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Ask a Foodie: What Is Epazote?

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Epazote flavors this Caldo de Hongos (Clear Mushroom Soup)

Q. What is epazote?

—Lori

A, Epazote (eh-pah-ZOH-tay) is a Mexican herb that has people almost as divided in their opinions as cilantro. Some people love its aromatic qualities, others think its taste reminds them of gasoline, slightly off geranium leaves or camphor.

It's used in a host of Mexican dishes. In fact, Rick Bayless thinks it's an indispensable part of Mexican black beans. It is also used in soups, salads and moles.

It goes by a list of other names you may know better: wormseed, Jesuit's tea, Mexican tea, and herba sancti Maria. Some have also said skunkweed and pigweed are names for epazote, but both are used to describe many plants, including those weeds that are likely making you sneeze this time of year.

According to About.com, "Although epazote is poisonous in large quantities, it has been used in moderation to help relieve abdominal discomfort (gassiness) that can come from eating beans.

Fresh epazote is always best, and it can be found at most Mexican markets. Central Market, 4821 Broadway, has it on occasion, as does Whole Foods in the Quarry, 255 E. Basse Road. Or you can plant your own. Seeds can be ordered from Amazon.com.

There really is no substitute for epazote in cooking, because it's flavor is so unique, chef and instructor Iliana de la Vega said at the recent Culinary Institute of America's Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium.

But if you don't have any on hand, try another herb like cilantro or culantro. That rule certainly applies to the Caldo de Hongos (Clear Mushroom Soup) recipe, which epazote. When I made it, I didn't have any on hand, so I used cilantro instead. The flavor was different, but the soup was still delicious.

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