Tarragon Taste Like?
We can say that if you don’t like licorice you probably won’t favor this herb that much as it has a similar taste—while some would say it is almost identical to anise. However, this is a highly popular herb and has been utilized for a vast variety of reasons through the centuries. Some of these uses have been far outside the arena of just cooking too.
We discuss 5 potential Tarragon substitutes to consider if your supply has run our or you would like to add some new flavor dimensions to your meal. Each option highlighted below is discussed in further detail in the article.
What is Tarragon?
The roots of tarragon can be traced back to the early Roman period when Gods were worshipped by those of Rome. It’s nickname “little dragon” came from the Latin term dracunculus. If we follow the mythological rumors of this unique herb, many thought it was an organic way to minimize the pain from bug bits and bee stings (which it might).
According to mythology though, it was more for the stings and bites of venomous monsters and mad dogs! Thankfully, today, we understand the real values that lie in this herb which provide real, unforgettable value!
What is Tarragon Used For?
Tarragon has been being put to good use for well over 600 years, from its usage as a breath freshener to aiding with poor digestion and even working as a sleep aid. It’s a native to western Asia and southern Russia, though it is cultivated all over the world currently.
There is still an array of hybrids of this herb—some sweeter and some more robust. For instance, in France the plant is far glossier in appearance and aromatic qualities are far more pungent too. Also, the Russian strain of tarragon can’t be confused with the hybrid in the Western United States as these are quite varied from one another.
Today, it is more widely known as a very poignant ingredient in cultural dishes from all around the world—and within a variety of desserts too! Because of its characteristic traits and authentic flavoring, no one is ever in doubt about the inclusion of this herb in a recipe. You know it’s in there!
This dragon herb is commonly used in salad dressings, arugula and romaine salads, potato salads, risottos, soups, bean dishes and a large variety of seafood as well. Basically, tarragon can be added to just about any dish for a hint of flavor or a more powerful punch.
Let’s turn now and look at what substitute herbs might be viable in the place of tarragon and what dishes these might go very well with to add flavor and improve food quality in general.
Tarragon Replacement Options
It’s important for cooks to remember that tarragon offers a very rich flavor and it can easily overpower a dish if not used correctly. The same can be said for any herbal substitutions, though most are preferred over tarragon due to the gentler, more accommodating flavors.
Some cooks like to muddle tarragon with a softer herb to calm the strong anise taste too. Most cooks see this herb as a preference, you either like it or you don’t. Again, this goes well in a variety of egg dishes, a great many chicken recipes and it is ideal for making homemade vinegar for vinaigrette dressings.
The following substitutions are viable alternatives and accentuate multiple foods nicely.
This is one of the most preferred alternatives to tarragon, especially if the recipe calls for dried tarragon. Dried tarragon leaves aren’t as poignant as fresh, so fennel works very well here. You get a softer flavor and not one that is over powering at all, but it still mimics the primary herbal ingredient, even when not present.
If you’re making a French dish, most call for tarragon (in this case fennel) to be added to the mayonnaise (or cream) as this is normally the base ingredient in most white sauces. This is then topped on some sort of fish, preferable sole, or halibut.
Anise seed or Anise seed and Marjoram
Anise is closely related to tarragon, but if you’re going to use this as a substitute to tarragon you want to use less. Just a pinch of anise is well enough to add significant flavor to a dish, and it helps to avoid accidentally overpowering it.
If you mix anise seed with marjoram you can smooth it out and bring a taste far more pleasing to the palate. This is the perfect alternative ingredient mix in a Béarnaise sauce, or within an arugula and green salad mix with a homemade vinaigrette topping.
Chervil and Fennel
Elegant spices like these are light, but because tarragon is included in the dry mix of both of these (not fresh) you’ll never lack in the same taste quality, though not as loud—which is exactly what some people like.
Do remember though, most French dishes rely heavily on tarragon as a primary herbal ingredient so you must pay attention to what you’re using. Chervil is a mild mimic of basil, but when mixed with fennel it becomes more airy and reminiscent of that licorice flavor of tarragon—so it’s the perfect mix of ingredients here.
Baked lemon tarragon chicken would be fine with these substitutions and honestly, the recipient would probably never know tarragon was missing.
This is clearly an important mix of herbs in French cuisine and other Western European dishes as well. Southern Russia is also another region where this is a common herbal mix.
Many in France will use this premium mixture of herbs for dishes that call for tarragon alone, but why? Well, the muddling of multiple organic spices in this promotes the natural flavor of a dish and is simply enjoyable to smell and taste.
Because this herbal blend is very sweet tasting, with just the right mixing of earthy herbs, it is ideal for chicken and seafood dishes. Those side courses such as a cream bisque might be accentuated well with this French herb blend. It is recommended to use in place of tarragon—absolutely. French signature dishes almost always call for this herbal medley.
Additional Alternatives: Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Dill, and Marjoram
Some folks just don’t like that bold, rich licorice flavor of tarragon, even though some recipes call for it. If you don’t favor this herb but need to season a dish correctly, you can go for a five blend of herb spices. You can choose herbs such as:
These spices will give remarkable flavor and not ruin a dish, but they do add to the quality of it. Just because a recipe calls for an ingredient doesn’t mean you must stick to that specific one. There are always alternatives and methods you can apply to end up with an incredible result that is totally edible.
You should consistently think outside of the box! While tarragon is a constant in many parts of the world, there is no specific recipe that is ever carved in stone. You can always mix it up and cook like a pro in the kitchen!
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