A native to the eastern United States, the sassafras is one of the few popular spices that don’t come from tropical countries.
Thanks to innovative manufacturers who began to remove the dangerous compounds in sassafras, they are back in the market.
Though the leaves may not be as widely available today, the plant still holds a place in many American hearts.
If you have tasted sassafras yet, we will tell you what to expect. But before we get there, what exactly are sassafras?
What is Sassafras?
A genus belonging to the Lauraceae family-one that includes other popular spices like cinnamon and bay leaves, sassafras was once used as a wonder drug capable of treating numerous diseases.
Sassafras trees have summer green leaves which may come in three different shapes. They may be oval, mitten-shaped, or divided into three lobes, and all three types of leaves can occur in a single tree.
Various parts of the tree are edible, including the leaves, twigs, berries, and roots, and they have a strong aroma when crushed.
However, the root is the most commonly used part that is dug, dried, and often powdered.
What Does Sassafras Taste Like? Does Sassafras Taste Good?
Sassafras is a strongly scented spice with an earthy flavor with notes of anise and lemon. It goes well with many other herbs and perfectly complements several dishes and curries.
Sassafras teas, including the commercial tea bags, are also popular as refreshing beverages that wake you up with their intense aroma. If you like root beer, you will probably like sassafras too.
They taste similar, and sassafras is even considered a forefather of root beer. Besides the citrus-like flavor, sassafras taste can also be described as a bit like vanilla or licorice.
For a long time, natives of South America used sassafras as a medicine, and many modern studies support that. They act as a diuretic and help keep the blood pressure low, increase urine output and prevent bloating.
Several compounds are also known to reduce inflammation and help your body heal. Some compounds in sassafras also fight against a parasitic infection called leishmaniasis in tropical regions.
So despite the apparent health benefits, why did the FDA ban sassafras?
Multiple studies suggest that safrole, a chemical compound found in sassafras were associated with cancer and tumor growth in mice.
Although there are no human trials to support that sassafras are carcinogenic, it is widely considered a potential health risk.
But several sassafras products in the market are free from safrole which you can safely consume.
How to Use Sassafras in Recipes?
Fresh sassafras leaves and roots are boiled, and the extract is often sweetened and enjoyed as a hot beverage.
The powdered file is also used as a condiment is soups/stews and a thickening agent- a substitute for okra when unavailable.
Despite the FDA ban, many American people continue to consume fresh sassafras leaves for two reasons.
The food was long part of the ancestral diet both as a regular spice and as a medicine, even shipping it in large amounts to other parts of the world.
Sassafras leaves are also said to contain a lesser amount of safrole than other part of the tree. Many would argue that consuming in moderation is the key.
If you aren’t one of a nervous disposition, you can enjoy a delightful spicy cup of sassafras tea, sweetened or non-sweetened according to your choice.
You also add cinnamon, ginger, anise, or other herbs to sassafras tea and create a nutrient-rich, flavorful drink.
Besides, if you are one to experiment with, you may add powdered sassafras spices to your soups and curries. The leaves and twigs may also be consumed raw.
Many Americans still enjoy sassafras though farmers do not produce and sell them widely as they once were. But there are still ways you can procure sassafras and add them to your diet.
They make a lovely addition to the shelves of spices in the kitchen that cater to our variant taste buds.
So enjoy your sassafras, but remember that you need to take it in moderation when you’re dealing with the fresh ones.