Flavor Investigator: Rosemary

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) an aromatic and versatile herb, is a part of the mint family Lamiacae which includes herbs such as basil, mojoram and oregano. This woody, perennial evergreen shrub has needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple or blue flowers  depending o the variety. It is native to the Mediterranean region. However, rosemary is also grown in other regions of the world where warmer climatic conditions are present.

Rosemary has a long history with man and dates back to 500BC where the Greeks and Romans used it as a culinary and medicinal herb. The Chinese used rosemary as a health conditioner while the Greeks were known to wear it in their hair for decoration. It has even been found to be buried in the tombs of pharaohs in ancient Egypt!

Rosemary’s assertive and piney flavour complements meat dishes including lamb, chicken, pork and fish. It also enlightens lighter fish dishes, tomato sauces, and vegetables or be used for rice, soups, salads and potatoes.

The Flavour of Rosemary

This aromatic shrub has a slightly minty, sage-like, peppery, balsamic taste with a bitter, woody aftertaste. Rosemary’s flavour is not reduced when it cooked and as a result it can be added at the beginning of cooked in stews. Be careful though, rosemary is a powerful herb and can easily overwhelm other flavours, adding it in gradual amounts helps to prevent this.

Different varieties of rosemary will cause small changes in the flavour you perceive.  Traditional rosemary is known for its eucalyptus character akin to sage, although it contains more pine and floral notes and is sweeter. The Tuscan blue variety is a bright sea green colour possessing a gentle, lemon-pine aroma. In contrast, rosemary Spice Island has hints of clove and nutmeg while rosemary Sissinghurst Blue has pronounced smoky flavour, which is best on the barbeque

Dried vs Fresh Rosemary

Fresh rosemary leaves and their flowering tops are best used in preparations such as gravy, potatoes and Greek cuisine. It is best to use dried rosemary in recipes with plenty of liquid and long cooking time because it can be hard and brittle. Liquids allow the herb to rehydrate and reconstitute it flavour. One benefit though of dried rosemary is that it still manages to keep its strong flavour unlike many other herbs.


Image result for 1,8-cineole rosemary

If you recall the last time you took a bite of fresh rosemary it had a fresh, mint-like smell and a spicy, cooling taste. The compound responsible for this is 1,8-cineole also known as Eucalyptol. Eucalyptol is a natural occurring organic compound, which is a colourless and is commonly added to mouthwashes and cough suppressants. It is also found in bay leaves, common sage, eucalyptus and tea tree.

Possible Flavour Combinations of Rosemary

  • Rosemary and Chocolate– Rosemary is a dominant flavor due to the presence of cineole. As mentioned before it provided a woody, eucalyptus and slightly minty flavor. To create a reminiscent “winter” flavor try combining it with a lower percentage of dark chocolate.
  • Rosemary and Orange- Depending on the variety chosen, oranges can be described as citrusy, creamy, tart and slightly bitter. The aromatics of orange pairs nicely with the cooling sensation of rosemary when sugar is present in the background. Preparations such as cakes and glazes best highlight this couple.
  • Rosemary and Hazelnut- When you roast hazelnuts the flavour notes of warm, sweet, buttery and cocoa flavor further developed. If you are deliberate with the amount used then rosemary can pair well to create a warm and delicate flavor.

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