What spice is used to flavor a soft drink popular in many former Republics of the Soviet Union?
If you said tarragon, you are correct! The drink, called Tarhun, was invented in the 1887 by a Georgian pharmacist’s apprentice who had the idea of adding carbonated water to a tarragon syrup mix he had made. It was well-received at several international exhibitions in the early 1900s, but didn’t go into mass production until 1981. During Soviet times the dye that gave Tarhun it’s trademark bright green color was toxic, now it comes in a bright green bottle instead and the drink itself is a safe-to-consume pale yellow.
Tarragon, thought to be a native of Siberia and Mongolia, is a relative newcomer to cultivation having appeared on the scene a mere 600 years ago. Invading Mongolians who used tarragon as a sleep aid, and apparently chewed it to keep their breath fresh while pillaging, probably introduced the herb to Italy in the 10th century. There is passing mention of it in some medieval texts refering to it as a cure for the bites of venomous beasts. Some writers think that this belief gave tarragon its name, which derives from the Latin word “dracunculus,” meaning “little dragon.” Others speculate that the name, as well as it’s reputation as an anti-venom, refers to the serpentine nature of its roots. Although using tarragon to flavor vegetables is briefly alluded to in Arabian botanical texts of the 13 century, it wasn’t widely used as a culinary seasoning until the mid-1500s.
Today France is the world’s leading producer of tarragon, where it is used to make flavored oils, vinegars, and mustards. Tarragon is a familiar herb in French cuisine and is often paired with eggs, poultry, and fish. It also provides a distinctive flavor to the classic bernaise, tartare, and hollandaise sauces and is usually included in the ubiquitous fines herbes (feens zehrb) blend. Like several other herbs, the warmly aromatic tarragon is also used in the perfume and toiletry industry.
Fresh tarragon has a pungently distinctive flavor, somewhat remininscent of anise, so it should be used sparingly. Sprinkle the leaves on salads, fold into omelets, or add a bunch to the cavity of a chicken before roasting it.