What can I substitute for tarragon?

In this concise article, we will answer the question, “What can I substitute for tarragon?” with an in-depth analysis of tarragon and the possible substitutes for tarragon. 

What can I substitute for tarragon?

Tarragon gives a sweet and bitter flavour to our dishes. If you run out of tarragon, various substitutes give the same flavour and texture. These include dried tarragon angelica, basil, chervil, dill, fennel, aniseed, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, parsley and cinnamon.

In 1995, the global market for medicinal herbs was approximately USD 17 billion, but a recent market analysis suggests that by 2023 this will increase to approximately USD 111 billion (compound annual growth rate of 7% to 8%). Market drivers for this increased demand in developed countries include the expense of insurance-based medical care, a rising desire of people in industrialized nations to take charge of their own health, and an increasing elderly population (1).

Substitutes for tarragon

There are various substitutes for tarragon with the same flavour and taste that are discussed below:

Dried tarragon:

If you run out of fresh tarragon you can replace it with dried tarragon. Dried tarragon is easily available in stores. Although there will be a slight difference in taste while replacing fresh tarragon with dried tarragon, it can be used. 

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) is a widely known perennial, aromatic subshrub belonging to the Asteraceae plant family. Tarragon is richer in aroma, therefore it is primarily used for flavoring food. Apart from being used as a spice in culinary, it has several other pharmacological properties, including antifungal, antibacterial, antidiabetic, antioxidant, anticonvulsant and hepatoprotective features. Although the aroma of the herb is lost during drying, it still contains the characteristics of its fresh form (2).

The taste of dried tarragon is very strong so you should use it wisely. Add an appropriate quantity of it to your dish. You can add half a tablespoon of fried tarragon for every spoon of fresh tarragon. Because a high quantity of dried tarragon could cause bitterness in the dish.

Angelica:

Angelica root is used in the preparation of liqueurs and pastry. The stems of this plant are sold in the crystallized form as angelica stems and serve as a decoration on pastry (3). Angelica can be the substitute for tarragon. It gives an earthy and sweet taste. This is a rare herb so it would cause difficulty for you in finding it. But once it is available it is the best substitute for tarragon.

It can be replaced in equal amounts for tarragon. There would be no change in flavour so use it in a 1:1 ratio.

You can use it for soups, stews and for seafood and salads too.

Basil:

Basil is also the substitute for tarragon. It is easy to find. You can easily get it from your nearest store (either in dried form or fresh). It gives the same taste and flavour as tarragon. But if you use fresh basil as a replacement for fresh tarragon it would give the best taste instead of using dried basil. 

Because dried basil has a weak flavour so when using dried tarragon, you should add it more than the fresh basil. 

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a plant from the family of Lamiaceae, from which most leaves are used in fresh and dried forms. The flavor coumpounds of basil are methylchavicol, linalool and methyl eugenol (3,4).

Quantity to use:

  • You can add 2 tablespoons of fresh basil as a replacement for 1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon. (2:1)
  • The same is the quantity for dried basil. (2:1)

You can use it in pasta dishes, soups, poultry, or fish.

Chervil:

Chervil is also the best replacement for tarragon. It adds some flavour and texture to the dish. It can be used in equal quantities as a replacement for tarragon (1:1).

There is no difference in taste and flavour if you use dried or fresh chervil. You can use it in dressings, sauces, and on poultry.

Chervil·has a very fine soft leaf. Bunches of chervil have to be cut or snipped and are added to soups, cold sauces and salads. Chervil (Anthriscus cereifolium) belongs to the Umbelliferae family and can be  found preserved by canning (3,4). 

Dill:

Dill can also be a substitute for tarragon because the only ingredient missing in dill is liquorice and aroma. This absence does not affect the overall taste and flavour of the dish. If you are replacing tarragon just to get rid of a liquorice taste, then this is the best replacement. 

The leaves of dill are used fresh in salads and in sauces which are served with fish dishes or white meat. The umbels and seeds are used in the pickling of gherkins and cucumbers. leaves are rich in minerals, mainly calcium, phosphorus and iron; they contain nine amino acids as well as flavonoids. However, both these oils have antibacterial property and are known to protect prepared food from contamination during storage. In traditional medicine dill fruit has carminative, aromatic stimulant, stomachic and diuretic properties. The emulsion of seed oil in water (dill water) is useful in relieving flatulence, colic pain, vomiting and is a household remedy to correct gastric disorders in children (3,4).

It can be used in equal quantities (either dry or fresh) 1:1. 

It can be used in seafood.

Fennel:

Fennel is also known as fronds. Its taste is pretty like the taste of tarragon. It has a more liquorice flavour.  In general, it can be used in equal quantities 1:1. But if you are using dry herbs then you should use 1/8th tablespoon of fennel with a tablespoon of fennel.

The best use of this herb is in lighter dishes like soups, sauces, citrus-based vinaigrettes. The leaf of fennel is used as a herb in salads, the root as a vegetable with an aniseed taste and the seed umbel for pickling gherkins and cucumbers. The main aromatic compounds of fennel are (E)-anethole and fenchone. It is used in the production of sweet vodka (3.4).

Aniseed:

Aniseeds are also called anise seeds or anise.  These are the popular replacement for tarragon. If you are replacing tarragon to get a strong flavour of liquorice, then it could be the best substitute. 

From the seeds, the volatile oils are extracted and added to sweets (aniseed balls). The seeds are also surrounded with a sugar coating or in the ground form are a component of ‘koek’ spices. The major constituent in volatile oil of aniseed is trans (E)-anethole. Methyl Chavicol (estragole), anise ketone (para-methoxyphenylacetone) and -caryophyllene are also present, but in lesser relative amounts. Aniseed is one of the oldest spices used widely for flavoring curries, breads, soups, baked goods such as German springerle, and Italian biscotti, sweets (e.g. licorice candies, especially aniseed-balls), dried figs, desserts, cream cheese, pickles, coleslaw, egg dishes, non-alcoholic beverage (3,4).

It can be used either in dry or fresh form because it gives a little sweet and spicy flavour. You can replace one tablespoon of dry or fresh tarragon with a pinch of aniseed.

You can use it for broths, sauces, and stews.

Marjoram:

Marjoram is not the best replacement for tarragon, but better. It is from the oregano family; it does not have the strong flavour of liquorice. But it gives an earthy, warm, and woodsy taste. So, it could be the replacement for tarragon. 

Marjoram contains compounds with a preserving action. Sweet marjoram is characterized by a strong spicy and pleasant odor. The flavor is fragrant, spicy, slightly sharp, bitterish and camphoraceous. The essential oil of marjoram contains monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, monoterpene alcohols, among others (3.4).

You can swap it in a ratio of 1:1

It is best used in vegetable and poultry dishes.

Oregano:

Oregano is a good substitute for tarragon. The main difference between tarragon flavour and oregano is oregano has a more bitter flavour when it is used in dry form. Oregano has a bit of spice and pepper in it. 

The compound linalool, A-terpineol and carvacrol and the essential oils of oregano. It also contains rosmarinic acid. Like other herbs and spices, it contains phenolic compounds such as flavonoids may help to protect against cardiovascular disease and intestinal cancer (3,4).

You can use oregano in ratio 1:1. It is best to use in dishes like soups, stews, casseroles, pasta, and tomato-based recipes. 

Rosemary:

Rosemary can be replaced with tarragon if you are replacing it with dried tarragon. Its dried leaves look like pine needles, and are especially used for meat, game and poultry, but also for fish dishes and salads (3).

Antioxidant properties of rosemary have been well documented. Rosemary was considered both lipid antioxidant and metal helator. Rosemary extract was found also to scavenge superoxide radicals (4).

Parsley and Cinnamon:

When parsley and cinnamon are used in combined form, they give the best sweet and bitter flavour. Due to which their combo can be the replacement for tarragon.

There are plain-leaved and curly-leaved varieties of parsley. They are both suitable to be added fresh to soups, sauces, fish dishes and potato dishes. 

Cinnamon is the inside bark of the branches of the cinnamon tree, which grows in Sri Lanka, Java and China. The branches are peeled, the bark is rolled and dried in the air until it colors brown. The word ‘cinnamon’ means ‘little pipe’ (canna). Cinnamon is used in the preparation of stewed fruit, red cabbage, fruit juices and, in the ground form in pastries. The sweet taste of cinnamon is due to the presence of cinnamaldehyde. It is reported that, when combined with sweet food, the sweet sensation of the food is enhanced because of the synergetic effect between the sweet taste of sugar and sweet aroma of cinnamon (3,4).

Conclusion

In this concise article, all the possible substitutes for tarragon are discussed along with their quantity to use.

References

  1. Ałtyn, Iwona, and Magdalena Twarużek. Mycotoxin contamination concerns of herbs and medicinal plants. Toxins, 2020, 12, 182.
  2. Hazarika, Urbashi, et al. Phytochemicals and organoleptic properties of French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) influenced by different preservation methods. LWT, 2022, 114006.  
  3. Catsberg, C. M. E., and G. J. M. Dommelen. Herbs and spices. Food Handbook. Springer, Dordrecht, 1990. 290-301.
  4. Peter, Kuruppacharil V., ed. Handbook of herbs and spices: volume 3. Woodhead publishing, 2006.