Common Herbs in the Peruvian Cuisine
Next to Aji (hot peppers) aromatic herbs play a fundamental part in the Peruvian cuisine. While the Peruvian cooking and ingredients vary regionally always lots of herbs are incorporated into the dishes. Probably the most used aromatic herbs are Cilantro, Huacatay, Oregano and Basil, but there are many more that are essential for special traditional Peruvian dishes. And lots of herbs are used in Peru's natural medicine that are worth a try.
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Though Cilantro is originally not from Latin America, it has become widely popular in Peru and probably is the most used herb in Peruvian cuisine. While Coriander seeds are only occasionally used as a spice, especially the fresh leaves are used in numerous typical Peruvian dishes like Arroz con Pollo, Lomo Saltado, local stews, soups and ajis.
Huacatay is a culinary herb native to Peru. Its taste and odor is like a mixture of basil, tarragon, mint and lime. Huacatay plays an important role especially in the southern Peruvian cuisine. It is used as condiment in stews, soups and Peruvian ajis and as ingredient in herb marinades for meats. Huacatay is also added to the famous Pachamanca. Its paste is used to make the popular Peruvian potato dish called ocopa.
Hierba Buena, translated meaning the good herb refers to local species of mint, which vary from region to region. In Peru Hierba Buena is occasionally used as seasoning, but mostly for its medicinal properties. Hierba Buena teas are believed to help with digestive problems off all sort incl. diarrhea, pains and inflammations.
The use of Basil is mostly associated with the Italian cuisine. But this worldwide known herb also plays a major role in the Asian cooking. With Chinese immigrants Albahaca came to Peru. Thanks to the unique merging of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine basil found its way to Peruvian kitchens and today can be found on very market. Basil is believed to have antioxidant, anticancer, antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Although Oregano isn't originally from Latin America and almost exclusively associated with the Mediterranean cuisine, it plays a major role in Peruvian cooking. The fresh and dried leaves are used as condiment in various local dishes. Oregano is added to salads, stews, hot salsas and soups. It is used in herb marinades for meats or is just sprinkle over traditional dishes.
Paico is an aromatic and medicinal herb used already in pre-Columbian times by indigenous communities in Peru. Paico is an essential ingredient in Pachamanca. The leaves are also consumed similar to vegetables in soups, the seeds are used as seasoning in beans dishes. Additionally Paico is believed to have several medicinal properties: it is suppose to help with digestive problems, gastritis, colds and asthma.
Muña is an aromatic herb native to the Peruvian Andes. Mostly used as tea to treat digestive problems, it's also believed to keep bones and teeth healthy. In the Peruvian cuisine Muña has numerous uses in traditional Andean dishes and is added for example to Pachamanca.
Chincho is an aromatic herb native to Peru and was cultivated by the Incas. It belongs to the same family as Huacatay, but its flavors are less pungent. Chincho is often used in Pachamanca and in dishes from Huanucu.
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