Herbs are a great way to enhance the flavor and aromatics of food, but what about an herb that smells like kerosene?
Can food benefit from a pungent herb? If the herb in question is epazote, then the answer is yes.
If you cannot find this Mexican herb and are looking for a substitute, there are plenty of options.
Other leafy herbs can duplicate this eclectic herb, and below, we explore what this herb is, what it's used for, and the best substitutions.
What is Epazote?
Epazote leaves come from the aromatic herb epazote which is native to Mexico and Central America.
It has been used for centuries because of its carminative or gas-relieving properties and is often added to beans for its earthy flavor and medicinal effects.
Both the leaves and stems can be used in cooking, but they are delicate and should be added to the food toward the end of the cooking time.
The herb comes dried or fresh and is used in Mexican staples such as mole sauces, beans, and teas.
How is Epazote Used?
Epazote is commonly used as an infusion for adding depth to frijoles, moles, soups, and other classic Latin American dishes.
The flavor is strong and acidic, which adds character to recipes.
As with other fresh herbs, epazote loses most of its flavor once cooked down, so it is usually thrown out after the dish is cooked, similar to bay leaves.
The unique flavor will be locked into the food, producing a mouth-watering aroma in the kitchen.
Epazote is also used for its carminative properties, and mothers often steep it in milk and give it to their children for stomach issues.
While epazote can be used for medicinal purposes, it should be done in small doses.
What Can I Expect When Trying Epazote?
Epazote has a rich, earthy flavor, a pungent aroma, and a delicate texture.
Although it adds richness and a citrusy aroma to food, it cannot hold up to heat very long, so it is usually added to food near the end of the cooking time and removed once the food is cooked.
Epazote can be eaten raw but has a strong licorice flavor due to its anise flavor properties.
The native Mexicans named it after the root word, epatl, meaning skunk, for its intense aroma, which makes the smell offputting when used in raw form.
The Best Substitutes for Epazote
Coriander is more citrusy than epazote and the amount added is based on taste preference.
Cilantro should be used sparingly because it is more robust than epazote.
Fennel can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio because of its similarity to epazote.
Use a 1:1 ratio, as the flavors are so similar.
There are two types of savory, winter, and summer. Summer savory is milder and can be used as a 1:1 substitute, but the amount should be decreased by half if using the winter variation.
Other Substitutes that Will Work in a Pinch
Italian parsley has a peppery flavor, although the other flavors are similar to epazote, so it will add a more assertive flavor to food.
Oregano tends to be bland, especially the dried version, but more can be added to compensate for the lack of flavor.
Marjoram is sweeter than epazote, and less is more when using this herb, especially in soups.
These minor substitutes should not be overlooked for replacing epazote. Epazote has a wide variety of flavor notes, so any of these herbs will work singularly, or a combination can be used for added depth.
History of Epazote
Epazote is native to Mexico and was used by the Aztecs for its culinary and medicinal benefits.
The herb remains popular in central Mexico and Central America, where many Latin American chefs consider the herb a “portal to the past.”
Epazote has been a valued culinary and medicinal ingredient for hundreds of years and was primarily used by the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans.
The herb was brought to Europe in the 16th century by Spanish explorers, which allowed the herb to be distributed worldwide.
Epazote as a Medicinal
Epazote has medicinal properties that help with gas, bloating, intestinal issues, and asthma.
The two most common ways of ingestion are adding it to food or brewing it into tea.
As a medicine, large quantities of epazote can be toxic for animals and humans, though it's safe to use in culinary.
The reason is that the herb contains ascaridole, which naturally removes parasites from humans and animals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where Can I Find Epazote?
Epazote leaves and whole plants are widely popular and can be purchased in various forms, including dried, fresh, powdered, whole plant, or tea.
You can buy it in grocery stores, Walmart, online, or at farmer’s markets.
One of the more popular brands is El Mexicano Club, which is excellent for culinary and can be brewed into tea.
It can be found from small businesses on Amazon.
Can I Grow Epazote in America?
Epazote is a hardy plant and can be grown anywhere, so long as the soil temperature is at least 70°F.
The plant prefers full sun; if these conditions are met, it is perennial and will grow up to four feet tall.
However, the plant is invasive and best grown in a pot for this reason.
If epazote is grown in a garden, the center stalk can be trimmed to make it bushier, and cutting the leaves will produce more flowers.
How Do I Store Epazote?
Fresh epazote leaves, once picked, should be wrapped in a wet paper towel inside a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator.
Epazote wilts within three days once cut, and the damp towel will keep the leaves fresh for up to three weeks.
If you want to dry epazote leaves, bundle the sprigs and hang them upside down, away from direct sunlight, and store them in an airtight container for up to six months.
Direct sunlight should be avoided in the drying and storing stages of the herb because the leaves will lose their flavor and aroma.
How Do I Store Other Leafy Herbs?
Storing herbs like cilantro, parsley, and mint is tricky because they wilt quickly.
The secret is to keep them in a glass of water in the refrigerator, changing the water every few days.
If the herbs are bundled in any way, the tie should be removed so that the herbs can breathe.
Once the band is removed, gently wash the herbs to remove any dirt before them in the g.
Can You Eat Too Much Epazote?
Epazote is safe in the amounts used for culinary purposes, but caution should be taken if it's used in large quantities for medicinal use.
This is because the seeds and oil contains ascaridole, a chemical that removes parasites.
Ascaridole is a toxic component in larger quantities and should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women because the ascaridole can be passed along to the baby.
If you treat epazote like any other herb or medicine, you sould be fine, but you can always check with your obstetrician if you have any concerns.
Epazote is a curious herb used for centuries for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Ironically, it has a pungent smell, like kerosene, but adds a unique layer of flavor depth to food and is a natural carminative.
The herb has a variety of uses but should be used sparingly because epazote can be harmful if too much is ingested.
If too much is added to food, it will overpower the flavor and aroma of the dish.
Leafy and citrus-flavored herbs make the best substitutes because they mimic the flavor of epazote leaves.