What Exactly are Aromatics?

what exactly are aromatics?

All great things start with a strong foundation. For houses, it’s the pillars and walls made from indestructible materials, in makeup, it’s the creams and liquid you blend to have a flawless complexion. And for savory dishes, it's the combination of aromatics. Made up of simple, essential everyday ingredients, aromatics are necessary to make your dish a success. They are the backbone of your dish. It just wouldn’t be the same when you cook without them! Moreover, aromatics are responsible for the depth of flavor in your cooking. They make your stir-fries more fragrant, your sauces more powerful, and your stocks deeper in taste.    

Aromatics are basically a combination of the following: herbs, spices, and vegetables. While some combinations are already the standard, like the onion-carrot-celery combo for the mirepoix or the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking (onion, green peppers, celery), it’s okay to experiment and try new combinations that will suit your preference. After all, it is your dish!     

Here’s a quick guide about aromatics — where they are used, and how to use them. 

Filipino Essentials: Garlic, Onions, Tomatoes/Ginger 

Have you ever noticed how our favorite Filipino dishes start with garlic, onion, and tomato? That’s because our dishes tend to be on the saucier side. The combination of garlic, onion, and tomato usually goes for tomato-based dishes like menudo, afritada, kaldereta, kare-kare, sarciado, guisado, and pochero while the interchange of tomato with ginger goes well with soup-based dishes like tinola and batchoy. 

France’s Mirepoix: Onions, Carrots, Celery 

Pronounced as meer-a-pwah, this traditional aromatic combination (2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery) is essential in French cuisine. It is often cooked with the addition of butter or other fats plus delicate herbs like thyme, parsley, and Herb de Provence to make a rich foundation of flavor. Traditional French dishes made with mirepoix include coq au vin and beef bourguignon. This is used as well for stocks, soups, and stews.

Italy’s Soffritto: Onions, Carrots, Celery 

The Italian version of the mirepoix is the soffritto. This version however doesn’t limit itself to a ratio, plus Italians cut their vegetables coarsely, then enhance it with hefty herbs like sage, oregano, basil, fennel, and chilis. Soffritto is used as the base for heavy sauces like bolognese, ragu, as well as risotto, soup, stews, and braised dishes. 

Latin American Sofrito: Onions, Carrots, Celery 

Latin American countries also have their take on the sofrito using the same onion, carrot, and celery combination. The main difference though is that they heavily flavor their aromatics with heavy spices and vegetables like tomatoes, paprika, chilis, and peppers. 

The Holy Trinity of Cajun Cuisine: Onions, Green Peppers Celery 

Those who have visited New Orleans in Louisiana must have certainly tried Cajun cuisine which uses the combination of onion, green peppers, and celery in their cooking. Dubbed the Holy Trinity, this collection of aromatics — which are usually cooked with spices like paprika, shallots, and garlic — is the base for Cajun dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee.

Chinese Aromatics: Garlic, Ginger, Scallions 

Typical Chinese dishes get their depth of flavor from the fragrant aromatic combination of garlic, ginger, and scallions that are cooked in very high heat. Afterwards, ingredients like chilis, star anise, five-spice powder, chives, and shallots are added to form the personality of the dish. Other parts of China also have their signature aromatic combinations. For example, Sichuan cuisine is known to add dried chilis to its flavor base.

Powerful Aromatics of Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is known for its masterful use of herbs and spices, hence the countless combination of aromatics in their cooking. The use of aromatics heavily depends on what’s being cooked; it can be used as dry flavoring, or it can be used to make the base of sauce-based meat or vegetable dishes. A typical flavor starter in Indian cuisine includes the roasting of cloves, cardamom, and cumin. Usually cooked with ghee or clarified butter, additional add-on ingredients include garlic, onions, chilis, turmeric, and ginger.