Flavor Investigator: Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens), is a herbaceous, yellow-flowered annual herb known for its anise and lemon notes depending on the variety chosen. Dill’s name is derived from the Norse word dilla, meaning to lull as it was believed that the herb was good treatment for insomnia. This herb is known for its characteristic green, wiry, delicate, feathery leaves and flowers ranging from white to yellow.

Similar to Rosemary, dill has had a long relationship with man as it was first mentioned in an Egyptian list 5000 years ago. As a result, it has become one of the oldest known medical herbs.  Dill was cultivated in classical Greece, Rome and ancient Palestine. The words “dill” and “till” have even been mentioned in old writings of regions such as Germany and Switzerland as early as 1000 AD.

The origins of this herb have caused a bit of confusion as it grows wild in most temperature regions. Some sources say it originated in southwestern Asia while others claim Russia. Regardless, it has become naturalized in Europe, northern US and certain landscapes of Canada such as the southern parts of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

The Flavour of Dill

Dill is a complex, mild and warm flavour when its feathery leaves are used. When tasted initially, it will take on a sweet flavour however it will develop into a sour, clean taste over time. Notes of anise and caraway also come through. Anise itself is a rather potent flavour and can be described as having a mild licorice taste. Furthermore, dill carry’s sweet, green, herbal and woody flavour notes.


One reason why dill carries caraway flavour notes is because it contains the flavour compound carvone – in particular (S)–(+)-carvone. (S)–(+)-carvone is a naturally occurring monoterpene found in caraway seeds, orange peel oil  and dill seeds. Interestingly, it is also used to prevent premature sprouting of potatoes in the Netherlands. Carvone forms two mirror image forms (enantiomers) with one being (S)–(+)-carvone  and the other being (R)–(-)-carvone. (R)–(-)-carvone smells like spearmint and as a result is frequently  added to toothpastes, mouth washes and chewing gums.

How to Use Dill

Unlike Rosemary’s flavour which can withstand the drying process, dill is best used fresh as its delicate flavour is further suppressed. When cooking with dill it is recommended that it is not over cooked as heat quickly breaks down its flavour.

Surprisingly, dill leaves are one of the least flavourful portions of this herbs and as a result you can use a lot of it without overpowering the dish. Therefore, use dill high concentrations when working with egg dishes, fish, cheese spreads and summer produce such as cucumbers, corn and tomatoes. Furthermore, it plays well members of its family, like fennel, celery and carrots.

Dill seeds are pungent imparting a scent that is a bit like caraway, but lighter. They have the strongest flavour of the entire herb and have hints of anise or lemon depending upon the variety used. These seeds can be crushed or used whole and used in herb breads, soups, pickles even in desserts containing apples.
In the between the leaves and seeds in regards to flavour, dill flowers can be enjoyed anywhere the leaves are used. To pump up your presentation try using them to garnish a plate or add them to a salad.

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Dill Pickles

Dill pickles are typically added burgers and sandwiches because they can add a refreshing, sour crunch to a lot of preparations. In order for dill pickles to be called “dill pickles ”  they must be a cucumber brined in a solution containing a part of the dill herb such as the flowers or seeds. Kosher dills on the other hand is based on the traditional Jewish New York City pickle makers, who added garlic along with dill.

Possible Unique Flavour Combinations of Dill

  • Dill and Mint- The reason why dill and mint are able to pair well together as both contain the chemical compound- carvone. Despite the difference in chiral orientation, the two are able to complement each other so try combining them together in a lemon couscous salad
  • Dill and Avocado- Both of these ingredients contain grassy flavour notes. Dills lemony, celery like flavor is able cut through the grassy, creamy flavour in avocado. It is best to combine these two with another delicate flavour such as salmon to prevent the duo from being overpowered
  • Dill and Apple- As mentioned above, dill has a grassy flavour and so do apples. Dill has a strong pronounced grassy flavour which hides it’s anise flavour. To bring out this anise flavour pair it will orange juice and green apples.

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