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Substitute for Tarragon


There’s nothing better than a homemade bearnaise sauce spread over a grilled steak. Tarragon is an essential ingredient in this delightful dish. Take a look at the list below to find the best substitute for tarragon to spice up your French cuisine.

measuring spoon with dried spice and bag labeled tarragon spice

What is tarragon?

Tarragon is a perennial herb meaning it lasts for a few years, making it an excellent addition to home gardens. Although it is commonly used in French recipes, it originates from parts of Asia and Russia.

Many people find it tricky to replace tarragon in recipes due to its complex flavor. It works well with lighter meats like poultry and seafood. It has a strong taste, so most recipes call for a small quantity.

When looking for fresh tarragon in the store, you’ll notice it by its grass-like appearance. These fresh herbs have long, slender green leaves running along the stem. When used for cooking, both fresh tarragon and dried tarragon work well in dishes.

What are the types of tarragon?

Two main types of tarragon are available Russian tarragon and French tarragon. While the Russian variety is easier to grow, it also has a more subtle flavor. Its smaller leaves distinguish it from French tarragon.

French tarragon is the variety most commonly seen and purchased in stores (both dried and fresh). It has a bold flavor that shows up well in many recipes.

Mexican tarragon is the third available variety. However, it’s much more elusive both in stores and in kitchens. It tastes similar to French tarragon, though with a more pungent licorice taste.

Top Tarragon Substitutes and Alternatives

1. Dried Tarragon

Dried tarragon works well as a substitute for tarragon. Both fresh and dried tarragon maintain the same flavor profile. However, you’ll find that dried tarragon (like many herbs) has a more pungent taste. It is necessary to use less dried tarragon than fresh when cooking.

Dehydrating tarragon at home is an excellent way to preserve fresh tarragon that has been purchased at a store or grown in your garden. Dried tarragon can also be ground into a powder and kept in a spice jar for future use.
Pros
You’ll find the licorice flavor and bittersweet taste that tarragon is known for when using this alternative. Because of this, you can use it in every recipe that calls for fresh tarragon.
Cons
Dried tarragon has a much more potent flavor which can easily take over the dish if you use too much at once. It also can become quite bitter. The dried version of tarragon works best in small doses.

Cooking Tip:
Start with a small amount of tarragon first – use ½ teaspoon when recipes call for fresh tarragon and adjust from there.

2. Fresh Basil

Fresh basil is an excellent replacement for tarragon. It boasts a similar licorice taste along with a slight hint of mint and sweetness. You will notice that basil is much more subtle in flavor than tarragon, and you might need a larger quantity for flavoring.

The most commonly used variety is sweet basil (also known as Italian basil). It hails from the Mediterranean and can hold its own in dishes that have intense flavors. Dried basil can be used as well as a substitution. However, you’ll need double the amount to provide a strong enough flavor in recipes.

Pros
The sweetness and anise-like flavor provided by basil work well when creating tomato-based sauces or cooking fish/poultry. Using basil in its fresh state also offers a similar freshness that tarragon leaves do. Basil is quite easily found in stores and supermarkets – both dried and fresh.

Cons
The flavor is not 100% the same. There will be a slight difference in taste when using it for recipes. It also does not work as a swap for all recipes that require tarragon.

Cooking Tip:
Start with a 1:1 ratio for fresh basil when swapping it out for tarragon. You can double it for recipes that require a bolder taste.

3. Fennel Seeds and Fennel Leaves

Both fennel seeds and fennel leaves (aka fennel fronds) can be used as a tarragon replacement. Both versions produce a similar licorice taste in dishes as well as a sweet taste. They are easily substituted into recipes. You will notice a difference in texture with both options.

Fennel originates from Europe and is currently used worldwide in Greek, Indian, and Italian foods. Fennel can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. The seeds can be used as-is or pulverized.

Pros
Fennel seed and fresh fennel provide a similar sweet flavor and licorice taste. They are readily available in stores – if you can’t find the fresh version, you can likely find the seeds in the spice aisle. Fennel works as an alternative in tomato sauces, flavoring for sausages, and seasoning fish.

Cons
Fennel – especially fennel seeds have a more pungent taste than tarragon. This vegetable is another ingredient that can easily overpower other flavor notes in recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio when subbing fresh fennel for fresh tarragon. When using fennel seeds, only a pinch is needed in most recipes.

4. Dill

Dill, aka dill weed, works well as a fresh tarragon substitute. It has sweetness with citrusy notes. You can find this herb easily in stores. Dill does not have a licorice flavor to it, so swapping it for tarragon will change the taste of your recipes.

Dill weed is related to both carrots and parsley. It has been used for centuries both for medicinal purposes and in Greek wines. Dill is commonly cooked with potatoes and fish. For those unfamiliar with dill, you have likely seen this herb floating inside the jar with pickles.

Pros
Besides missing the licorice flavor notes, dill tastes very similar to tarragon. Some might find it a benefit that it does not taste like licorice as it can work in certain dishes better than tarragon. Dill works well with most seafood recipes. You can use both dried dill and fresh dill while cooking.

Cons
If you are a proponent of the licorice flavor, you’ll notice the taste is different in your recipes. There’s also a difference in the scent when cooking, which can throw people off.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio when subbing for tarragon. This ratio works for both the fresh and dried variety.

5. Thyme

Thyme is commonly combined with tarragon in recipes. Because of this, it can be noted that it complements other ingredients typically used with tarragon making it a good replacement. Thyme can be used both in its dried form and as a fresh herb.

Thyme is part of the mint family and has a bold flavor, like tarragon. Expect an earthy, sweet taste when using thyme in recipes. This is a great swap when making sauces or soups.

Thyme has an interesting history that spans back to the Egyptians and ancient Greeks. It was commonly used in embalming and even incense as well as in recipes. It was believed to have magical properties and was used to bring courage and ward off nightmares.

Pros
Thyme is one of the most used spices. Due to its popularity, it’s easily found in stores if not in your kitchen already. It adds a similar sweet and bold taste.

Cons
The flavor of thyme is, in some ways, different than tarragon. In certain recipes, you may taste the difference.

Cooking Tip:
Use thyme in a 1:1 ratio when using it as a replacement.

6. Angelica

Angelica is an herb that provides an earthy and licorice-like taste. It is best used fresh as a replacement. When purchasing, opt for the leaf, stalk, and stem as they provide many culinary uses. Avoid the root, as that’s more commonly associated with medicinal uses.

This herb has a mild, sweet taste that is suitable for most dishes. Since the taste is a good match, you can swap angelica with tarragon in nearly all recipes. Use angelica in soups, stews, and even raw dishes like salads.

When you use this herb in seed form, it works well in flavoring sweet deserts. If you can only find the seeds, avoid using them for savory dishes and opt for a different swap from the list.

Pros
You’ll find angelica to provide a very similar flavor to recipes as tarragon with its licorice flavoring and sweet taste. Since it is not very strong tasting, you can use it in many recipes that call for tarragon.

Cons
Angelica can be difficult to find in local stores. While you can order it online, it will take longer to arrive than if you purchase it in person.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio when substituting for tarragon.

7. Chervil

Chervil is another spice that is often used as a swap for tarragon. It also provides a licorice flavor to dishes. This spice is described as a combination of tarragon, chives, and parsley, having some flavor notes of each. The flavor of chervil is much more refined and yet milder at the same time.

Both dried and fresh chervil work as replacements. When a recipe calls for fresh tarragon, use fresh chervil in its place. Same for dried tarragon.

Not only does chervil have a similar taste, but it also provides a similar aroma. This makes it ideal for recipes that include eggs, sauces, or poultry. Chervil will work well for most recipes that call for tarragon.

Its appearance is very similar to that of parsley, with long, thin stalks and leaves at the top. Its leaf shape distinguishes it. Chervil has longer, thinner leaves on it.

Pros
As chervil has a milder taste, it can work with many dishes. It’s also a great option for those not keen on the strong licorice flavor provided by tarragon.

Cons
Chervil is another herb that may not be easily found in grocery stores. It also provides a much milder taste which may mean certain dishes require a larger quantity to match the tarragon flavor.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio when using this substitution.

8. Anise

Tarragon is often compared to anise due to the licorice flavor that both provide. This seasoning is most often available in seed form and thus is commonly referred to as aniseed or anise seed. You’ll find anise to have a stronger taste than tarragon, which can be both positive or negative depending on whether you enjoy the licorice flavor.

This seed is often said to have a taste similar to that of fennel combined with tarragon. It provides a sweet yet spicy flavor that livens up any dish. You can use anise to replace dried and fresh tarragon in recipes.

Use anise seeds for sweet and savory dishes – as the flavor works well for both. Anise can even be used in drinks like chai.

Pros
Anise has a similar licorice flavor and sweet taste as tarragon. It works well with most recipes as a replacement. You can fairly easily find this spice in your grocery store.

Cons
When you taste anise, you’ll notice the strong licorice taste quickly. If you’re not a licorice fan, avoid this swap. Since it has a bold flavor, it is easy to overdo the amount of anise in your recipe. This can cause the taste to be overwhelming.

Cooking Tip:
Start with 1/16th of a tablespoon to replace one tablespoon of tarragon, then adjust to your preference.

FAQs

Can you substitute thyme for tarragon?

Yes, you can use thyme as a sub for tarragon. It has a much different flavor than tarragon; it is often described as having a lemon and mint taste. It works well when looking for an herb to add a nice flavor to bread, soups, and chicken dishes. Use this sub only as a flavor alternative.

What does tarragon taste like?

Many people describe tarragon as having a licorice flavor similar to fennel seed and anise seed. It has a strong taste that is both sweet and sour. If you have a sensitive palate, you may also taste hints of vanilla.

What do you use tarragon leaves for in Cooking?

Most commonly, tarragon leaves are used in bearnaise sauce for flavoring. You can use them in any recipe that calls for dried tarragon as well. Fresh tarragon leaves are also often used with vinegar to create a salad dressing.

Summary

Next time you’re cooking and a recipe requires tarragon, use one of the above choices as a substitution. Although dried tarragon might seem like the optimal choice, its concentrated flavor can be tricky to cook with. Opt for the fresh fennel or fennel seeds as the most similar swap.

For those who are avoiding tarragon due to the licorice taste – you’ll enjoy dill as a flavorful swap. Experiment with these options to find what works best in your dish. Additional options not listed above include anise seeds, marjoram, fresh parsley, and oregano. They each provide a tasty flavor to recipes.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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