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Epazote (Recipe: frijoles de la olla) {vegan, gluten-free}


What herb, popular in Mexican cooking and named for a smelly animal, grows wild in New York City's Central Park?

Si, si, it's epazote (pronounced eh-pah-ZOH-tay), a flavorful, leafy green herb native to central and southern Mexico. The name comes from Nahuatl, an Aztec language: epatl means skunk, and tzotl, sweat. It's also called skunkweed, pig weed or wormseed.

Okay, I realize that this isn't sounding too appealing, so let me tell you a bit more about why epazote is in The Perfect Pantry, and why I'm going to try growing it in my garden this summer.

First, epazote is the essential companion herb to black beans. Once you've tried cooking beans with epazote, you'll never want them any other way. It's also a wonderful addition to mole verde (a green mole made of tomatillos and green chiles) and split pea soup.

Second, in addtion to enhancing the flavor of beans, epazote is an anti-flatulent, reducing what Julia Child used to call the rooty-toot-toot.

My local Latino grocery store carries fresh epazote in the produce department; it often looks wilted and sad, like cilantro, but it's perfectly fine for cooking (treat it like parsley — trim off the stem ends, refresh in cold water, and store in the refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel inside a plastic bag). I don't always get to the specialty market, so I keep dried epazote on my spice rack. The small jar from Penzeys sells for $2.19, and lasts for months.

Fresh or dried, epazote is a bit on the strong side; it can overwhelm more delicate flavors and, again like cilantro, is a love-it-or-hate-it taste. Interestlingly, I'm not a cilantro person but I love epazote, which to me tastes a bit like citrus and mint (I've also heard the taste described as petroleum or turpentine). In large doses, far more than you'd ever use for cooking, epazote is poisonous; if you're pregnant, use sparingly or not at all.

For beans that really taste like Mexico, try adding this ancient herb, whether you grow it or buy it — or forage for it in Central Park. 

Frijoles de la olla (home-cooked beans)

Black beans and epazote go hand-in-hand. If you can find fresh epazote in your market, use a large sprig or two instead of the dried herb. This recipe makes 7 cups, which can be turned into rice and beans, or a wonderful burrito filling, by adding your favorite spices (cumin, chili powder, etc.). To make a great black bean soup, puree the cooked beans, flavor with cumin to taste, and add some chicken or vegetable stock. Cooked beans can be frozen.


1 lb black beans
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or bacon drippings)
1 medium onion, cut into large dice
2 Tbsp dried epazote, or 2 sprigs fresh
1-2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste


Check through the beans and remove any stones. Place in a large bowl, cover by at least two inches with cold water, and let soak overnight.

To cook, drain the beans and add them to a large stock pot with oil, onion and epazote. Add 2-1/2 quarts of water (you can substitute part vegetable or chicken stock, if you wish), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook, partially covered, until the beans are tender, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours, depending on the freshness of the beans. Skim off foam as necessary during the early part of the cooking process. Add water if the mixture becomes too thick. When the beans are tender, add 1 tsp salt and simmer for a few minutes. Then, add more salt to taste. If using fresh epazote, remove the sprig before serving.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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You've taught me something brand new! I'll check it out next time I'm in Central Park!

I love this stuff. My brother brings it to me from Mexico. (And of course I buy it from Penzeys too, can't resist.)

By the way, there's another food blogger named Lydia who leaves a lot of comments all over the place and all this time I thought it was you. I kept thinking, how does she have time to visit all these blogs? Pretty funny huh. I'm sure some are you and some are a different Lydia.

I love epazote! My mom and nana grow it in their backyards. I can't wait til I have a yard so they can ship some over and I can plant it. :)

I've never heard of this stuff before, Lydia. I am in awe at your knowledge of such things.

TW, happy hunting! I read this in a Diana Kennedy book, but she didn't give specific locations for foragers.

Kalyn, they say everyone has a twin somewhere in the universe....

Ari, I'm going to try growing it this summer, too.

Mimi, I'm learning something new every day -- and the real fun is learning about all of these things I've collected in my pantry.

I've seen the name before but knew nothing about it. That is truly a great one liner opening! I'm sold, I must find some now.

Rootie-toot-toot!!! Gotta love that Julia!!

Never heard of epazote! Love the name rootie-toot-toot! I need to add them to the beans so the hubby can spare me the toot-toot --:D!


i like delicious~ i like cooking

welcome to my home:


I'm a big fan of epazote, but didn't know it was growing wild in Central Park. I know where I'm spending my lunch break!

Tanna, thanks! Maybe you and Lisa can meet up in Central Park for some epazote foraging.

Laura, you know I love Julia!

Veron, I love love love black beans, and the epazote really does help with the tooting.

Yoyo, I wish I could read Japanese! The food photos on your blog are beautiful.

Lisa, maybe you'll meet Tanna in Central Park....

When I first started reading this post, I thought "Ewwww....why would Penzey's sell this spice?". Then after reading the rest of it, I'm convinced... looks like one that I need!

Ooh, I used some Epazote when I made Black Bean Soup the other week! It really is as essential to Mexican cooking as Cumin I think. Thanks for sharing this!

I've never heard of the spice and I'm not familiar with Penzey's. I can see I have some food exploring to do on my next visit...(MW, Penzey's, damn those new weight restrictions - I'm going to have to travel naked so there's room for the food)

I bought epazote for the first time at the farmers' market last year; you're right, it really does enhance black beans. I'll have to look for the dried one as well. Do you find that it's stronger than the fresh? I find that with oregano, so I was just wondering. Let us know how it does it your garden as well!

Kristen, glad you weren't scared off by the smelly animal bit! This is really a wonderful herb to add to your culinary repertoire.

Freya, I agree -- black beans and epazote are so good together.

Katie, I'd give up something for MW -- but the epazote doesn't weigh much! Whenever I travel to Mexico, I stuff my bags with lots and lots of dried peppers....but don't tell US Customs!

Susan, you're lucky to have fresh epazote in your farmers' market. We never see it here, except in the Latino markets in South Providence. I'm looking forward to growing my own. The fresh is always milder-tasting, to me, but it would be my first choice.

Wow, this is what I consider exotic! You only buy your herbs and spices from Penzeys, don't you? I've never even heard of this herb, but I guess it'll take you lots of beans to go through a whole bottle, huh? I wonder if it will go well with bittergourd? :)

It is good to know it comes dried- I used to only find it fresh (& wilted like you said) and thought it was only important for the "gas" issue. Now that I know it actually enhances the flavor, I'll have to try it.

I've never heard of epazote too. It's a new herb to me. Thanks for sharing. It's a shame most of the Mexican restaurants around Australia aren't that authentic otherwise we might see this herb being used and I might actually step into one of these establishments to eat something.

Shilpa, I do buy a lot from Penzeys, because their herbs and spices are fresh and the prices are good. Where I live, in a somewhat rural area, the shopping options are limited. I also buy quite a lot at Asian, Indian and Latino markets when I get into the city. At the ethnic market, the prices are great, and the spices very fresh because there is a lot of turnover. I try not to buy the less common spices at the local supermarket, because they've been sitting on the shelf for a long time.

Callipygia, I think you'll notice the difference in taste with the beans, too.

Steven, I'm thinking that if epazote grows wild in New York City, perhaps it can survive anywhere?! I've only been able to visit Australia one time, and I think I ate fish and seafood every day because the varieties available are so wonderful.

Lydia, I think I know food but then you always manage to introduce me to something new. while i've heard of epazote, and probably ate it before, i've never really known anything about it, I'm on the lookout now for some epazote!

Thanks Lydia!

Don't you love Penzey's? Now I have soemthing new I have to order!

I love your blog....it's like looking in my pantry but I don't have this wonderful spice I have been hearing so much about. Off to Penzey's

Doodles, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I'm having so much fun rooting around in my cupboards and writing about what I find. Glad you're enjoying it, too.

Just got back from New York and bought some dried Epazote in powder form from a market. Can anyone tell me how much powder to use instead of dried? I would guess about half.
We live in Australia but have lived in Calfifornia so am used to Mexican cooking.

PJ, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. The dried epazote is in leaf form (like thyme leaf), so I'd say that half or three-fourths the amount of powdered to dried sounds right to me. One caution about powdered (anything): use it fairly quickly; the more a spice is ground or processed, the more quickly it loses its potency. Now, what are you planning to make with your epazote? If you have a favorite recipe, please share!

Ugh. Curse my geology roots!

Whenever I see epazote my brain instinctively cringes and thinks epiDOTE --a common granny-smith apple green alteration mineral found all over the place.

I really need to make a geo themed dinner, and epizote will certainly play a role. I just need to incorporate rock salt somehow. Hrmmmmm!

M, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. If you ever get that geology-themed dinner organized, I hope you'll invite me! (Now I'm going to look up epidote, of course...)

OMG, at last, finally, and OMG, oh I said that already, sorry. My fondest memory of childhood is that there was never a time when there was NOT a pot of real pinto beans on the stove. This was an afternoon snack, dinner staple and often breakfast burrito. Grandma kept the beans on all year long, pintos are not "seasonal"!! Sadly, Grandma passed never revealing to any family member what "skunkweed" (grown in her own garden) really was. I have cooked "grandma's beans" for years but never quite duplicated their true flavor. I believed skunkweed was just something she made up so never even thought to actually research the term {banging head on wall}. I don't care what the cost, I'm off to the ethnic store tomorrow and will brew up a batch of True Grandma's Beans first thing tomorrow afternoon. Thank you sooooo much for blogging skunkweed, I know it is going to bring back the true taste of childhood once more.

Leigh, welcome to The Perfect Pantry -- I'm so excited by your comment! Epazote in the beans will make all the difference. Look for the fresh, in the produce aisle -- even if it's very limp, buy that before you resort to the dried. I hope this turns out to be your Grandma's mystery ingredient!

Has it really been four years since anyone posted here? I am assuming this may not make it on here too if no one is manning the site. So, I will keep it short.

My husband and son brought Epazote home yesterday with other herbs I asked him to get at Home Depot, in their individual pots to plant. I said, what's this? Never heard of such an herb. So, without this little blog I would not have had such revelation on how it's been used by grandma's even, not something new but old. Beans are so good for us, but not used often enough in my home, so being we live in Tucson, AZ, and with a new herb, well, that's probably about to change. Thanks for the site. Karen in Tucson

Karen, I'm giggling. The site is going strong, but this particular post is (gasp!) four years old. You might have the perfect climate for growing epazote in Arizona, so I hope your plant thrives, and you'll love the combination of epazote and beans (especially black beans).

Epazote greatly enhances other dried beans too - I made a pot of heirloom anasazi beans with epazote that were amazing! Even my 10 year old grandson (who said he didn't like beans) gobbled them up and asked for more!

I moved to Tucson from Colorado and had never heard about epazote. Having a newfound love of beans, epazote came up in a conversation with locals.

It does indeed grow here. It's not a real attractive plant and what my friend planted got quite tall (over 2 feet).

It's quite common and inexpensive here. I most often see it in little pouches where they take the entire top of the plant and shred it. The stems don't soften up very well, so it's wise to pick them out ahead of time. You only do it wrong once.

I also much prefer epazote over cilantro.

I fixed a huge pot of pintos yesterday and added mucho epazote. I didn't measure the beans but I'm sure it was 6-8 cups as I wanted extra so I could make refried beans for another meal. We had Picadillo con papas, Spanish rice and beans. Man, do I love epazote and the flavor it imparts to the beans. Wasn't sure how much to use but I added at least 4 Tbsp of epazote. I wonder what the lethal limit would be? Does anyone know?

One other thing...Epazote doesn't seem to eliminate the "rooty toot toots". LOL...love that Julia Child, she was one of a kind.

Can fresh epazote be used with canned beans?? I'm sure it's better when cooked with dried beans, but all I have are canned beans for now and I would really like to get the anti-flatulence benefits of the epazote. Will it work with canned beans? Do I just add it to the pot as I warm up the beans? Or do you think the dried stuff from Penzeys would work better? Please advise!

Epazote can be used in quesadillas it gives the cheese a wonderful flavor. You can also chop it up and use it on salads; pizza's. It brings a great flavor to any dish.

If you can only occasionally get fresh epazote, I have a way I preserve the fresh herb. I grind it to a paste ( with as little water as possible) in the blender. Then I freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop the cubes out & put in a zip-lock bag & into the freezer.I like it much better than dried. You can also do this with most fresh herbs, although basil seems to turn black this way ( not appetizing!)

I bought a pot of epazote years ago from Home Depot but haven't seen it since. Luckily I don't need to buy it again because it produces thousands of seeds that sprout every year (I'm on LI, NY). Everyone has a different take on the flavor - none of my friends like it. To me it tastes like buttered corn - not minty at all. So glad I have it now I know of all the health benefits.

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