If you’ve been cooking for some time, you’ve probably noticed that most recipes start with some combination of garlic, onions, ginger, celery, or carrots. You’ve also probably noticed that they release a wonderful aroma once heated. These are called aromatics, and we’ll teach you how to use these ingredients to add flavor and depth to your cooking.
Build a Flavor Foundation
Aromatics are combinations of vegetables and herbs (and sometimes even meats) that are heated in some fat – like butter, oil, or coconut milk – at the beginning of a dish. The heated fat helps these ingredients release addictive aromas and impart deep flavors into the dish that’s being cooked.
Sauces, braises, curries, rice dishes, sautes, stir-fries, soups, stews, and stocks all typically start off with aromatics, which help form the flavor foundation of these dishes. Try making a soup without onions. You’ll notice that it just doesn’t taste as sweet. Or cook a curry without garlic and ginger. It’ll feel a bit empty.
But now that you know about aromatics, you won’t ever have to worry about your dish lacking in anything!
There are 2 simple rules for how to prep or chop aromatics:
1. FISHING THE AROMATICS OUT OF THE FINAL DISH
If you plan on fishing the aromatics out of the final dish, like in a stock, don’t worry too much about the chopping. Halve the onion or chop a carrot into 3 or 4 pieces, but there’s not need to worry about the fine knife work. You can even throw a whole sprig of thyme in – the leaves will come off and you can easily remove the stem before serving.
2. KEEPING THE AROMATICS IN THE FINAL DISH
If the aromatics will be a part of the final dish, then you’ll want to finely dice or chop them. The extra surface area means they’ll release more flavor in a shorter time, plus the smaller size means it’ll melt into the texture of the final production.
Learn how to prep some of our most commonly used aromatics with these videos:
How to Chop & Dice an Onion
Learning how to dice an onion correctly will save you so much time in the kitchen.
How to Chop Carrots
Watch this video to learn our tips on how to best peel, chop, and dice carrots easily.
How to Dice Celery
Learn how to chop celery for use in stir-fries, soups, sautes, and salads.
How to Peel, Grate and Chop Ginger
See how easily we peel ginger and then grate it or chop it.
Discover Flavors from Around the World
Aromatics can be used in so many dishes and cuisines, but to sum it up, here is a list that would benefit from the depth that aromatics bring:
- Sauces – common in French, Italian, and Latin cooking
- Braises – common in French, Latin, and Middle Eastern cooking
- Curries – common in Indian and Thai cooking
- Vegetable sautes – common across all cuisines
- Stir-fries – common in Chinese cooking
- Soups, stews, and stocks – common across all cuisines
You too can cook a variety of ethnic dishes just by following the 8 most popular aromatic combinations in our infographic below. We’ve provided the name of that aromatic combination (if one exists) and other supplemental ingredients that you can layer on top of that combo to give it even more flavor personality.
So if you’re making a French-inspired dish, you’ll want to use a mirepoix (pronounced meer-a-pwah) – Start off with some heated butter or olive oil, and then toss in your diced onions, carrots, and celery. Typically, the ratio is 2 parts onions to 1 part carrots and 1 part celery, but feel free to make your own rules. That’s the fun part of cooking!
You can also add in some parsley, thyme, bay leaves, or Herbs de Provence. Add some salt and pepper and just let the heat bring out the flavors of your aromatics for a few minutes before adding the other ingredients in your dish.
Similarly for a Chinese stir-fry, you’ll want to heat some cooking oil in a wok and then add in your aromatic combo on garlic, green onions, and ginger. If you’re feeling spicy, add in some chopped chilies. Take a deep breath and enjoy the aromas before adding the other stir-fry ingredients.
Guide to Aromatics
Create delicious flavor foundations for a variety of meals.
Add Depth & Flavor to Your Meals
Create delicious flavor foundations with our Guide to Aromatics.
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Tips to Cooking with Aromatics
We believe there are very few rules in cooking, so when you’re cooking with aromatics, feel free to:
1. CREATE ETHNIC FUSIONS
Who knows what a little ginger can do to a French dish? You won’t know until you try. If you love ginger, it might be a delightful flavor experience for you.
2. USE ONLY PART OF THE AROMATIC COMBO IN YOUR DISH
Traditions are meant to be broken, so if you don’t have all the ingredients for a traditional soffritto, you can still start your Italian meal off with the aromatics you do have on hand.
3. DON’T GET STUCK ON RATIOS OR MEASUREMENTS
If you love garlic, use more garlic. If you love onions, use more onions. Your dish will be completely okay, and most importantly, it’ll be made just the way you like it!
Now go and have fun and enjoy the wonderful smells of aromatics!
If you need a little inspiration or want to test out different aromatics in recipes, try our favorite dishes here: