I love using aromatic herbs in cooking. Traditional cooking recipes are a real treasure of cooking wisdom, but sometimes I can't stop wondering why a specific food or spices or their combination are used in cooking.
Rosemary is one of my favourite herbs, and luckily, it’s abundantly growing in the Mediterranean region. Not surprisingly, this aromatic (and medicinal) herb is part of our delicious Mediterranean cuisine, especially in stews and roasted meats, such as lamb, pork and chicken.
I have noticed that rosemary has been often used in marinating meat, for centuries! And i strongly suspect it’s not just for its strong aroma and flavoursome taste.
In the last 15-20 years, many compounds have been isolated from rosemary, including flavones, diterpenes, steroids, and triterpenes. Of these, the antioxidant activity of rosemary extracts has been primarily related to two phenolic diterpenes: carnosic acid and carnosol.
Thanks to them, rosemary has an antimicrobial and antifungal effect on some food spoilage organisms. Hence, rosemary is a powerful food preservative, because it prevents oxidation and microbial contamination.
In addition, research suggests that marinating meat with rosemary, before grilling at high temperature, reduces the toxic compounds, called heterocyclic amines (HCA), produced during heating. These HCA chemicals are known to have carcinogenic and mutagenic potential, formed in much greater quantities when meats are overcooked or blackened.
Our ancestors likely didn’t know about biochemistry interactions, but they certainly knew better how to cook safely. I believe that a lot of current health issues would be solved if we return to our traditional cooking.
So for your upcoming spring and summer steak season, stock up on a few delicious herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme and feel free to mix them with garlic as a seasoning for lamb or chicken.
For my vegetarian friends, roasting root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots or parsnips with olive oil and rosemary is fantastic. Same goes for vegetable barbecue skewers. You can also use rosemary to make flavoured olive oil. But my number one extravaganza idea is to use fresh rosemary twigs instead of toothpicks when possible.
Fresh rosemary is typically used in larger quantities than dried, because this dried herb is more pungent than fresh. So if you use it as liberally as fresh, your dish may be overpowered.
On a side note, perhaps, one day rosemary oil extracts will be used in the food industry in order to find possible alternatives to synthetic preservatives.
Of course, rosemary has plenty of other health benefits and some serious contraindications too, but those are more relevant for concentrated oils. Using fresh or dried herbs in cooking is mostly safe.
This rosemary field picture is taken a couple of days ago in a great local essential oil distillery 😉