Culinary Arts

A Culinary Guide to Tarragon, Plus 9 Recipes Using Tarragon

Written by MasterClass

May 9, 2019 • 4 min read

Throughout history, tarragon has gained a reputation as natural medicine—ancient Roman soldiers even used to stuff tarragon in their shoes to boost vitality. These days, tarragon is most commonly used in the kitchen to dress up salads and fish sauces. Regardless, it's still the "king of herbs" in France.

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What Is Tarragon?

Tarragon is a sturdy, perennial herb that grows on tall, slender stems that produce both glossy leaves and edible yellow, green, or white flowers. Tarragon is also known as estragon (artemisia dracunculus); it was first cultivated in Siberia thousands of years ago. Today, this member of the sunflower grown in dry, sunny regions across the northern hemisphere, stretching from Asia to the United States.

Tarragon is a popular herb most commonly used in French cuisine. Tarragon is an essential addition to recipes like béarnaise sauce, and is one of four ingredients in the French herb mixture fines herbes, which also includes chives, parsley, and chervil.

What Does Tarragon Taste Like?

The pungent, bittersweet flavor of tarragon is often compared to licorice, anise, and fennel, thanks to the presence of methyl chavicol, a naturally occurring compound found in many plants and trees with a distinct licorice-like taste and fragrance.

3 Varieties of Tarragon

Given its powerful flavor, fresh tarragon is best used in moderation in the kitchen, as this aromatic herb can quickly overpower a dish when used in excess. Dried tarragon has a more concentrated flavor, and therefore should be used more sparingly than the fresh leaves.

  • French tarragon. This standard variety of tarragon is the one most commonly used in cooking, as it is the most flavorful form of the herb. French tarragon is also the most difficult and time-consuming to grow, as the flowers of this variety are sterile and do not produce seeds.
  • Russian tarragon. With an extremely mild flavor, Russian tarragon is used less commonly for culinary purposes. This variety of tarragon is the easiest to grow, and is therefore the most affordable form of the herb.
  • Mexican tarragon. The lesser-known variety of this fragrant herb, Mexican tarragon (also known as Spanish tarragon, Texas tarragon, and Mexican mint marigold) has a more anise-rich flavor that is closer to the French variety than Russian tarragon.

Culinary Uses of Tarragon

Available in both fresh and dried form, this fragrant herb makes a great herbaceous addition to a variety of dishes, pairing well with meats like chicken, veal, and lamb, as well as seafood and egg dishes. Tarragon pairs particularly well with acidic flavors like lemon and vinegar, and is commonly combined with vinegar to make a mixture that is useful in salad dressings and marinades.

Although best known for its use in French cooking, tarragon is also used around the world in a variety of traditional dishes.

  • In Slovenia, tarragon is used in a sweet nut roll cake known as potica.
  • In Hungary, tarragon is put to use in chicken soup.
  • In Persian cuisine, tarragon is part of the sabzi knordan, a platter of vegetables and herbs that is traditionally served with meals.
  • In Armenia and Eastern European countries like Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine, the herb is consumed via a popular bright green carbonated drink called Tarkhuna, which is made with sweet tarragon concentrate.

What are Tarragon's Health Benefits?

Rich in minerals like manganese, iron, and potassium, as well as beneficial carotenoids, tarragon has been used to prevent a number of ailments and health issues. While in Chinese medicine, tarragon has been used to reduce inflammation and strengthen the liver, the French traditionally have relied on a tea made with the herb to treat insomnia and improve sleep overall.

Other medicinal uses of the herb include:

  • Improving digestive health.
  • Relieving toothache.
  • Boosting the health of the female reproductive system.

Medical studies have also found that the essential oils in tarragon can be used to treat excessive bacteria in the small intestine.

9 Recipe Ideas Using Tarragon

  • Tarragon Vinegar - Fresh tarragon leaves gently bruised and seeped in white wine vinegar for three weeks before getting strained and stored for up to six months.
  • Béarnaise Sauce - A classic butter-based sauce made with white wine vinegar, egg yolks, lemon juice, minced shallots, and chopped fresh tarragon. A great sauce to pair with roast chicken breasts.
  • Herb Salad Dressing - A light, herbaceous dressing make of tarragon, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh tarragon.
  • Omelette with Fresh Tarragon - A traditional French omelette filled with goat cheese and chopped fresh tarragon. Find the perfect omelette recipe here.
  • Chicken Tarragon - Boneless chicken thighs cooked with shallots in butter, dry white wine, tarragon, and broth in a Dutch oven, and topped with fresh tarragon leaves.
  • Tarragon Aioli - Mayonnaise combined with minced garlic, minced tarragon leaves, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Serve slathered on crusty bread with fresh tomato, lettuce, and bacon for the ultimate herbaceous BLT. (Learn how Alice Waters makes aioli here.)
  • Warm Potato Salad with Tarragon - Boiled, cubed potatoes coated in a mixture of dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, chopped tarragon, and minced garlic. Seasoned with salt and pepper and topped with more fresh tarragon.
  • Crab Cakes with Tarragon - Classic crab cakes made with crab meat, bread crumbs, egg, mayonnaise, scallions, lemon juice, tarragon, and seasonings.
  • Tomato, Mozzarella, and Tarragon Salad - A riff on a traditional Caprese salad, swapping fresh tarragon leaves for basil.