This feathery, bright herb—its wispy little leaves long and thin like nature’s herbaceous sprinkles—has so much more to offer than giving cucumber pickles their signature flavor. Without further ado, here’s the deal on dill, and if it’s the same as dill weed.
What Is Dill?
Dill can be considered both an herb and a spice—as plant greens or dried seed, respectively. But before it’s harvested into either one of those, it’s a biennial Apiaceae, a member of the carrot family that’s commonly grown as an annual, native to the Mediterranean and southeastern Europe.
Several species of dill are grown as seasoning or medicine, as it’s known to be good for the digestive system, acting as a diuretic, and helpful for controlling infection.
Dill’s delicate, wispy appearance and distinctive fragrance also makes it popular as a companion plant, border décor, or in flower bouquets. When it’s in bloom, it’s even better for the latter! Its blossoms are small and twee, growing in yellow or white sprays that add a dash of color without making an arrangement feel dense or heavy.
What Does Dill Taste Like?
Fresh dill tastes green, grassy, lemony, herbaceous, light, and refreshing. Whether dried or fresh, it’s bright and slightly sweet, with elements of parsley, celery, and anise. Dried dill loses some of its brightness, while its slightly astringent character becomes more pronounced.
Its seeds, however, are pungent and strong, giving cucumbers their traditional flavor. The seeds have echoes of fellow Apiaceae member caraway and play well with garlic, mustard, onions, and other similar forceful ingredients.
Dill Vs. Fennel
The fronds of fennel bulbs (also an Apiaceae member) can easily be confused for fresh dill, as both are bright green, softly featured, and used for cooking and as garnish. However, the blades floating off fennel’s fibrous, tough stalks are thicker, while dill remains delicate from root to tip. Fennel’s taste is also significantly different, with black licorice or anise notes that are at direct odds with the verdant grassiness of dill.
Varieties of Dill
Dill is easy to grow, easy to gather, and generous in yield. This has made it a simple matter for many species to develop for specific needs. Picklers love Fernleaf, Mammoth, and Bouquet varieties for their abundance of seeds.
However, the speed with which these varieties bloom—the quicker the path to those seeds—makes a shorter harvest for the greens, and gardeners who want more time with their fresh herbs opt for slower bolting types. These include the Delikat, Elephant, and Greensleeves.
Then there are casual gardeners with limited space or home cooks who just want quick, easy access to fresh herbs. For them, compact types such as Ella, Monia, Dukat (Tetra), and Fernleaf and Greensleeves again are good picks for container gardens.
All of these varieties have similar flavors with very minute differences between how mild or pungent they are.
Fresh or Dried Dill?
Fresh dill is delicate and beautiful, fanning out gently in bold emerald greens. You can taste its grassy color when you get it tender and fresh, but like all herbs, its dried form, fronds stripped from the stems, is much more concentrated and impactful.
Dried dill is best for recipes that require more force of flavor and incorporation into a sauce. It may not be as striking in appearance in terms of shape or color, but will feel like sparkles of glitter in applications like tzatziki, tartar sauce, and tuna salad.
Dill seeds are predominantly used for long steeps like pickles and salad dressing and hard-cooking applications, such as long baths in soup or stew. Whole or crushed is up to the user, but as with any spice, breaking it up will extract more flavor faster.
Cooking With Fresh Dill
Wait until the last minute to bedeck your dish with fresh dill, since it will go limp. However, don’t let that stop you from creating steamed or baked dishes with a whole sprig infusing flavor into your protein—the way you’d use fresh parsley and lemon on, say, fish—or including it in a bouquet garni.
You won’t need to use much of the supple stems if you’re using fresh dill whole, and will discard them all if you’re only using the leaves for your recipe, so choose the one that best suits your purpose.
Where to Buy Dill
Fresh dill is readily available in bunches or in smaller packaged plastic clamshell containers in the refrigerated leafy green produce aisle of any supermarket. In the latter form, the larger part of the stems are already trimmed while you’ll get longer ones in the bunch.
If a recipe calls for a lot of fresh dill, it’s more affordable to buy in a bunch. Look at international markets for dill in bunches. Look for bright, vibrant greens for the longest shelf life and best flavor.
Dried dill (both weed and seed) is dependably found in the general spice aisle.
If it’s greenery you need, tarragon (with its licorice accents) or parsley can work. Their appearance and taste aren’t similar, but parsley especially is common and familiar.
When to Use Dill
Dill goes well with root vegetables, including carrots and fennel; celery, with which it shares ancestry; summer vegetables like cucumbers, corn, zucchini, and tomatoes; and rich creamy bases from mayonnaise to sour cream or cream cheese to butter, and cheese. Dill lightens up soup and brightens up rice, and is also great on eggs. Either way, they lend a summery zest and peppiness without having to resort to an allium.
Recipes Made With Dill
- New Potato Salad with Sour Cream and Dill
- Grilled Lemon Dill Salmon
- Kuku Sabzi (Persian Herb Frittata)
- Fermented Cucumber Pickles
- Homemade Veggie Dip