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Savory (Satureja hortensis L.)

Synonyms

pharmaceuticalHerba Saturejae
AlbanianTrumza*, Thrumbisht, Trumëza
Arabicنذغ
نَذْغ
Nadgh
Aramaicܙܪܒܘܙ, ܙܘܬܪܐ
Zarbuz, Zautra
ArmenianԽնկենի, Ծոթրին
Khngeni, Xnkeni, Chotrin
AzeriÇölnanə
Чөнанә
BasqueAzitrail
BretonSanturig, Santurig-goañv (Satureja montana)
BulgarianЧубрица
Chubritsa, Chubrica
CatalanSajolida*
Chinese
(Cantonese)
風輪菜 [fùng lèuhn choi], 香薄荷 [hēung bohk hòh]
Fung leuhn choi, Heung bohk hoh
Chinese
(Mandarin)
風輪菜 [fēng lún cài], 香薄荷 [xiāng báo hé]
Feng lun cai, Xiang bao he
Copticⲃⲉⲣⲛⲓⲕⲁⲣⲓⲟⲛ, ⲧⲁⲣⲭⲟⲛ
Bernikarion, Tarkhon (?)
CroatianĆubar vrtni; Bresina, Krški vrisak, Ćubar kraški*, Vrijesak*
CzechSaturejka
DanishBønneurt
DutchBonenkruid, Kunne, Koele, Peperkruid, Scharekruid, Tuinbonenkruid
EsperantoSatureo
EstonianAed-piparrohi
Farsiمرزه
Marzeh
FinnishKesäkynteli
FrenchSarriette, Sarriette des champs, Poivrette, Herbe de Saint-Julien; Sarriette de montagne*
GaelicGarbhag ghàraidh
GalicianAxedrea*
Georgianქონდარი
Kondari, Khondari
GermanBohnenkraut, Pfefferkraut, Saturei, Kölle, Winterbergminze
GreekΘρούμπι, Τραγορίγανη
Throubi, Tragorigani
Greek (Old)Θύμβρα
Thymbra (Satureja thymbra)
Hebrewזתרה, זעתר; צתרה ורודה
זַתַּרַה, זַעְתַּר
Satar, Satra, Za'atar, Zatar, Zatara; Satra vruda (Satureja thymbra)
HungarianCsombord, Borsika, Borsfű, Pereszlén, Hurkafű, Bécsi rozmaring
IcelandicSar
ItalianSantoreggia
Japaneseセイバリー
Seibari
KazakhТасшөп, Жебір, Жебіршөп
Jebir, Jebirşöp, Tasşöp
Korean사보리, 세이보리
Sabori, Seibori
LatinSatureia
LatvianParastās raudenes, Pupumētra
LithuanianDašis; Kalninis dašis*
MacedonianЧубрица
Čubrica
NorwegianSar, Bønneurt
OssetianДжеджджын
Dxedxdxyn
PolishCząber ogrodowy, Pieprzyk, Dzięcielina, Cząberek
PortugueseSegurelha-das-hortas, Segurelha-das-montanhas*
ProvençalSadrèio; Pebre d’asé*
RomanianCimbru de grădină
RussianЧабёр, Чабер
Chabyor, Chaber
SerbianЧубар, Вријесак, Вресак кршки, Ртањски чај
Čubar, Vrijesak, Vresak krški, Rtanjski čaj (Satureja montana)
SlovakSaturejka záhradńa; Saturejka horská*
SlovenianVrtni šetraj; Kraški šetraj*
SpanishSabroso, Ajedrea*, Jedrea*
SwedishKyndel
TurkishDağ reyhanı, Anık, Geyikotu, Cibriska, Kekik otu, Kekikotu, Sater otu, Zater; Dağ geyik otu*, Dağ sateri*; Kara kekik (Satureja thymbra)
UkrainianЧабер, Чабер садовий
Chaber, Chaber sadovyj
WelshSawr
Yiddishטשאַבער, טשעפּטשיק
Tshaber, Tsheptshik
Satureja hortensis: Savory
Savory, flowering sprig
Note

Names with an asterisk in the above list refer (mostly) to the winter savory or moun­tain savory, Satureja montana.

Another Note

In the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, there is often nor clear distinction made between a couple of aromatic herbs of the mint family: Names like Turkish kekik or Arabic zatar/satar [زعتر, صعتر] and related forms in Hebrew and Persian, often in conjunction with qualifying or descriptive adjectives, may be applied to a varity of native herbs including, but not restricted to, oregano, marjoram, thyme and savory. Usage may vary even within a given language, depending on the region and particularly on the local flora. In Jordan, zahtar usually means a spice mixture containing such herbs (see sumac for more).

Used plant part

All aerial plant parts. The herb should be cut before flowering.

Plant family

Lamiaceae (mint family).

Sensory quality

Savory has a strong aromatic flavour, which could be compared to thyme (particularly, thyme harvested in summer), ajwain or the common strain of epazote.

Satureja hortensis: Summer savory
Summer savory with flowers

In addition to this aroma, savory displays a certain pungent taste; of the spices listed before, only ajwain comes close. This pungency has led to savory being used as a (poor) substitute for black pepper, intended for those who have to avoid pepper for some medical reason. The perennial winter savory (Satureja montana) is more pungent than the common annual summer savory (S. hortensis). In any case, this pungency is mostly seen in the fresh (or dried) herb; by boiling, it is drastically reduced and vanishes quickly, so that the two varieties of savory become equivalent.

The species S. thymbra (thyme-leaved savory, pink savory), native from the Eastern Mediterranean to Iran, has a strong, very spicy flavour somewhere between common savory and thyme. I have seen it traded as zatar parsi, but I do not know which language that is supposed to be.

There is also a lemon-scented variety of winter savory (S. montana ssp. citriodora) from Slovenia whose flavour closely resembles lemon thyme. Only the African S. biflora has a true, spicy and very agreeable lemon odour; it is becoming increasingly popular with home gardeners, although it is a tropical plant and not very easy to grow. It can be used for sweet and savory food alike.

Satureja montana ssp. citriodora: Lemon-scented winter savory
Lemon-scented winter savory
Satureja biflora: Lemon savory
Lemon savory (sterile plant)

© Sabine Amtsberg

Main constituents

Savory contains an essential oil in varying amounts; good quality should range between 1 and 2%. In contrast to the olfactorily similar thyme, savory contains only minor amounts of thymol, but the main component is carvacrol, a position isomer of thymol (30 to 45%). Furthermore, p-cymene (max. 30%), γ-terpinene, α-pinene (8%), dipentene, borneol, 1-linalool, terpineol and 1-carvone are reported.

A related species, Satureja biflora, lemon savory from Africa, contains an essential oil dominated by citral (60%), furthermore camphor, menthone and pulegone.

Origin

Several species of the genus Satureja are found in the region around the Mediterranean Sea, although they probably stem from Western and Central Asia. Besides S. hortensis (garden or summer savory), the perennial S. montana (mountain or winter savory, from the Apennine mountains) is traded in large scale. The flavour of these two species is almost indistinguishable, although the former is slightly more pungent.

Etymology

Many names in contemporary European tongues (Portuguese segurelha, Italian santoreggia, French sarriette, Czech and Slovak saturejka and also the regional German Saturei) as well as English savory go back to Latin satureia. The English name has been influenced by (but not derived from) the adjective savoury spicy: Middle English savery, from Latin sapor flavour via Old French sarree.

The origin of the Latin satureia is dark; postulated connections to satyr or saturn are most probably wrong, and also the derivation from saturare saturate can hardly convince. I guess there is a common origin with Turkish sater, Hebrew zaʾatar [זעתר] and Arabic az-za'tar [الزعتر], which is a term used today in the Eastern Mediterranean to describe different aromatic herbs (mainly savory, thyme and marjoram) and also a spice mixture containing, among others, such herbs (see sumac).

Satureja thymbra: Iran savory, flower
Thyme-leaved savory flower
Satureja thymbra: Iranian savory
Thyme-leaved or pink savory, S. thymbra (flowering plant)

The Swedish name kyndel and the second element of Finnish kesäkynteli derive from Latin cunila, which is the adaptation of an obscure Greek plant name konile [κονίλη] which allegedly meant marjoram. The German name of creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), Quendel, has the same source; see also thyme.

The German term Bohnen­kraut bean’s herb indicates the value of savory for bean dishes. Bohne bean and its Germanic cognates (Old Norse baun, Old English bēan, Dutch boon) originally referred to the Central Asian broad bean (Vicia faba); today, it is mostly used for the French bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), which was introduced to Europe in the 16.th century from its native continent America. Despite numerous cognates in non-Germanic languages (Latin faba bean, Greek phakos [φακός] lentil, Russian bob [боб] bean), the name cannot be explained sufficiently; yet the Proto-Indo–European root BʰEU swell, puff (cf. boil or German Beule swelling) is a likely candidate, provided the name indeed is of Indo–European origin.

German Kraut has three different meanings: annual, non-woody plant, plant used for culinary or medical purposes and cabbage. The word occurs in German and Dutch (kruid) only; Swedish krydd has the narrowed meaning spice, condiment. A Common Germanic form KRŪDA can be reconstructed, but non-Germanic examples are difficult to find, e. g., Greek bryein [βρύειν] sprout, germinate (cf. embryo) and Latin fruticari sprout (see chile). A possible Proto-Indo–European root accounting for both Kraut and bryein is GʷERU spit (cf. Latin veru lance); but it is doubtful whether the words in question are truly Indo–European.

Several European languages name savory as pepper herb, obviously in reference to the former use of savory as a substitute for black pepper. Examples are German Pfefferkraut, Estonian piparrohi, Polish pieprzyk, Hungarian borsfű and even Korean (huchu namu [후추나무]); the Hungarian name, however, may also mean cress. In French, there is a similar name poivrette little pepper, and Provençal has a rather colourful nickname for winter savory: pebré d’asé or pebre d’aï (in French more rarely poivre d’âne) donkey pepper. Although savory is not efficient in the rôle of a pepper surrogate, it has been used a lot in Germany during and immediately after World War II, and some German cooks have kept this tradition until today. Sometimes, people substitute pepper by savory for alleged health reasons.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Savory (indianetzone.com) Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Bohnenkraut (rezkonv.de via archive.org) Pflanzen des Capitulare de Villis: Bohnenkraut (biozac.de) Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association: Summer Savory Herbs by Linda Gilbert: Savory Desirable Herb and Spice Varieties: Savory Recipe: Sarma (Croatian cabbage rolls) Рецепта: Кавърма по воденичарски (Kavarma Miller’s Style) (gotvetesmen.com) Рецепта: Кавърма-кебап (Meat Kavarma) (bg.wikibooks.org)


Satureja hortensis: Savory in flower
Flowering savory
Savory’s aroma is closely similar to that of thyme and other spices con­taining thymol (e. g., ajwain); yet savory posseses an additional, unique touch of peppery piquancy, which gives food spiced with savory a somewhat rustic character. In my opinion, savory deserves more attention and is widely underrated.

Despite savory’s similarities to thyme, its applications are rather the opposite: It is rarely used for meats, but mostly for vegetables. Savory is very often employed for legumes, especially dishes prepared from dried lentils or beans, where it aids digestion significantly. Furthermore, I find it is very well suited for mushrooms. As an authentic flavouring for traditional Central European food, savory may well be combined with hyssop for rustic bean or potato recipes.

On the other hand, savory is frequently found in commercial spice mixtures for sausages, pâtés or pickles. Though not obligatory, it is often part of the Southern France spice mixture herbes de Provence (see lavender), and it is found in most versions of Georgian khmeli-suneli (see blue fenugreek). It is quite a popular culinary herb in Germany; thus, it is often employed in German versions of bouquet garni (see parsley).

Some books recommend to add savory early in the cooking process, but to my taste, savory’s aroma is diminished by long cooking, and therefore I usually add it only one or two minutes before the dish is finished.

Because of its strong affinity to legumes in general and beans in particular, savory makes a good alternative for the herb epazote called for in some Central American bean recipes, if the latter is unavailable.

Satureja hortensis: Winter savory (inflorescence)
Winter savory flowers

In South Eastern Europe, from the Balkan to the Black Sea, savory has some importance as flavouring for beans, vegetables and braised foods. In Croatia, there is even a local lemon-scented variety which I like to grilled fish, even more than lemon thyme. In Bulgaria, savory (named chubritsa or more correctly čubrica [чубрица]) is the most frequently used culinary herb and is employed almost universally. Grown in the warm Bulgarian climate, savory develops a most pleasant aroma reminiscent of thyme. Note that in some Slavonic tongues, names similar to chubritsa may apply either to thyme or to savory.

Bulgarian kavurma or kavarma [кавърма] is meat (usually pork or mutton) slowly stewed in a clay pot. It contains various vegetables (onions, tomatoes, mushrooms), red or white wine and is seasoned with savory and black pepper.

The national dish of Bulgaria, sarmi [сарми] (cabbage rolls), consists of a mixture of fried onions, uncooked rice and ground meat that is wrapped in cabbage leaves and slowly cooked. Bulgarians prefer cabbage leaves that have been fermented to yield a kind of uncut sauerkraut and flavour the meat stuffing with savory (besides pepper, parsley, dill and possibly paprika). There are many similar foods in outher South East European places, e. g., the Balkan variant sarma [сарма], which is often cooked in tomato sauce and thus acquires a more intensive, reddish colour.

Quite often one finds spice blends named as chubritza or tschubritsa (spoken tshubritza) for Bulgarian or more generally Balkan cooking. Yet in Bulgaria, that name almost always refers only to pure savory, not to some herb mixture; the latters are often known as sharena sol [шарена сол] coloured salt. An alternate name is merudiya or merudia [мерудия], which usually means parsley, but may also refer to either savory or the sharena sol mixture.

In Bulgaria, blends may contain salt, paprika, dried herbs (savory, thyme, basil, lovage) and often also either desiccated garlic or herbs with garlicky flavour like honey garlic (Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. bulgaricum syn. Allium bulgaricum) known as samardala [самардала] in Bulgarian.

In Georgia, savory is one of the most popular culinary herb. It is mostly used dry and ground, and also appears in the spice blend khmeli-suneli (see blue fenugreek) and in the table condiment svanuri marili (see garlic).



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