By Harold McGee
This herb’s name is Spanish for “holy leaf,” and refers to the large leaf of New World relatives of black pepper, Piper auritum and P. sanctum. It’s used from southern Mexico to northern South America to wrap foods and flavor them while they’re cooked, and is also added directly to dishes as a flavoring. The main aromatic in hoja santa is safrole, the characteristic note of sassafras familiar from root beers, and a suspected carcinogen.
From the book On Food and Cooking (2nd edition) by Harold McGee. © 2004 Harold McGee. By permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.