Saturday, July 26, 2014

Herbes de Provence - The Herbs of Provence.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

The Herbs of Provence, for French cuisine, are a relatively new herb group.

The term the herbs of Provence originally included any of the herbs that grew wild  in the area; however, for the last fifty years the Herbs of Provence indicates a specific group of herbs used in modern Provencal cuisine.  Commercial preparations of dried herbs called Herbes de Provence are sold inside and outside France.

On a restaurant menu in Provence you may be offered:

 Camembert Braisé aux Herbes de Provence – Camembert cheese braised with the herbs of Provence. For more about Camembert see the post:
Camembert Cheese; France's most Famous Cow's Milk Cheese.

 Civet de Porcelet et sa Polenta aux Herbes de Provence – A stew of suckling pig served with polenta and  flavored with the herbs of Provence.

 Entrecôte Grillée aux Herbes de Provence – A rib eye steak, in the UK a sirloin steak, grilled with the herbs of Provence. To order an entrecote steak grilled the way you like it see the post: Ordering a Perfectly Cooked Entrecote Steak in France.

Les Côtelettes d'Agneau Grillées aux Herbes de Provence – Grilled lamb chops flavored with the herbs of Provence. For more about ordering lamb in France see the post: Carré (carre) d'Agneau – A rack of lamb. Ordering Lamb in France II.
When I am in Provence and I see dishes like those noted above, I ask questions about the herbs used. The chefs prefer fresh herbs and make changes when one fresh herb is not in season, and the quantities of each herb used varies greatly between chef and chef. The chefs order fresh herbs from local market gardeners; however, the herbs themselves and proportions of each herb used are not set in stone.

The herbs used include five or six from the following list:


Photograph courtesy of miladus.

Fennel seeds.

Fennel seeds.

Photograph courtesy of latisha (herbmother).

Bay leaves, that is, the leaves of the laurel tree;

Collecting laurel bay leaves in France.

Photograph courtesy of Happy Sleeper.


marjoram; oregano; rosemary;  thyme; sage;  summer savory; tarragon and wild thyme. Some chefs add Lavender for its aroma; lavender is the flower and scent of Provence.

Lavender fields in Provence.

Photograph courtesy of taylorri40.

While chefs prefer fresh herbs in Provence the tourists, including French tourists, are sold pre-packed dried herbs. Home cooks can create tastes closer to the original by buying many of the fresh herbs in the markets at home. The pre-packed dried Herbes de Provence mostly include four or five dried herbs, usually   oregano, rosemary, savory, marjoram and thyme, and, of course, some will add lavender. From the label of contents, you may also that each supplier uses  a different percentage for each herb in their mélange.

Bags of Lavender and Herbes de Provence on sale in the market.
Photograph courtesy  of Melissa Segal
The origins of the Herbs de Provence.

The cultural influences that created Provence are as varied as the herbs within the herb group; however, all of the usual herbs that make up the Provencal herb group originated in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia, and all  predated the discovery of the New World.

I always double check the origins of herbs and spices on the web pages of  Gernot Katzer from Austria and his Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages: and Eric Schoenzetter from France, and his Toil d'Épices:  These two-web sites are full of herbal knowledge. Despite the chefs in Provence preferring herbs that were, originally, collected in the wild. Eric Schoenzetter in his reference to the Herbs of Provence includes the option of two herbs from Asia along with a  European berry that I had not heard of being used in the Herbes de Provence; however, I am including them as Eric Schoenzetter knows his herbs better than I do.  His additional options are cloves; nutmeg and mace, and juniper berries.
Despite the popularity of Provence's herb group France’s most famous herb group is Les Fine Herbes.
For more information on Les Fine Herbes see the post: The Fine Herbs; Les Fine Herbes; the Most Important Herb Group in French Cuisine.
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman