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What is chervil and its many substitutes

Chervil, also known as French parsley, is a delicate and fine herb used in numerous dishes, like soups and salads; as it is, it is also especially used in French cuisine. 

Chervil is one of the staples in most herb gardens, and though it’s popular for cooking today, our ancestors used it for its medicinal and healing benefits.

As this guide would tell you soon, chervil is more than just a delicate French herb. For one, it has exciting flavors, an interesting appearance, and substitutes that might already be in your pantry.

What is chervil?

Chervil is a delicate green herb that is part of the parsley family. Although it looks similar to and has a similar taste profile as parsley, the two are entirely different. 

Chervil was previously used in making herb blends for healing purposes or to cure digestive problems by our ancestors. 

However, chervil is now used to provide a mild and distinct flavor in most French cuisines and seasoning in salads, soups, sauces, and more.

What does chervil taste like?

The chervil flavor can best be described as a unique and mild cross between tarragon and parsley. It has a mild flavor, which can also be compared to the taste of anise or mint, though it’s not as strong. Because of its flavor, it should be used in dishes that have a strong and overpowering flavor.

What does chervil look like?

Chervil’s appearance is very similar to parsley, though it’s a bit paler in color. It has a light green color with delicate and curly leaves. The leaves may be closed in to form a bunch, similar to a flower. 

If you see a chervil bunch that’s blossomed, avoid it because it has likely turned bitter.

How to use chervil

There are many ways to use chervil. Here are some ideas:

  • In eggs and omelets
  • In salads
  • In soups
  • In sauces 
  • To make a herb blend
  • For garnishing purposes
  • To make rubs for marinades and barbecues
  • In herb oil
  • In herb butter
  • In herb pesto
  • With poultry and fish

Chervil substitutes

Since chervil is mostly grown in springtime and available at specialty stores, it can be quite a challenge to find one. 

Although nothing compares to the chervil flavor, some ingredients have a similar taste since they belong to the same green family. If you’re out of chervil and need it immediately, here are some chervil substitutes you can use:

  • Parsley 
  • Tarragon
  • Combination of parsley and tarragon 
  • Dill
  • Chives
  • Fennel leaves

Tips on buying chervil

Here are some tips you can use when choosing and buying chervil:

  • If you plan to buy a chervil plant, make sure it’s firm and has no dark patches. If the leaves of the plant are wilted and yellow, then chervil will taste bitter, so avoid that plant
  • Look for chervil that has a pale green color and not one which is yellow
  • If the stocks are brown or yellow, the chervil flavor has turned bitter, so you must avoid it
  • Choose chervil which has a clean and fresh fragrance, similar to that of parsley
  • If you don’t want to use chervil as a garnish, you can buy the dried and grounded powder version of the chervil
  • If you can’t find chervil at the supermarket, you can look for it at the farmers’ market or consider growing a chervil plant at home

The bottom line

Though mild, this chervil features a unique flavor, which adds that extra kick to any dish. Ultimately, you can use this herb in just about any dish.

However, make sure you add chervil at the end of the cooking process to benefit from the full flavor of the herb.

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