Tarragon Vs. Dill: SPICEography Showdown

Dill and tarragon are two of the classic herbs and are each associated with several famous European dishes. Because of similarities in their flavor, they are commonly suggested as substitutes for each other but are they always perfectly interchangeable? Let’s answer that question by taking a closer look at how they compare in the SPICEography Showdown below.

How does tarragon differ from dill?

Tarragon and dill are unrelated; the two herbs come from different botanical families. Tarragon is a perennial from the Asteraceae family. Sunflowers, lettuce, and artichokes all belong to the same family. Dill is an annual herb from the Apiaceae family, which has members like carrots and celery. 

Tarragon and dill differ in terms of their appearances. Tarragon plants have long slender leaves that narrow to a point like blades of crabgrass. Dill has feathery fronds that look somewhat like fennel fronds. 

The most important way that tarragon is different from dill is its flavor. Tarragon’s flavor is a concentrated anise or licorice note with a little earthiness. Dill has a lighter licorice note with a little grassiness and a mild hint of citrus. The difference between dried tarragon and dried dill might be less noticeable. 

Outside of France, tarragon is not quite as widely available as dill. Dill may be easier to find in many places, with larger stores having both fresh and dried dill. 

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other? 

Fresh tarragon makes a decent substitute for fresh dill, but you should keep its stronger flavor in mind. Its intense licorice flavor may dominate recipes that require dill. Because cooking will eliminate much of its flavor, you can still use it as a 1:1 substitute for dill, but you should add it at an earlier point in the cooking time than you would add the dill. The extra cooking should make it a closer match for the dill flavor. Dried tarragon has a more muted flavor, so you don’t need to add it earlier if you are replacing fresh dill. Tarragon is more effective as a dill substitute in seafood dishes and salad dressings. Use dried tarragon exactly as you would use dried dill. 

Dill can work as a tarragon substitute in some applications but may not be ideal in all since it lacks the same strong licorice note. Despite having a less pungent flavor, dill can be bitter if you use too much of it, so use it sparingly. Start by using it as a 1:1 substitute for fresh or dried tarragon, and add more to taste. It will work best as a replacement for tarragon in seafood and poultry dishes. 

How should you use tarragon, and how should you use dill?

Tarragon shows up mainly in French dishes. It is called the king of herbs in France is one of the famous French fines herbes, a group of culinary herbs that includes chervil and chives. It is the main flavoring in the classic Béarnaise Sauce. One popular use for tarragon is to make tarragon vinegar that can then be used to give the tarragon flavor to a vinaigrette or homemade mayonnaise. Make tarragon vinegar by steeping a pair of tarragon sprigs in two or three cups of white wine vinegar for about three weeks. 

You will see dill used in Scandinavian and Eastern European dishes. Use it to make authentic-tasting versions of the cured salmon dish known as gravlax, as well as borscht and dill pickles. It is a great seasoning for potatoes as well.

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