Move over, mint tea—there’s another refreshing drink that’s guaranteed to cool us down this summer, and it’s one not many Americans are likely to have heard of: a tarragon-flavored carbonated beverage called tarkhuna.
Tarkhuna literally means “tarragon” in Georgian. It’s a fizzy, slightly sweet and aromatic soft drink that I often see out here in Los Angeles at the Armenian bakeries. At those establishments, it’s the type of thing meant to be paired with a stuffed cheese beorek or a thin and crispy lahmajun. The Armenian version of this drink is often labeled as a “Tarragon Lemonade,” though the taste is very similar to the Russian and Georgian brands of tarkhuna that you see elsewhere (and online).
The drink was invented in 1887 by a Georgian pharmacist named Mitrofan Lagidze in the city of Kutaisi. Later, it would take off in Soviet Russia, where it became known by its Russian name, Tarkhun. Though it seems to have strong roots in Russia, tarragon is one of the ingredients in the beverage that feels essentially Georgian. The pungent, licorice-like herb that’s usually associated with French cooking is also prominently used in Georgian stews, salads, and pastries quite often. The drink has since spread outward to other Middle Eastern countries, which is how it migrated to Armenian cuisine, where similar Georgian flavors and culinary techniques are readily identifiable.
Despite its international popularity, tarkhuna is one of those drinks you just don’t see all that often in the States, save for the beverage coolers in some Middle Eastern grocery stores. Tarkhuna should be everywhere, though, because it’s one of the most refreshing beverages I’ve had the pleasure of tasting, making it perfect for summer.
The mild licorice flavor of tarragon combines with sugar and carbonated water to form an entirely soothing experience. And while it contains sugar, unlike many teas and sodas here in the States, most tarkhuna is actually not very sweet. The sugar content is quite low, allowing the lovely herbal quality of the tarragon to shine bright. You won’t feel like you’re ready for a nap an hour after drinking it; tarkhuna’s lightness is its greatest strength.
This drink also has a stark green color to it, and while tarragon is indeed green, that color comes from FDA-approved food coloring. It’s just for show, but this subtle, delicious drink is beloved for its bright emerald hue. Like all great beverages, having a distinct color goes a long way. It’s the Green River or the Ecto Cooler of Georgian sodas, but, ya know, in a glass bottle.
On Amazon, this bottle of tarkhuna lists carbonated water, sugar, tarragon extract, food coloring, sodium benzoate, and vanilla flavoring as ingredients. Nothing too out of the ordinary—it’s the type of thing that could easily be produced by companies here in the States, too, using commonly available ingredients. Tarragon flavors haven’t yet infiltrated our soda aisles, but the unique herbal flavor it provides isn’t all that different from a birch beer or sassafras soda. If you feel like making it at home, this website right here has a lovely recipe for it.
I was thrilled the first time I had this drink, and it’s going to be my non-alcoholic beverage of choice during peak temperatures this summer. Its delicate and deeply delicious flavor pairs well with meats, salads, and kabobs—in other words, it’s perfect for a cookout. I deem this the Summer of Tarkhuna, and I hope you’ll join me in indulging in this iconic beverage. We can pair it with a round of bocce.