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In this question about tarragon lookalikes on the gardening stackexchange, I asked about whether I have grown a tarragon lookalike or whether tarragon can be tasteless if grown improperly. I added an update to that question today and I am hoping for a herb gardeners perspective in that community, but I also want to ask a different flavor (pun intended) of that same question but from a culinary perspective.

I have grown tarragon in the past, some 15-ish years ago and it tasted great. Last year I wanted to grow some and bought some seed, and have since learned it was Russian tarragon and not flavorful at all. So this spring I decided to plant some tarragon from those fresh cuttings you can buy at many supermarkets in those plastic clamshells or tubes. Great, no issue there except this: the tarragon I bought that was sold as a culinary herb, it also seems rather flavorless.

In doing more research I discover I may have been growing what's called Mexican tarragon which is in the marigold family, but considered a good substitute in areas that don't grow French tarragon very well. It's also called winter tarragon by some, I guess because it's available from the south during winter months.

So that's the background leading up to my question.

What flavor should I expect from each of these varieties? Is French tarragon really tasteless in comparison to this marigold substitute? Are my expectations for nice anise flavor too high for this supposedly noble herb? From a purist standpoint, I am incredulous and on the edge of outrage over this.

  • Flavor is a personal "thing" what works for me, may not work for you. – Max Mar 30 '16 at 17:15
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    Name "winter tarragon" is ironic anyway: Tarragon ist hardy, winter tarragon isn't. – rackandboneman Mar 31 '16 at 7:42
  • Not sure why you're outraged? All herbs have multiple varieties. – FuzzyChef Jun 27 '18 at 20:23
  • Not posting an answer because I've never had non-French tarragon. Here's some web links though: green-talk.com/russian-tarragon aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2009/jan09/… Seems like Russian tarragon requires you to use much more, and Mexican is a completely different herb with a similar flavor to French. – FuzzyChef Jun 27 '18 at 20:26
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It is all a question of taste, so there is no definitive answer.

As a purist, you should plant "French Tarragon" which is the proper Artemisia dracunculus plant.

It is not an intense flavor; and this is why it is so good (IMO) and will not overpower a dish.

If you want something stronger, grow the "Mexican tarragon" (Tagetes lucida), which is a different plant.

Both have their use; plant both.

  • So do you think it's me? That I simply can't taste the anise flavor that should be in French tarragon? I mean really, as far as licorice taste goes, it seems to taste no more like licorice than grass. I am actually wondering if I am getting bad tarragon or that it's Russian tarragon that the herb producer just isn't tasting and doesn't realize he/she has the wrong one. My problem is, since I discovered I didn't in fact have tarragon in the past, but Mexican tarragon that maybe I just don't know what French tarragon is supposed to taste like. – Escoce Mar 30 '16 at 17:33
  • It's you, it's me, and everyone else, we all have different taste buds. – Max Mar 31 '16 at 12:37
  • Yeah, I don't think that's it. I think French tarragon is a lot harder to get due to mislabeling etc. I honestly think I quite simply bought more Russian tarragon labeled as French tarragon. How can French tarragon be tasteless? – Escoce Mar 31 '16 at 13:03
  • Yeah so I did some more research. The compounds that make the anise flavor are the same in tarragon, fennel, anise, Mexican tarragon, and licorice, so this isn't it because I can taste it in all the others. I must just be really unlucky trying to get some real French tarragon in my life. – Escoce Mar 31 '16 at 13:32
  • I had Mexican marigold growing at one house. It was delicious. I would use it in almost any egg dish and some desserts. I should plant it again. – Sobachatina May 30 '16 at 0:26

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