Tarragon is a unique, less commonly known type of herb that is rich in nutrients and can provide various health benefits, including boosting immunity and improving sleep. It’s an essential ingredient in French cuisine, but its distinct flavor can make a great addition to any dish. But what does tarragon taste like? What about its benefits? Is it worth adding to your diet? Let’s find out more below.
What is Tarragon?
Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, also known as estragon, is a perennial herb in the family Asteraceae, along with dandelions, daisies, and marigolds.
Generally, the herb has bright green, thin, glossy leaves with green, yellow, or white flowers.
This plant is widespread in the wild across Eurasia and North America and is often cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes. It’s usually harvested from spring to early fall. During winter, the stems usually die, but the plant sends new shoots when spring comes.
The herb is commonly used in French cuisine and is a critical ingredient in the fine herbs blend, including chervil, chives, and parsley.
The tarragon plant leaves can also be used as a seasoning in cooking or to make tarragon vinegar.
What Does Tarragon Taste Like?
Generally, tarragon has a distinct, anise, or licorice-like flavor with a slight sweetness. Their taste can also be described as a mix of fennel, licorice, and mint with a peppery aftertaste.
Often, the herb is used to season dishes, as well as in marinades and salad dressings.
Types of Tarragon
There are three main types of tarragon;
1. Siberian or Russian Tarragon (Artemisia Dracunculoides Pursch)
This variety also goes by the name bewilderingly or wild tarragon.
It can be found in central Asia and Siberia but has been brought to other parts of North America and Europe.
This variety has large, long, narrow leaves that are coarse and green in color. It’s also tall and can grow up to 1.5 meters in height.
Unlike other types, this type is hardy and easy to grow. You can easily grow it from seeds, root divisions, or stem cuttings.
They have a bland taste, as their aroma is almost undetectable-all you can taste is a sour and bitter flavor, some of which is also lost during cooking. For these reasons, the Siberian tarragon is often called fake tarragon.
Despite its almost non-existent taste, the bitterness and sourness make it suitable for salad dressings, flavoring vinegar, and some drinks.
Notably, the Russian tarragon is widely used as an ornamental plant.
2. French tarragon (Artemisia Dracunculus)
French tarragon is believed to have originally come from south Russia or western Asia and was introduced to French cuisine between the 16th and 17th centuries.
Today, France has outshined the Western Asian countries in producing tarragon.
This variety is short, growing up to about 0.6 to 1 meter in height. It has leaves similar to Siberian tarragon but much smoother and darker.
While the two may easily confuse, French tarragon has a strong floral scent. Always rub a leaf or two between your fingers, then smell. The scent is too pungent that you can’t compare it to Russian tarragon.
The French Tarragon is the true tarragon since it has the most intense and desirable flavor. Additionally, it is also the most common variety used in cooking.
When cooking, the French tarragon is best at retaining its flavor. Even when dried, this variety can still hold to its aromatic qualities.
You can use French tarragon in soups, stews, desserts, and roasted foods.
3. Mexican tarragon (Tagetes Lucida)
Also known as Spanish tarragon, Mexican marigold, or winter tarragon, Mexican tarragon is native to Central America or Guatatemalay and is not considered a true tarragon. It’s actually more related to marigolds than it is to its French and Russian siblings.
However, it tastes as good as the French tarragon and often substitutes the French variety. Its leaves are similar to those of french and Russian tarragon, which makes it difficult to tell the three apart just by looking at the leaves.
However, the Mexican tarragon leaves are slightly wide, so if careful, you can easily distinguish them.
Nonetheless, the marigold-like flowers of the Mexican tarragon make it stand out. It also has a bigger bush-like appearance, making it easy to distinguish from the other varieties.
You can use Mexican tarragon in various recipes that call for the French variety, but it’s not as commonly used as the other.
Health Benefits of Tarragon
1. It has antibacterial properties and prevents foodborne illness
With the growing preference for natural food additives, studies have shown that plant essential oils are becoming a popular alternative to synthetic chemicals in preserving food.
Generally, additives are used in food production to preserve freshness, improve texture, and inhibit bacterial growth that may cause foodborne illness.
As such, a study revealed that Tarragon Essential Oil effectively inhibits the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and E.coli bacteria.
In the study, tarragon oil was used to treat Iranian white cheese. The outcome indicated that tarragon oil inhibits the bacteria, leading researchers to conclude that Tarragon can be used as a preservative in food items like cheese.
2. Regulating leptin levels to increase appetite
Loss of appetite can occur due to several causes, such as age, depression, or chemotherapy. As such, the condition can lead to malnutrition and a decreased quality of life if not addressed.
Typically, hormones such as Ghrelin and leptin play a critical role in appetite regulation. Ghrelin helps in stimulating hunger, while leptin is responsible for causing feelings of fullness. While the effects of leptin can be beneficial in promoting weight loss, those with a low appetite or who are underweight may benefit from the opposite results.
A study has found that tarragon extract can increase feelings of hunger by decreasing insulin and leptin secretion leading to an increase in body weight.
3. Improve sleep and regulate sleep patterns
Getting enough sleep can lessen your sick days, reduce stress, improve your mood, and help you think more clearly. On the contrary, insufficient sleep can adversely affect overall health, including increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Lack of sleep can be a result of various factors, including changes in work schedules, high-stress levels, or a busy lifestyle that could cause poor sleep quality.
To remedy the situation, people are fond of using sleeping pills or hypnotics to aid sleep. These methods, however, may not be the best, and they may have side effects such as depression or substance abuse. As such, the Artemisia group of plants, which comprises plants such as Tarragon, has traditionally been used to treat various health issues, including poor sleep. So taking it regularly may help you sleep better.
One study suggested that Artemisia plants may have a sedative effect, thus helping regulate sleep patterns. However, due to the study’s limitations, more research is needed, especially in humans, to confirm the impact of Tarragon on sleep.
4. Regulation of blood sugar by improving insulin sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone that aids in transporting glucose to cells for energy. Insulin resistance occurs when these cells reject insulin. This can be caused by different factors, including a poor diet, such as those rich in added sugar and processed foods. It could also be as a result of body inflammation.
Tarragon, as a natural remedy, can enhance insulin sensitivity and improve the utilization of glucose by the body. The plant contains compounds such as eugenol and acacetin, which research has shown can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.
Similarly, a study on mice found that an extract of Russian Tarragon prevented insulin resistance, metabolic irregularities, and fat buildup in their muscles and livers.
Additionally, a 90-day clinical trial involving 24 people with impaired glucose tolerance found that taking 1,000 mg of Tarragon before breakfast and dinner significantly decreased insulin secretion, thus can help maintain stable blood sugar levels.
5. Relieve pain, and boost immunity
Generally, Tarragon has been traditionally used to help alleviate pain and boost the immune system. The compounds present in tarragon, such as anethole, have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce pain and swelling in conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Additionally, tarragon contains antioxidants, which help to protect the body against cellular damage and boost the immune system.
Studies have also shown these antioxidant compounds, such as estragole, aid in protecting the body against viruses, bacteria, and other harmful pathogens, which can, in turn, help to strengthen the immune system.
6. Boosts the health of the reproductive system
Studies have shown that Tarragon contains compounds such as Estragole, an essential oil that can weaken estrogenic effects (both from natural and synthetic estrogen). These may include breast tenderness, abnormal uterine bleeding, nausea, and vomiting.
Additionally. The plant comprises Terpenoids, compounds that have hormone-balancing hormonal effects on the endocrine system.
Furthermore, a recent study observing menstruation in women around different parts of the world showed that Tarragon is essential in relieving menstrual cramps and helping to regulate menstrual cycles.
The plant also contains antioxidant properties, which can help protect the eggs and sperm while improving the overall health of the reproductive system.
Notably, the plant has been used to improve infertility issues, as some studies suggest that it may positively affect the ovaries and uterus.
7. Has anti-cancer properties
Studies have shown that compounds in Tarragon, such as anethole and Estragole, can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, particularly in breast and ovarian cancer.
Additionally, the plant has antioxidant properties, such as the ability to scavenge free radicals and protect cells from damage, which may also play a role in its potential anticancer effects.
Tarragon is also a rich source of vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and protects the body against cancer.
8. Low in calories and carbohydrates but high in beneficial nutrients
Tarragon is a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate herb that contains beneficial nutrients such as Manganese, Iron, and Potassium. One tablespoon of dried tarragon leaves contains:
- Approximately 5 grams of calories.
- 1 gram of carbs.
- 6% of the daily value of Manganese.
- 3% of the Daily Value of Iron.
- 1% of the daily value of Potassium.
Manganese is vital for brain health, growth, metabolism, and reducing oxidative stress in the body. Moreover, Iron is essential for cell function and blood production, while Potassium is important for heart, muscle, and nerve function.
Even though the amounts of these nutrients in Tarragon are not substantial, they may still positively impact overall health.
How to Use Tarragon in Cooking
Tarragon is a popular herb in many dishes, particularly those containing butter and cream. Moreover, combining it with lemon juice and zest can enhance its unique flavor.
Generally, using Tarragon at different stages of cooking can give a dish a more complex flavor.
This explains why some chefs prefer adding Tarragon early in the cooking process to infuse the recipe, then add more of it right before serving for an added flavor dimension.
One of the most famous French dishes incorporating Tarragon is Bearnaise sauce, a variation of hollandaise sauce. Bearnaise sauce is known for its strong aroma and flavor, primarily from Tarragon. To experience its delicious taste, roast some cauliflower and serve it with Bearnaise sauce.
Additionally, Tarragon forms an integral part of the classic French seasoning blend, fines Herbes, which includes parsley, chervil, chives, and Tarragon. If you are new to Tarragon, try using it similarly to basil or mint to add a unique, anise-like flavor to your dishes.
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Tarragon is a unique herb commonly used in French cuisine. It has a unique flavor with a slightly anise-like and sweet.
It is versatile and can be used in many dishes due to its various health benefits.
Tarragon exists in 3 types; Russian tarragon, French tarragon, and Mexican tarragon. Of the 3, French tarragon is the most commonly used in cooking. Mexican tarragon can similarly be used in cooking, but it is less popular. On the other hand, Russian tarragon is bland and adds no taste to food, so it’s not a preferred choice when it comes to cooking.
Tarragon can help improve digestion, relieve pain, and even boost the immune system. Generally, Tarragon is an excellent option if you are looking for a new herb to incorporate into your culinary recipes.
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