Aromatics produce a powerful aroma that gives flavor to any dish. A combination of vegetables and herbs are heated in fat at the beginning of the cooking process which releases an addictive aroma and infuses a rich flavor into any dish that is being cooked. A variety of ingredients can be used to create these aromatic bases that are essentially the foundation to a variety of meals including soups, rice dishes, and curries! Cuisines from around the world use this technique to give their dishes a unique taste and cultural twist. Check out the cuisines from around the world below for ideas on how to give your dish a new and exciting flavor profile using aromatics!
Thai cuisine places an emphasis on lightly prepared dishes that have a strong aromatic component with a spicy edge. The combination produces a strong aromatic smell and helps to deliver a deep flavor profile to any dish. For Thai cuisine, try roasting shallots, garlic, and chiles in a cooking oil or coconut milk. It is important to note that Thai cuisine is represented with intricate dishes that pay attention to texture, color, and taste. Most importantly, Thai cuisine includes the use of foods with medicinal properties. Try supplementing with lemongrass, kaffir lime, and galangal. Galangal is actually a plant in the ginger family with known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties!
Middle Eastern cuisine is a melting pot of cuisine coming from a variety of diverse backgrounds and regions. Middle Eastern cuisine is greatly influenced by Mediterranean climate, ancient religions, and European, Asian, and African culture. Middle Eastern cuisine’s specialty comes from its use of local herbs and spices that are added to dishes to produce a deep aromatic smell and flavor. These ingredients include: nutmeg, caraway, cumin, turmeric, parsley, and mint. Additionally, saffron, one of the most expensive ingredients in the world is added in many dishes for its flavor and rich color. For a Middle Eastern cuisine flavor profile, try roasting a variety of onions, garlic, shallots, tomatoes, and scallions in cooking oil with the addition of herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon.
Indian cuisine is influenced greatly by geographical, regional, and traditional aspects. There is a diversity in soil, climate, culture, religions, ethnic groups, and occupations that all play a role in defining and differentiating the tastes and flavors produced by Indian cuisine. A commonality in Indian cuisine is the use of aromatics to develop a deeper flavor infused into all dishes. These flavors are created by roasting a combination of onions, garlic, chilies, and ginger in ghee (a type of clarified butter). The flavor profile is then enhanced and supplemented with a variety of spices including cumin, curry powder, cloves, garam marsala, and turmeric.
The essence of Latin cuisine is the sofrito which is a savory and tasty blend of onions, peppers, garlic, and tomato. The sofrito combination flavors everything from beans to stews! This tomato base concentrate is accented and supplemented with a wide variety of spices from chilies, cumin, paprika, and bay leaves to the occasional source of protein such as bacon, chorizo, and ham! In Spanish, the word frito means fried and can be loosely translated to sofrito which can mean soft fried. This is essentially what we do to the ingredients when we prepare sofrito because we are sautéing the ingredients over medium heat in a bit of cooking oil to infuse a deeper flavor profile to our dish! Preparing your own homemade sofrito is incredibly easy, and the best part is you know the ingredients are natural and made without any preservatives which you might typically find in a product purchased from the store! Italian: Soffritto
Onions, celery, and carrots are the base of this aromatic dish. When cooked low-and-slow in olive oil or butter, their combined flavors form an umami-packed and versatile base for any number of Italian dishes. The Italian Soffritto forms the foundation of many soups (like minestrone), stews, pasta sauces, and braises. Soffritto is sometimes called battuto in Italian, which usually refers to the uncooked mix of vegetables used in the cooking process. Throughout much of Italy, there are a number of regional, traditional, and personal variations on this soffritto. These variations can incorporate additional aromatics like garlic and parsley cooked in fats like lard or pancetta in addition to the core three vegetables.
Similar to the Italian Soffritto, the French Mirepoix utilizes onions, carrots, and celery as its base which is then cooked in butter to develop its aromatic flavor. Herbes de Provence is a multi-purpose spice blend that is also commonly used in the Mirepoix. This blend is made with dried herbs that are grown or used in France’s Provence region. There is not a standard recipe or blend but typically herbs such as thyme, rosemary, fennel, and basil are used! Also consider supplementing your Mirepoix with parsley, thyme, or bay leaves for added flavor. In French cuisine, a Mirepoix is not sautéed or cooked on high heat because the intention is to sweeten the ingredients slowly and coax out the flavor rather than caramelize them right away. This technique is a long-standing cooking technique within French cuisine.
Chinese cuisine varies greatly across much of the country. Each region has different ingredients commonly used in making their own unique and traditional dishes. Southern regions are known for Cantonese cooking which has a more intense aromatic flavor compared to the spicy flavors common in Hunan and Sichuan cooking. To create your own aromatic base for Chinese cuisine in any dish, try heating garlic, scallions, and ginger in cooking oil. To boost the flavor profile even more, consider adding Chinese five spice, cilantro, chilies, shallots, chives, and star anise. Star anise is a spice made from the fruit of the Chinese evergreen tree Illicium verum. Its name comes from the star-shaped pods from which the spice seeds are harvested and has a flavor that is reminiscent of licorice. Star anise is also highly regarded for its medicinal properties.
Cajun: Holy Trinity
Onions, celery, and bell peppers are often called the “Holy Trinity” by Cajun cooks. These three aromatics are the base of many classic Cajun dishes with some of the most popular being Gumbo and Jambalaya. Additionally, garlic is often added to the Holy Trinity with some cooks calling it “adding the pope”. Parsley, shallots, and paprika are other popular seasoning ingredients added to the Holy Trinity for an additional depth of flavor. Cajun cuisine has a major influence from the Spanish and French which is easy to see and be tasted when dining on any of their traditional dishes - especially when the Holy Trinity is involved!
As you can see, aromatics can be developed through a variety of flavor combinations. Next time you are cooking, try adding this delicious base to your dish with any assortment of herbs, vegetables, spices, and fats you desire! Tag iCook After School on Instagram (@icookafterschool or #icookwithicook) in the dish you create using aromatics so we can join in this culinary adventure and learn more about the tasty and unique dishes from cuisines around the world
Brittany Norem is a dietetic intern at the University of Illinois at Chicago currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. Brittany is passionate about women’s health and teaching kids at an early age about healthy foods. Food is the center of almost everything we do and is a major part of our everyday lives. Brittany believes by paying more attention and making simple switches to our current diets it will result in a major impact on our health outcomes.
Sources used for inspiration:
This information was adapted from several cooking websites including: