Oh La La! The Fabulous Flavors of France

Fresh herbs wooden kitchen table Food background

Over the past year, FoodTrients has been exploring foods and flavors from around the globe. This week, we take a look at the flavors of France as part of our new series on the world of foods, herbs and spices that help create some of the distinctive dishes we have featured, and the age-defying benefits they deliver.

France is known for its elegant cuisine that is unlike any other. Not only is food an important part of French culture, but wine is considered a staple as well. France is well known for their wine all around the world and pairing it with food is part of the culinary culture. The grapes used to make wine grow abundantly in France due to perfect soil and climate conditions. Besides wine, baguettes are typically eaten with each meal. This crispy bread may be used for a sandwich, or even pulled apart to eat alongside any dish. French cuisine incorporates a variety of herbs and spices such as lavender, hibiscus flowers, and mint that pair well together and have many medicinal properties as well.

Allspice in a bamboo bowl

Allspice

Made from the berry of the pimenta dioica tree, allspice is used medicinally for a variety of stomach issues including gas and diarrhea. It has also been known to ease abdominal pain and may help to reduce blood pressure. In the kitchen, allspice provides a spice flavoring similar to nutmeg or cinnamon and is seen in a variety of dishes in French cuisine. Find is as piment de la Jamaïque. Alternatively, there is a spice blend commonly used in France in similar ways to allspice and it’s referred to as Quatre épices and is made from ground pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

Star anise seeds on the wooden background

Anise

As one of the oldest used herbs, it is no surprise that anise has been used medicinally for a variety of conditions. It may help with pain related to menstruation, headaches, and even help with gas. Due to its licorice flavor, it is often added to sweet dishes like creme brulee, a beautiful custard dessert. It is also used in classic cream sauces in the South of France to compliment seafood dishes.

Close up shot of black pepper

Black Pepper

If you have digestive problems, try adding black pepper to your meals as it may help ease an upset stomach and help with gas and diarrhea. Black pepper is also used to season a variety of dishes in the kitchen as it provides a spicy flavor that pairs well with other common flavors used in French cooking such as delicate sea salt. A cuisine that honors aroma, taste and visual appeal, pepper is also commonly used as a garnish on French food.

Raw Green Organic Marinated Capers

Capers

Capers have been known to help with a variety of conditions such as arthritis, fungal infections, and may even help treat diabetes. In French cuisine, these salty plants have a taste similar to green olives and offer a complex flavor profile, with hints of sour and lemon. They are often added to seafood dishes, such as skate meunier and show up in cream and butter sauces throughout the region.

Fresh Chives / Siniklav or Frenk Sogani on wooden surface.

Chives

Used medicinally for common cold and flu symptoms, chives are a well-known herb used in a variety of cuisines. In France, chives are added at the end of cooking to provide a savory flavor that is similar but slightly milder to onions. Chives are a vibrant green color which also makes them the perfect garnish atop finished dishes. One of the four herbs found in Les Fines Herbes (in addition to tarragon, chervil and parsley), chives are a staple in France.

Dried mustard seeds, whole grain and Dijon mustard shot on rustic wooden table.

Dijon Mustard

Mostly known to help prevent infections, the seeds and leaves of the mustard plant may also be used medicinally to help appetite stimulation and treat flu and cold symptoms. In France, mustard seeds are made into Dijon mustard, a well-known condiment with a sharper, tangier flavor than yellow mustard. It is commonly added to salad dressings and smeared on top of sandwiches to give the meal a spicy, piquant flavor. Find it in classic dishes like Beef Wellington and Salmon en croûte.

Fresh fennel bulb

Fennel

Used in natural medicine for a variety of conditions, fennel is known to help balance women’s hormones and increase lactation. It is very soothing to the digestive system and commonly used in cooking for this reason as well as it’s vibrant taste. With a slight anise flavor, fennel is used frequently in a variety of fish and meat dishes in France. You’ll find it in gratin, combined with potatoes, braised, or combined with other vegetables in soups and stews.

Large variety of multi colored dried tea leaves and flowers shot on white table

Hibiscus Flowers

Hibiscus flowers are used medicinally for colds and respiratory infections, cardioprotective/heart health properties, and may even have anti-cancer effects when consumed regularly. Their bright crimson color indicates a high number of antioxidants, including vitamin C, that could contribute to health benefits. When cooking with hibiscus flowers in French cuisine, they are often made into marinades and jellies that can be added to dishes. Because of their color, they are also used in desserts and as a garnish. When dried, hibiscus flowers can be steeped, producing a delightful herbal tea. You may see hibiscus listed as bissap.

Dried lavender flowers

Lavender

Medicinally, lavender may be used to decrease anxiety and depression. It can also be inhaled which may provide a calming effect to help those with sleep disorders. In the kitchen, lavender is known to be part of a mixture of spices called herbes de Provence, which combines lavender with spices like rosemary, sage and oregano. This seasoning is a staple in French cuisine and is used to provide a unique flavoring to roast meat and seafood, on tarts and baked goods, and in soups and sauces.

Fresh mint leaves. Top view

Mint

If you suffer from stomach irritation such as gas, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mint may be a great herb to try as it may help to reduce symptoms and pain. In French cuisine, mint, or menth, is added to provide a cooling effect in cucumber salads and other vegetable side dishes such as peas or rice as well as desserts and liqueurs. Find it paired with other herbs such as capers, both of which are used in a variety of meats and soups.

Macro of onions. Shallots on a green wooden table. Shallow depth of field. Top view. Copy space

Onion

Onions may be used medicinally for a variety of conditions such as hypertension/high blood pressure and asthma and may even have some anti-cancer properties. Onions provide a savory flavor and are commonly used in cuisines around the world. In France, you can expect to see onions in all types of dishes, from onion soup and stews, and even as a garnish made with wine, butter and shallots. The wide variety of onions found in France pair well with other spices used in this region such as rosemary, sage and sea salt.

Piment d'espelette, Basque Chile

Piment d’Espelette

A word for red chili powder, this important spice contains vitamin C and B vitamins, which may help with strengthening immune function and overall health. Made from chiles located in the town of Espelette in the French Basque region of the Nive Valley, this spice is added to dishes to provide a subtle heat similar to paprika. It is often used in stews, sauces, and marinades. French food traditionally isn’t innately spicy and so this more savory, mild heat complements the food well.

Rosemary. Fresh rosemary herbs. Scissors cut herbs fresh rosemary.

Rosemary

Rosemary is used medicinally for brain health, treating stress and depression. It is used to treat these conditions both through consuming it directly as well as inhaling the aroma. A fresh herb used commonly in French cuisine, find rosemary in marinades, meat dishes such as lamb and tenderloin, in cheese dishes – especially goat cheese – soups and even desserts. It is also a part of herbes de provence, a common seasoning mixture used in France.

Sage

Sage

Medicinally, sage is often used for digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and decreased appetite. In the kitchen, sage provides an earthy, peppery taste that pairs well with other spices like rosemary, which can be found in many French gratin dishes. Though it’s not one of the primary herbs used in traditional French cuisine, this is a region of the world that favors fresh herbs and you may find it growing in gardens throughout the country. Dried sage is used in herbes de Provence.

Kosher Salt Spilled from a Spice Jar

Sea Salt

While many people are trying to limit their sodium intake to help lower blood pressure, it does remain an important way to flavor food, especially in French cuisine. Balance salt intake by boosting up other herbs and spices for flavor. Sea salt in particular has other minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. One of the most commonly used seasonings, sea salt, or Fleur de sel, is a staple in French cuisine and is known for its thin, delicate crust that is as beneficial for flavoring food as it is for creating a beautiful garnish on a finished dish.

References

Food In Every Country. France. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Algeria-to-France/France.html. Accessed 1/03/21.

Spruce Eats. Allspice. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-allspice-1809322.

Updated 9/22/20. Accessed 1/10/21.

Spruce Eats. Herbes de Provence. https://www.thespruceeats.com/herbes-de-provence-recipe-1375311. Updated 1/17/20. Accessed 1/10/21

Spruce Eats. Dijon Mustard. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-dijon-mustard-995645. Updated 9/20/20. Accessed 1/15/21.

Spruce Eats. Chili Powder. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-chili-powder-995615. Updated 7/9/20. Accessed 1/20/21.

Bon Appétit. Piment d’ Espelette. https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/piment-d-espelette/ Acessed 1/15/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Allspice. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=81. Updated 7/10/20. Accessed 12/26/20.

Natural Medicines Database. Anise. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=582. Updated 11/06/20. Accessed 12/26/20.

Natural Medicines Database. Black Pepper. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=800. Updated 8/27/20. Accessed 1/10/22.

Natural Medicines Database. Chives. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=403. Updated 4/02/19. Accessed 1/03/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Capers. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=727. Updated 3/27/20. Accessed 1/03/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Hibiscus. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=211. Updated 2/14/20. Accessed 1/03/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Lavender. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=838. Updated 12/17/20. Accessed 1/03/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Japanese Mint. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=616. Updated 8/24/20. Accessed 1/03/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Sage. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=504. Updated 10/09/20. Accessed 1/03/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Rosemary. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=154. Updated 7/10/20. Accessed 12/26/20.

About Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO

Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ginger Hultin MS RD CSO LDN gingerhultin@hotmail.com | @GingerHultinRD Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group ChampagneNutrition.com  
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