Tough love enhances herbs’ flavors

Featured photo from Jessica Lewis

Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow in a residence. Not only do these add variety to a space, but they also give a dash of flavor tothe dishes that they’re added into. 

According to James Wong, an ethnobotanist, one way to bring out the strong flavors of herbs is by treating them with tough love, meaning watering and feeding the herbs with less input than usual. 

Wong said that understanding why herbs produce compounds that make them aromatic or flavorful can help increase their flavor. Usually, these compounds are used to repel herbivores and keep the plant safe from other pests. 

Since large-scale growers provide optimum growing conditions for the herbs, the plants tend to focus more on producing leaves (due to the lack of stressors). However, in a home setting, the herbs can be prompted to produce the compounds by forgetting to water them every now and then.  

Wong added that another factor that determines the level of compounds in the intensity of sunlight. Exposing them to more (but not excessive) sunlight means the more plants will work harder to shield themselves from damage. 

Lastly, growing them in the ground or in a soil-based potting mix, instead of in pots, can provide the herbs with a wider selection of minerals, which are essential to create the flavor compounds. 

Basically, Wong said that it’s a case of “treat them mean to keep them keen.” 

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