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Discover The Top 10 Herbs Used in Spanish Cooking

(Flavors, Health Benefits, Recipes)

Written By: Byron | October 6, 2023
A large dish of Poor man's potatoes besides some fresh herbsd and some garlic

Discover The Top 10 Herbs Used in Spanish Cooking: Fresh and dried herbs are prominent in just about all savory Spanish dishes, but some are used far more than others! Since Spain is such a geographically diverse country, you’ll find different regions grow different herbs which are of course an influence on the many dishes and recipes from each region. 

With no preference to the order of this list, these are the herbs we find we cook with most in our kitchen, and the same goes for most kitchens around Spain. All are tasty and loaded with nutritious health benefits with each having their own place in traditional and modern Spanish recipes

The first five herbs on this list are used extensively pretty much all over Spain and are staples in any Spanish kitchen. From the humble head of garlic, to staples such as parsley and rosemary, let’s discover the top 10 herbs used in Spanish cooking!

1. Parsley (Perejil)

The Quintessential Everyday Spanish Herb

Parsley is sold in huge bunches in supermarkets and will be found at all fresh food markets too (many butchers and small stores even give you a handful for free with your order!). That’s because parsley goes in everything from important sauces to stews, as well as on top of dishes as a garnish. 

Some parsley-rich dishes we recommend are pan-fried squid with parsley and garlic sauce, Spanish garlic zucchini with shaved cheese, and boquerones (marinated anchovies)

Rich in vitamins A, C, and K, parsley promotes good heart health and supports optimal bone health. It also contains antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and help with chronic pain.

2. Rosemary (Romero)

The Florally, Woody Herb Used to Infuse

Rosemary is also super popular and found growing wild in many regions of Spain. Often paired with meats, it can also be used in plant-based meals especially oven-baked dishes — it’s most commonly used when cooking hot meals. Some tasty rosemary recipes to try include garlic rosemary chicken thighs, one-pot Spanish chicken and rice, and poor man’s potatoes (vegan)

Rosemary aids in digestion, supports cognitive function, and has antimicrobial effects. It’s also an excellent source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, so it helps to fight or prevent many chronic illnesses. 


3. Thyme (Tomillo)

The Fragrant Herb with a Spanish Twist

Thyme is a versatile herb commonly used in Spanish cuisine that can be picked wild in many regions of Spain and used fresh or dried. Its aromatic, earthy flavor pairs beautifully with dishes like Pollo al Ajillo (garlic chicken), Spanish seafood stew, and fideuà with seafood.

Thyme contains antioxidants that can help combat oxidative stress and inflammation. It also has antibacterial properties and can help boost your immune system and relieve respiratory issues.

4. Bay Leaf (Hoja de Laurel)

Aromatic Elegance in Spanish Stews and Casseroles

We’re including bay leaves here as well as in the top spices used in Spanish cooking, as they straddle the herbs-spices divide. Often considered a herb, they are typically used like a spice, especially in stews and casseroles which are common in the Basque Country and all over Spain. 

Just a few bay leaves can infuse a dish of Spanish white bean stew (vegan), or oven-baked fish casserole with romesco sauce, with a delicious, earthy flavor.

And even though we don’t eat them directly, bay leaves still support our health thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. They also contain vitamins and minerals like vitamins A and C, and calcium. 

5. Garlic (Ajo)

The Indispensable Addition to All Types of Dishes

While technically a vegetable, garlic is used in the way herbs are to flavor dishes in everything from sauces to mains to tapas recipes. In fact, it’s so popular it even features in the name of many traditional recipes like Spanish garlic soup, Spanish garlic shrimp, Spanish garlic mushrooms, garlic chicken with sherry — and the list just goes on!     

It’s no secret that garlic has immune-boosting properties and has long been a simple remedy to fight colds and other ailments. But, it can also help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and lower the risk of heart disease.

close up shot of an earthenware dish filled with gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and topped with some chopped parsley

6. Oregano (Orégano)

The Mediterranean Herb That Packs a Punch

Popular in much of the Mediterranean and in many Spanish regions like Extremadura, oregano is commonly used in tomato-based sauces and in baked dishes. Some tasty Spanish/Mediterranean recipes that include oregano are spicy Mediterranean chicken thighs, roast chicken thighs with red wine, tomato, and herbs, and lemon and herb chicken thighs.  

Oregano is rich in antioxidants, has anti-bacterial properties, and may help lower cholesterol. It also supports digestive health so is a great addition to meals.

7. Mint (Menta)

The Refreshing Herb Reserved for Garnish

Mint certainly isn’t as common as the above herbs but is often used as a garnish or in drinks. With its refreshing taste, it’s great with lighter meals and in the warmer months. Some recipes that promote the healthiness and freshness of Spanish cooking with mint include cod ceviche with cucumber and grapefruit and no-bake cheesecake with avocado and lime

When it comes to health benefits, mint is known for its soothing properties on the digestive system. It can relieve indigestion and reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

8. Chives (Cebollino)

The Herb That Makes Guest Appearances

Commonly found in the Asturias region, chives are often sprinkled on potato omelets and salads. They make a very tasty addition to dressings and sauces too, like with Mediterranean baked sweet potatoes and rice bowls with beetroot falafels

They are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and can improve bone health and a healthy digestive system.

9. Basil (Albahaca)

The Herb Borrowed From Italy

Commonly grown in the Canary Islands, basil isn’t as pivotal in Spanish cuisine as it is in Italian, but it still has its place, although many recipes may be influenced by Italian cuisine as a result. 

Some tasty recipes to try include tomato burrata salad with basic and garlic dressing, and grilled fresh figs with goat’s cheese, honey, and toasted walnuts. Fresh figs are abundant in many areas of Spain and there are even trees going in the wild, making this tasty fruit a favorite when it’s in season.

Basil supports liver health, aids digestion, and is an excellent source of antioxidants.

A spoonful of green mojo sauce sits above a jar of green mojo sauce

10. Coriander (Cilantro)

The Herb You Love or Hate

While not native to Spain, cilantro has found a home growing in some regions, particularly the island regions such as the Canary Islands, and the Balearic islands. It’s made its way into different types of recipes now from sauces to rice dishes. If you love cilantro, why not try making green Canarian mojo sauce at home or spicy grilled shrimp with tangy peach salad?

Cilantro is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K and vitamin A, and calcium and iron. It helps to detoxify the body and possesses strong antioxidant properties.

Now It’s Your Turn!

Whether you love Spanish food and want to cook more at home or you think adding some healthy herbs to your repertoire is a good idea, start experimenting. Adding herbs to your cooking is a great way to elevate your recipes to the next level! 

Many of the recipes we listed above and in Spanish cuisine will use a combination of herbs. Mix and match, and see what you like, and always have fun in the kitchen! Salud!


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