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Myrtle (Myrtus communis)
Myrtaceae (myrtle family)
The plant grows abundantly in the North Western to Eastern Mediterranean; its multiple occurrence in the Old Testament testifies its significance to West Asian peoples .
Used plant part
Mostly the fresh or dried leaves are used .
The leaves exemanate an aromatic and refreshing smell somewhat reminiscent to myrrh or eucalypt; the taste is very intensive, quite unpleasant and strongly bitter.
The most important constituents of myrtle oil (up to 0.8% in the leaves) are myrtenol, myrtenol acetate, limonene (23%), linalool (20%), pinene (14%), cineol (11%), furthermore, p-cymene, geraniol, nerol and the phenylpropanoid, methyleugenol. There is considerable variability in the composition of oil from different locations.
Myrtle plants with flowers
Myrtle is example of a spice finding no wide application because of its bitterness, despite the pleasant odour. Its culinary importance is limited to the region of origin: The fragrant macchia forests on the mountain slopes around the Mediterranean Sea.
Myrtle is a perfect firewood, transmitting a spicy, aromatic taste to any meat grilled thereon. Furthermore, meat or poultry may be wrapped with myrtle branches or the body cavities may be stuffed therewith; after broiling or roasting, the myrtle is to be removed. Foods flavoured with the smoke of myrtle are common in rural areas of Italy or Sardinia; rosemary may serve as a substitute. Interestingly, the same technique is also known in the Caribbean, where allspice leaves are employed for virtually the same purposes.
Dried myrtle leaves are readily available in most Western countries; any food broiled over charcoal may be flavoured simply by repeatedly sprinkling a handful of the leaves over the glowing coal.
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