Which French Spices Should You Have in Your kitchen?

French spice, bouquet garni
The classic French spices include bouquet garni, fines herbes, fleur de sel, herbes de Provence, quatre epices, and vadouvan. These spices differ in composition, texture, and appearance and have flavor profiles ranging from salty and licorice to peppery and citrusy. You can use them to flavor soups, stews, candies, and meats.

the basic list of 7 herbs and 5 blends

French spices are primarily herbs used individually or in spice blends to bring out the subtleties of flavor in various dishes.

The most common French spice herbs include:

  1. Basil
  2. Marjoram
  3. Bay leaves
  4. Sage
  5. Tarragon
  6. Parsley
  7. Thyme

Chives, shallots, leeks, garlic, and onions are also common.

Chives, shallots, leeks, garlic, and onions
Chives, shallots, leeks, garlic, and onions

French cuisine also includes 5 classic seasoning blends and one salt type (Fleur de Sel):

  1. Bouquet garni
  2. Fines herbes
  3. Quatre epices
  4. Vadouvan
  5. Herbes de Provence

top 4 Classic spices: Comparison Table

Here’s a detailed comparison between bouquet garni, fines herbes, quatre epices, and vadouvan:

Bouquet garniFines herbesQuatre epicesVadouvan
OriginIts origin is unknown, but the blend has existed since the 1600sOrigin goes back before 1903 when various chefs singled it out as a common spice mixHas an unclear originComes from Pondicherry, a southeastern region of India once colonized by the French
AppearanceA small bouquet of fresh herbsHas a soft texture as it features fresh herbs chopped togetherA fine, light-brown powderHas a coarse texture since it contains dried, crushed spices
FlavorAdds a bold herbal flavorAdds a mild, subtle flavorHas a mild heat and citrus flavor notesHas a smoky, subtly spicy, sweet flavor
ApplicationsFor stocks, soups, casseroles, and saucesIdeal for fish, salads, poultry, and egg dishesIdeal for seasoning terrines, gratins, vegetables, roulades, sausages, and soups.For flavoring veggies, poultry, salads, and seafood
Shelf lifeThe dried version lasts months to up to 2 yearsWhen refrigerated, up to 2, dried version lasts for 6-12 months6-24 months3-4 years
FormA small bunch of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf tied together with a butcher’s string or cheeseclothSimilar to bouquet garniFinely ground dried cinnamon, clove, pepper, and nutmegDried, crushed spices

Origin

The origin of bouquet garni is unknown, but the blend has existed since the 1600s.

See Also:  Rosemary: a warm, slightly bitter herbal spice

If you use a cheesecloth, you may add other spices to the “garnished bouquet,” such as celery leaves, fennel leaves, peppercorns, marjoram, cloves, and a dried orange peel. Add dill weed if you use the blend in fish dishes.

The origin of fines herbes goes back before 1903 when various chefs singled it out as a common spice mix in old recipes. It contains tarragon, chive, flat-leaf parsley, and chervil.

Vadouvan comes from Pondicherry, a southeastern region of India once colonized by the French, who suggested making a milder Indian curry blend.

Quatre epices has an unclear origin. It is believed to have come from Saint-Malo, Brittany, northwest France, in the 17th century during the baroque era marked by extravagance even in European dining habits.

Appearance

Bouquet garni is usually a small bouquet of fresh herbs, while fines herbes has a soft texture as it features fresh herbs chopped together.

Vadouvan has a coarse texture since it contains dried, crushed spices, while quatre epices is a fine, light-brown powder.

Flavor

French cuisine uses bouquet garni to add bold herbal flavor to slow-cooker dishes, especially in Provencal cooking.

Fines herbes adds a mild, subtle flavor to short-cooker dishes toward the end of cooking or before plating. Its main flavor is licorice, which comes from the tarragon.

Also called French curry, vadouvan has a smoky, subtly spicy, sweet flavor. The seasoning blend features shallots, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, turmeric, onion, garlic, black mustard, curry leaves, and black pepper.

Black pepper is also the main spice in quatre epices and renders its mild heat and citrus flavor notes to balance with the sweetness of the sweet spices. Quatre epices features white pepper or black peppercorns, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. You may add cinnamon and allspice.

See Also:  Lemongrass Seasoning: Best Uses & Recipes

Applications

  • Use bouquet garni to flavor stocks, soups, casseroles, and sauces.
  • The delicately flavored fines herbes spice is ideal for fish, salads, poultry, and egg dishes.
  • Vadouvan is ideal for flavoring veggies, poultry, salads, and seafood.
  • The four-spice quatre epices is ideal for seasoning terrines, gratins, vegetables, roulades, sausages, and soups.

Shelf Life

It’s best to use bouquet garni while still fresh because freezing it may considerably cause the herbs to lose flavor. The dried version lasts months to up to 2 years in airtight containers in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Like bouquet garni, you should use fines herbes while fresh. If you must store it, refrigerate it for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. The dried version lasts for 6-12 months before it starts losing its flavor, even when you keep them in a cool, dry, dark place.

Vadouvan has a shelf-life of 3-4 years if you keep it in airtight containers in a cool, dry, and dark place.

Quatre epices stays viable for 6-24 months when stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry, and dark place.

Form

Bouquet garni, or the “broth posy,” is a small bunch of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf tied together with a butcher’s string or cheesecloth. You must remove it from the dishes after cooking is over. The stringed version may include sage and peppercorns.

Bouquet garni uses fresh herbs with a distribution of 1 small bay leaf, 1 small sprig of thyme leaves, and 3 sprigs of parsley. Dried versions of the herbs are also viable if the fresh ones are unavailable.

See Also:  dried savory: a staple in French and Italian cuisines

The bouquet garni spice blend is used like fines herbes, which uses fresh herbs for the best flavor but may also use dried herbs.

Vadouvan uses dried, crushed herbs, while quatre epices looks like finely ground dried spices. Vadouvan is also mixed with water and oil to form a vadouvan paste.

More about fines herbes spice blend

Parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil are the four French herbs canonically used in the famous fines herbes spice blend. They all have mild, delicate flavors and are added to cooked dishes at the end of cooking or shortly before serving.

ParsleyChivesTarragonChervil
OriginHas a disputed origin but is most likely from Greece since it was present in ancient Roman and Greek recipesNative to Asia and EuropeNative to Siberia but also grows in EuropeNative to western Asia and the Caspian and Black Sea regions
AppearanceFresh parsley sprigs have smooth, green leaves on long, slender stemsChives are thin, tender, green leaves reminiscent of long tubular stemsTarragon leaves are bright green, long, slender, and pointedChervil leaves look like flat-leaf parsley leaves, only a bit paler and thinner
Flavor profileAdds a slightly bitter flavor to sauces, soups, green salads, and cooked veggiesHave an onion flavor and are ideal for soups, fish, egg dishes, veal, chicken, and saladsHas a complex flavor profile with its bitter-sweetness and hints of mint, licorice, vanilla, eucalyptus, and pepperHas a spicy, mild flavor with hints of anise or licorice, tastes like a combination of tarragon and parsley

Known as the “French king of herbs,” tarragon is used in French cooking to add its licorice flavor to mustard, poultry, fish, raw vegetable salads, seafood, Bearnaise sauce, and green salads. You can use it to infuse white wine vinegar and olive oil.

Also called French parsley, garden chervil, or gourmet parsley, chervil has a spicy, mild flavor with hints of anise or licorice. It tastes like a combination of tarragon and parsley. Chervil is great for seasoning veggies, fish, egg dishes, salads, chicken, soups, sauces, and tomatoes.

Herbes de Provence – the most popular French spice blend

Herbes de Provence
Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence is by far the most famous French spice globally. It is a mixture of dried, crushed spices, including thyme, tarragon, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, basil, and savory. It may include bay leaves, fennel, chervil, sage, and dill. American versions contains lavender.

The spice blend acts as a rub for seasoning meats before grilling them or as a flavoring agent for fowl, soups, fish, and stews. Try the spice mix with recipes such as coq au vin, chicken ratatouille, or porcini pork tenderloin.

OriginComes from the Provence region of southeastern France
AppearanceA mixture of multiple dried spices, has a fine texture
Flavor profileThyme and rosemary are the main flavors

Origin

Herbes de Provence comes from the Provence region of southeastern France, and you can buy it in small clay pots.

Appearance

As a mixture of multiple dried spices, herbes de Provence has an aerated, semi-fine texture.

Flavor profile

The main flavors in herbes de Provence are thyme and rosemary. Rosemary has a warm, herbal, slightly bitter taste, while thyme is sweet, minty, earthy, floral, woodsy, slightly lemony-citrus, piney, and grassy.

Savory adds a discernible peppery flavor, which most people find unsettling in the spice blend.

Fleur de Sel – French Sea Salt

Fleur de Sel
Fleur de Sel

French sea salt is a rare, expensive finishing salt used sparingly as a garnish rather than a regular seasoning.

OriginHarvested by hand from the surfaces of shallow seawater pools along the coast of France
AppearanceHas a delicate, almost flaky texture
Flavor profileSalty, no particular flavor

Origin

Fleur de Sel is harvested by hand from the surfaces of shallow seawater pools along the coast of France, especially the Brittany region.

Appearance

French sea salt has a delicate, almost flaky texture you won’t feel once the salt dissolves.

Flavor profile

Like all other salts, French sea salt has a salty flavor. Enjoy the saltiness of fleur de sel when you sparingly sprinkle it as a garnish on caramels, vegetables, candies, eggs, cooked meats, oatmeal, and baked goods.

Frequently Asked Questions

What French spice is the best for meats?

The best French spice for meats is herbes de Provence. You can use it to add thyme and rosemary flavors to beef, chicken, fowl, and fish.

What French spice is the best for vegetables?

Quatre epices is the best French spice blend for adding a peppery flavor to vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots.

What French spice is the best for soups?

The best French spice blend for soups is bouquet garni. Since you have to remove the bunch, it doesn’t fill your soup with unwanted coarse-textured pieces of herbs. You must take out the bay leaf because it is a choking hazard.

Alex Maina

Since discovering how well spices transform a dish from bland to enjoyable in seconds, Alex became sold on using spices to better three of his major passions—gardening, cooking, and writing. When he is not tending to his spice crops, you'll find him trying a new recipe, writing for the Spice Gourmand, or serving a second helping of his spicy food!

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