FoodBoosting flavours and health with a bouquet garni: A guide to France's herb tradition

Boosting flavours and health with a bouquet garni: A guide to France's herb tradition

Bouquet garni
Bouquet garni
Images source: © Getty Images | Paul Grossmann

10:44 AM EST, February 17, 2024

A bouquet garni, which translates from French as "a bunch of herbs," fully reflects the essence of this addition to dishes. On the Seine, aromatic bouquets have been used for centuries. It was first mentioned by Pierre de la Varenne, the author of the groundbreaking culinary work, "Le Cuisinier françois" ("The French Chef"), published in 1651.

This notable publication marked a shift from the heavy and highly spiced dishes of the Middle Ages to a more subtle style of cooking, emphasizing balanced and delicate flavors. Intense, spiced additions such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves were replaced by gentler herbs like parsley, thyme, basil, oregano, and tribulus. These herbs are most effective when used in combination, creating a bouquet garni.

Each region of France has its version of the "bouquet," but the most classic combination consists of three sprigs of parsley, one sprig of thyme, and a bay leaf. These are typically tied with a kitchen string (formerly, simple cotton twine) or bundled in fresh leek or celery leaves.

The bunch can be enriched with slices of celery root, parsley, or carrot. Extraordinary effects can be achieved by adding dried orange or lemon peel, as done by the residents of Provence. The individual components of a bouquet garni should be carefully composed to optimize flavor without overpowering the dish.

What goes into a bouquet garni?

Apart from boosting the flavor and aroma of a dish, a bouquet garni also provides a significant dose of valuable nutrients.

For instance, parsley supplies iron, which combats fatigue, brightens skin, and strengthens hair, and is also rich in vitamin C, which improves immunity, vitamin A, which aids vision, and potassium, which regulates nerve system function. Parsley even contains apigenin, a flavonoid compound that inhibits the development of certain cancers, particularly breast cancer.

Thyme, no less beneficial, is a treasure trove of essential oils like thymol, carvacrol, and cymol, which act as disinfectants, relaxants, and bactericides. They thin bronchial secretions, improve respiration, combat insomnia, and enhance digestion. Thyme also stimulates the secretion of gastric juice and prevents various ailments, including diarrhoea and bloating.

Lastly, bay leaf aids detoxification, lowers blood sugar levels, supports digestion, and improves liver function.

How to prepare a bouquet garni

A bouquet garni is usually added to soups, broths, sauces, and goulashes. Expert chefs can concoct combinations that perfectly match and complement the specific dish.

Bouquet garni
Bouquet garni© Adobe Stock

Typically, the components of a bouquet garni are tied with kitchen string or cotton twine or, during the spring and summer, bundled in young leek leaves. In France, they sometimes even use bacon to hold the bouquet together. If dried herbs are used, they can be placed in a muslin bag (some even use coffee filters). Adding allspice, a few grains of pepper or a clove of garlic can elevate the flavour further.

So, when should you add this magical herb bouquet to your dish? The best time is about 15 minutes before the end of cooking. Once it has imparted the desired aroma, the bouquet garni is then removed.

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