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Substitutes For Tarragon & What Does It Taste Like

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Growing up, I had an aversion to herbs and would not have thought of a tarragon replacement or anything to do with the same. It took me a while to start liking herbs, and it owes to my husband’s love for food.

While we were dating, he would whip up these amazing meals that I could not believe were the results of his sweat. I even had trust issues, thinking that he would buy the food and wait for me before dirtying the pans and pretending that he made the meal himself. Don’t blame me for thinking that as I know many people who do that to their spouses.

One day, I insisted that I be there while he cooked and though he used what I would use in most dishes, I realized that he relied a lot on spices and herbs. They made all the difference, and thus my love for herbs began. This love has led me to explore so many options that have eventually enabled me to find a tarragon substitute.

But before we get into getting a substitute for tarragon & what it tastes like, we need to take a quick look at what makes this herb so popular in many a kitchen across the globe.

What is Tarragon?

Each time you need to replace something with another, it is essential to know what works in its stead and the only way to do so is by understanding both products.

Take tarragon for example.

You know that it has bittersweet leaves which make it great for use in varying dishes. In addition to this, it also has a flexible stem that comes in handy regarding seasoning. You will notice once you try dried tarragon that the results do not match those of fresh herbs. For this reason, people avoid using dried tarragon where the recipe calls for fresh leaves.

You can always use something that is similar to tarragon regarding taste, and some of the flavors that people try out are licorice, anise, and fennel. Given that tarragon belongs to the Asteraceae family, there are lots of options that you can try in your quest to find a suitable alternative.

There are many tarragon varieties across the globe, but you will find that people mostly use the estragon which is a German variety of the same. You can use estragon to treat insomnia by infusing it in tea, you could also use it in vinegar to bring out intense flavors, or you could use it in pickling. Other uses of the same include infusing salads, meats, soups, and broths, all of which turn out great. Estragon is known for its sweet scent and versatility in usage.

Then there is the Russian tarragon. Anyone who has tasted this variety will tell you that the smell is not pleasant at all and it features a bitter taste. However, some people prefer these kinds of flavors, and they would prefer to use this type in place of Estragon.

These two are just but a few of the available options when it comes to tarragon. All you need to know is what you prefer taste-wise and finding an alternative should not prove hard.

What Does Tarragon Taste Like?

How best can I describe this herb? Well, I could start by stating that it has extended and light-weight leaves that are oozing with flavor. As for what to expect when you use it in food, there is an undeniable bittersweet flavor in play.

The great thing about this herb is that you can use it while fresh or you can dry it and reap the same benefits from it. It is important to note that tarragon is a perennial plant and you can thus enjoy it fresh for a limited amount of time. That’s why you will find that there are many dried options on the market as people try to extend the use of the plant.

A few leaves in play will transform a meal from a bland dish to one that will have people looking at you in admiration as they go on about how great you are in matters kitchen.

Substitutes for Tarragon

It could be that it is quite late in the season and you cannot get tarragon no matter how much you try. Trust me, this happens a lot. When I first started using herbs, I was not aware of the cycles and more often than not, I would come across a recipe asking for a particular plant, only for me to realize that the given herb was no longer in season. It was frustrating, and it still happens at times.

It could also be that you do not like the taste of tarragon. Though this herb is widely popular, some people do not seem to enjoy its flavors and would prefer to use something else.

When you find yourself in either of the situations above, there are lots of other options available to you as you will see. Read on to see what you can use instead of tarragon and why the alternatives work.

Fresh tarragon substitute

Fennel seeds

The impressive thing is that these seeds work as substitutes for both dry and fresh tarragon. Having them in the house will indeed help you hack many recipes without dashing to the store now and then. Another impressive thing about them is that oil extracts from the same come in handy in managing respiratory problems as well as joint pains.

For the latter use, you need to use the oil externally.

For every tablespoon of fresh tarragon that you need, you can rely on a dash of fennel seeds for the same effect. You can vary the amount used based on how strong a flavor you wish to derive from the seeds.

Chervil

Chervil has a delicate flavor that plays out well when used in salads and soups. Where a recipe calls for a teaspoon of fresh tarragon, you can always use half a teaspoon of chervil. You will want to start with a small amount as the flavor can get intense when too much chervil is in play. If you are looking for a spice similar to tarragon, this is it.

Dried tarragon substitute

Fennel seeds

You will come across many a recipe calling for the use of dried tarragon. Though it may not be as intense in flavor as fresh herbs, some people prefer its taste. You can substitute a teaspoon of tarragon with a dash of fennel seeds and get the same results.

Fennel seeds, when roasted, have been known to aid in digestion and if you have been having digestive problems, you can eat the seeds after a heavy meal. Also, they help in freshening breath and where you lack enough time to brush after a meal, you can easily use the seeds to give you a fresh scent.

There is no restriction as to how big or small the amount you use in the food should be. I often find that increasing the number of ground fennel seeds in play makes the food taste great. The aroma too becomes more pleasant.

Marjoram

Marjoram has been known to have numerous beauty benefits, alongside its rich nutritional profile. For this reason, people use it in beauty products such as shaving gels, bath soaps, skin creams, and body lotions, amongst many others. Other than this, it also comes in handy as a substitute for tarragon herb owing to its licorice flavors.

Where the recipe calls for one teaspoon of dried tarragon, you should use a teaspoon of marjoram. However, where you are making cheese dishes, chicken, eggs, salmon and other meals that do not require many herbs, you should start with half a teaspoon of marjoram. If this does not prove adequate, you can then add more as you go.

There are other herbs that you can use in place of tarragon such as rosemary and thyme. However, they tend to change the taste of the meal, and it will not turn out as it would have where you had used tarragon. That is not to say that they would make the food unpalatable.

You could also use basil as an alternative for tarragon where the recipe calls for fresh tarragon. The downside to this is that basil is way stronger than tarragon and the flavor will thus be intense. It is vital that you consider the various tastes you are playing with before deciding to use a given herb. The same goes for using oregano when you need dried tarragon.

The secret to the tarragon seasoning replacements on the list is that they share similar tastes with tarragon and they are thus ideal for use as replacements.

Other Tarragon Substitutes

Parsley mixed with cinnamon powder

Suppose you are looking forward to making a sauce such as a Bearnaise which calls for strong herbs only to realize that you are out of tarragon.

What would you do? Well, the answer is quite simple.

If you need a tablespoon of tarragon, you will require a quarter cup of water, half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder and half a teaspoon of parsley. You will start by placing the water on a stove on medium heat until the water feels hot to the touch. You can now add the spices to the water and once the water looks like it is nearing the boiling point, lower the heat.

Allow the spices to simmer in the water for a few seconds before taking the pan off the heat. Ensure that you do not allow the water to boil as this will affect the flavor of the spices.

You can now use this mixture in soups, sauces as well as salad dressings. Note that you can alter the ingredients based on how much tarragon the recipe needs.

Tagetes

If you do not have parsley and cinnamon powder in your cabinet, you could always use Tagetes, also known as the Mexican tarragon. Tagetes is quite popular in Mexico, and people use it to brew tea which they believe is bursting with medicinal benefits. It also goes by the name Mexican mint Marigold.

This herb is quite sweet and is much like Estragon, only that the former is much more vibrant. You can find it in the southern parts of the United States. The high temperatures in the area coupled with the high humidity make it hard for tarragon to thrive here, but the tagetes herb does quite well in these conditions.

Where a recipe calls for one teaspoon of tarragon, you can easily use a teaspoon of Mexican tarragon and enjoy similar results. Plus, you can use it in anything that requires tarragon.

Angelica

This herb is not only useful as a flavor, but it also comes in handy when making traditional musical instruments. It comes from the parsley family, and you can use it to make candies, desserts, and liqueurs more interesting. Additionally, you can use it in cake décor to make people’s jaws drop. For every tablespoon of tarragon that a recipe calls for, you can substitute the same with a tablespoon of angelica.

Anise

The thing that makes anise such a good substitute for tarragon leaves is its licorice taste that is much like what you would get from estragon. To get this right, you should use half a teaspoon of aniseed where the recipe calls for a teaspoon of tarragon. However, you may find that you want to have more flavor in your meal, and in such a case, you could always add more. But I find that the half teaspoon does the trick every time.

Fun facts about tarragon

Did you know that there are four none-resinous French fines herbs? They are chives, parsley, chervil, and tarragon. These herbs make a huge difference in meals, and this is what makes them so beloved across the globe for use in sauces.

There were concerns some time ago that the estragole compound present in tarragon was cancerous to humans. It later turned out that it could only affect rats and had no adverse impacts on human health. For this reason, there is no restriction as to how much tarragon you can consume.

Given that this plant is not around all year, there are high chances that you could head to the market only to find that the supplier had no fresh herbs for you. You could opt to use dried tarragon, or you could salvage most of the flavor by freezing the leaves. In this way, you would not have to worry about running out of this meal-saver.

Keeping Tarragon Fresh

When tarragon is in season, collect lots of it such that it can fill a Ziploc bag. You can get a big bag where you tend to make meals for large groups of people as in my case. Weekends at my place are quite busy as I entertain my friends, family and my husband’s workmates almost all the time. The more herbs that I have in my kitchen, the easier it becomes for me to impress people with how good a cook I am.

The first time I froze the tarragon sprigs, I spent a lot of time in separating the leaves from the stems. I later learned that this was not necessary as the leaves would fall out at a later stage. You can thus skip this step and let nature take its course.

You need to inspect the sprigs to ensure that they are in good condition as you throw out any pieces with blemishes. Next, thoroughly clean them before drying them. Allow the moisture a while to evaporate to ensure that there are no droplets in the sprigs.

You can now place the fresh sprigs in the bag which you will leave open on the counter for about five hours. During this time, you will not check the bag or do anything that would disturb the contents therein.

After five hours or more, you can now get rid of all the air in the bag before proceeding to seal it completely. Place the sprigs in the freezer under controlled temperatures. Four days from the time of freezing, take out the bag and pour out the sprigs into a bowl. At this point, the leaves will no longer be attached to the stems. There may be a few remaining on the sprigs, and you should pluck them out.

Next, separate all the leaves from the stems before placing them in a clean jar. Ensure that the lid is tight before you put the container in the freezer. From here on henceforth, you can easily reach into the fridge for a few leaves and make a meal that will have you marveling at the wonders of this herb.

If you are late in the season and cannot find sprigs, you can always use a suitable tarragon substitute in their stead. I hope that this has been of help to you. Many thanks for reading this!

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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