Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Herbes de Provence


When we first moved to the US (10 years ago already...) we came unprepared, that is without a very essential ingredient: Herbes de Provence. Getafix (a.k.a. Panoramix, the famous druid in Asterix's village of invincible Gauls) knew better and always had mistletoe (gui) in his pockets to prepare his magic potion. Herbes de Provence must be as widely used in France as ketchup is here. They are such a great addition to any grilled meat, fish and vegetables. They flavor baked dishes as well as stews. It's just hard living without them. So we looked for Herbes de Provence in gourmet stores but at the time all we could find was a mix of herbs that didn't smell or taste anything like what we were looking for. The mixes were either very bland or had the wrong kinds of herbs – we even found a mix that had lavender flowers in it and was just unusable. So the next time we went to France we brought back a jar of the true stuff. Ten years later things might have changed but we still bring our herbs back from France and I thought I'd share what's in the mix.

Well as it turns out not all Herbes de Provence mixes are equal there either (of course!). I recently bought a fancy glass jar (Ducros Label Rouge) with herbs that are certified grown in Provence, France. The ingredient list goes as follows:
  • Rosemary (romarin) – 26%
  • Savory (sariette) – 26%
  • Oregano (origan) – 26%
  • Thyme (thym) – 19%
  • Basil (basilic) – 3%
I also have a not-so-fancy plastic jar in my pantry (also by Ducros, which is a McCormick company since 2000) which ingredients are:
  • Savory, rosemary (25%)
  • Wild thyme (serpolet), marjoram (marjolaine), oregano, basil, thyme (7%)
Although this second mix looks more complex, with more herbs, the percentages don't total to 100... which means either there is something else in the mix (hay? :-)) or hopefully they just made a mistake. Oh and we don't know where the herbs were grown and with what kind of quality standards...

Lastly, my Larousse de la cuisine cookbook indicates that Herbes de Provence are made of:
  • thyme, rosemary, bay leaf (laurier) and savory.
I guess the best would be to make one's own mix with one of the above list of ingredients. Keep in a dry and dark environment.

[Update (04/08/2010)] Here is the official site for the "Label Rouge" certified Herbes de Provence (all in French... sorry). Also see my comment to this post.

12 comments:

Corinne said...

Je n'ai toujours pas trouve des herbes de provence digne de ce nom aux USA moi non plus, comme vous chaque voyage en France est une bonne raison pour revenir avec mes precieuses herbes :-)

Guillaume said...

J'avoue m'y connaître assez peu en ce qui concerne la qualité des herbes de Provence, mais je les trouve essentielles pour la cuisine méditerranéenne.

Anonymous said...

J'ai toujours cru que les herbes de provence contenaient de la lavande même celles provenant de la France? oui, non?

Estelle said...

Il y a beaucoup de lavande en Provence mais ma connaissance elle ne s'utilise pas (ou tres peu) en cuisine. On s'en sert plutot en parfumerie et pharmacie...

Voir ici:
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbes_de_Provence

et ici :
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavande

Anonymous said...

I was just coming on here to ask you about this and look what I found! I want to make the yummy pasta salad Pierre made a few months ago (or last summer??) and was going to ask you what herbs I put in, or if there's a premixed blend that you like. -Jillian (can't seem to sign into my google account)

Mara said...

I enjoy your posts! I'm brushing up on my French cooking, studying French too on Babbel.com (http://www.babbel.com).
They have a lot of food vocabulary there. It's cool to learn the cooking and language in tandem.

Anonymous said...

Herbes de Provence
Herbes de Provence, or Provençal herbs, is a traditional blend of aromatic herbs that flourish in hills of southern France during the hot summer months. Used by the handful when fresh, Herbes de Provence is also good using dried herbs. Bay leaf, thyme, fennel, rosemary, chervil, oregano, summer savory, tarragon, mint, and marjoram are some of the herbs typically used. Orange zest is sometimes included as is lavender, though the lavender is less traditional and was added more for the benefit of tourists who saw lavender fields as almost emblematic of the Provençe region. Traditional or not, the addition of lavender is an nice addition to the blend.

Estelle said...

Hi there,
Thanks for the quote. Can you share where it comes from?
It actually raises a very good question. Every American book and website I've seen mentions lavender and fennel (and this is also what I found in stores) but none of the French books and websites do. So the recipe seems pretty consistent here in the US and it is consistent in France as well but completely different.
The "Label Rouge" standard defines the proportions mentioned in my post since 2003. Before that there was no set recipe for "herbes de Provence" sold in France, but the blends contained several or all of the following dried herbs: thyme, rosemary, oregano, savory, marjoram, sage, lovage, bay leaf, parsley, basil, tarragon...
See http://www.france-lavande.com/herbes.htm and http://www.herbes-de-provence.org

David said...

the last post on the description looks like it came from the encyclopedia of spices http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/herbesdeprovence.html

I use the Ducros blend that i picked up on a Trip to the south of France a while back, its the best! Ive shared some with friends that have gone out and gotten store bought versions that dissapointed them. I have yet to find a source in the US for the Ducros blend, would you happen to have one?

Estelle said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the link.
I don't have a source in the US for the Ducros blend or any other blend with the French list of ingredients... Two solutions: going back to France to get some (nice excuse!) or make your own blend with the proportions listed...

Pam said...

Wow, I thought I knew Herbes de Provence until today. For years I've mixed parsley, rosemary, and basil plus a bit of lavender, salt, and pepper. Today I'm going to make a new batch a new way, just for fun. :-)

Quant à la lavande: It may be a specific regional thing. I just found a recipe du Var (http://www.littoral-varois.com/herbes_aromates_provence.htm) that includes not only lavender but also hyssop! (I have grown hyssop -- which has a nice anise flavor -- but have never used it for seasoning. I think I'll try it now!) The same page offers separate mixes for grillades and poissons, which makes a lot of sense. Merci bien!

Don said...

McCormick, now the parent company of Ducros, now markets an Herbes de Provence blend in their Gourmet Collection line in the U.S. It lists ingredients as "Spices (including Rosemary, Marjoram, Thyme and Savory." My Ducros 100g bag of Herbes de Provence lists as ingredients "sarriette, romarin, serpolet, marjolaine, origan, basilic, thym en proportions variables." The differences in taste/odor between the two are very subtle - sometimes I think they are identical. The McCormick is certainly a very satisfactory substitute for the Ducros if you can't get to France.

I particularly enjoy adding Herbes de Province to bread before baking. It fills the house with wonderful smells and tastes great.