Chervil: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

Chervil is an herb that is often used in French cooking. It has a delicate, sweet flavor that is similar to anise or fennel, and it can be used to add flavor to soups, salads, and sauces. Chervil is a member of the parsley family, and it is one of the herbs known as fines herbes. It is traditionally used in Herbes de Provence, a blend of herbs that also includes thyme, basil, and tarragon. Chervil can be difficult to find fresh, but it is readily available dried or in the form of a powder. When using chervil, it is important to add it towards the end of cooking so that its flavor is not overpowered by other ingredients.

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Chervil history

The chervil plant originated in Eastern Europe and would later be dispersed by colonizing Romans. The herb was a familiar one to the Ancient Romans, Greeks, and Chinese. The Romans were particularly fond of it for flavoring food. They would cultivate it wherever they set up their garrisons, and as a result, its cultivation and use grew with the Roman Empire. The first-century Roman scholar Pliny believed that chervil was a diuretic, and in the medieval period, it was believed to cleanse the body of impurities.

In the 17th century, botanist Nicholas Culpeper would describe the herb as having stomach-warming medicinal properties. He also claimed that it was a remedy for clotted blood as well as for kidney stones. Chervil is one of the four French fines herbes, along with tarragon, chives, and parsley.

Chervil’s use continues today in European folk medicine. A tea made with chervil is considered effective for lowering blood pressure.

Chervil flavor profile

Chervil has licorice notes similar to the ones in basil, anise, and fennel. You could also compare its flavor profile to a mix of tarragon and its relative, parsley. Some cooks detect a slight hint of mint along with the other notes. The flavor of chervil is subtle, so the flavors of other herbs can easily overpower it. Note that chervil that has blossoms attached to it will probably be bitter.

Benefits of chervil

Like its relative parsley, chervil contains high concentrations of vitamins and minerals.

  • Antioxidants: Along with the vitamin A carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein, chervil is also rich in vitamins C and E. Both vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help to fight inflammation. You can get 195 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A from chervil.
  • Vitamins: Aside from C and E, chervil is packed with various B vitamins, including B-2, B-3 and B-1. These vitamins are important for the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. You can get 83 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C intake from 100 grams of chervil.
  • Minerals: Chervil is a good source of minerals, including potassium, calcium, and iron. Potassium is important for regulating your heart rate and blood pressure, while calcium is needed for healthy bones and teeth. In addition, your blood cells need iron to carry out their function of transporting oxygen. From 100 grams of chervil, you can get 399 percent of your daily recommended intake of iron, 134 percent of your daily recommended intake of calcium, and 100 percent of your potassium intake.

Common uses of chervil

The French fines herbes blend that includes chervil is used for various dishes, including ravigote sauce, which is served on fish or poultry. The fines herbes are important because their flavors release slowly, which makes them ideal for longer cooking dishes. Because of that slow flavor release, chervil is among the herbs considered useful for making stocks.

Traditionally, chervil is eaten in the spring and is used to flavor other springtime foods like asparagus and baby carrots. It can be served whole or chopped in salads and can also be combined with stronger-smelling cheeses as its flavor complements the most pungent notes.