Culinary herbs add flavor to dishes by using the green leaves or stems of herb plants. The aromatic compounds in the leaves of herbs release their fragrance and flavor when the cells of the plant become damaged through cooking or cutting. Hundreds of herbs exist, but most belong to either the mint or the carrot family of plants, according to “The Science of Good Food.”
Several varieties of basil exist, and each have their own flavor components. The leaves of this 1-to-2-foot tall plant come in green or purple, depending on the type, according to the University of Vermont. The flavor compounds in basil include: methyl, eucalyptol, citral, linalool, cinnamate, estragole and eugenole, according to “The Science of Good Food.” Use fresh basil leaves in Italian dishes, with zucchini or tomatoes or to make homemade pesto, recommends the University of Nebraska.
Often used as a garnish, parsley offers its own distinctive flavor to dishes when used fresh. A member of the carrot family, parsley vaguely resembles the leaves from the tops of carrots and other related plants, such as fennel and lovage, according to “The Science of Good Food.” Look for Italian parsley, also known as flatleaf parsley. Compared to curly leaf parsley, it contains four times the flavor compounds, including myristicin which gives nutmeg its flavor, according to “The Science of Good Food.”
Menthol and I-Carvone give mint its fresh flavor, notes David Joachim. Not just for breath fresheners and toothpaste, mint leaves add a sweet, refreshing flavor to teas, desserts and savory dishes such as lamb and tabbouleh. Add mint leaves to recipes with carrots, fresh fruits, cool drinks and ice creams. For growing mint in your own garden, the University of Vermont recommends using a separate pot for mint, as this highly invasive plant will quickly overtake other plants in a garden bed if grown next to them.
Thyme and Oregano
Though they do not resemble each other, thyme and oregano both have the same flavor compounds, thymol and carvacrol, according to David Joachim. For cooking, pair thyme with meats and poultry dishes, and use oregano with tomatoes, pasta sauces and peppers, especially in Greek, Italian and Mexican recipes. The warm, mild climate of these countries resulted in the growth and use of oregano as a culinary herb.