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The 8 Best Bay Leaf Substitute (Top Picks!)

There is nothing more frustrating than running out of a key ingredient for a recipe.

For those times when you go to start a recipe and realize you’ve run out of bay leaves, or simply don’t keep bay leaves on hand, I’ve included all of my favorite bay leaf substitutes right here!

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Frustrations.

The flavor of bay leaves is a common component in hearty sauces, soups, stews, chili, and roasts!

Everything you need to quickly switch out the bay leaf flavor!

The jury is still out on whether or not adding a bay leaf to a hearty dish adds superior depth of flavor. But I’m a firm believer in the superiority of bay leaves!

While you could simply omit the bay leaf and continue with your recipe, I thought you’d be interested in learning about all of the wonderful alternatives to bay leaves that are available!

Bay Leaf
Bay Leaf

WHAT ARE BAY LEAVES?

The leaves of the Laurel tree, which is native to warm climates such as the Mediterranean, are used to make bay leaves.

Bay leaves are frequently used in cooking and can be used fresh, dried, crushed, whole, or ground to flavor soups, stews, sauces, broths, meat dishes, and other dishes.

The flavor is similar to spearmint and menthol, as well as pine and black pepper.

Bay Leaf Substitute
Bay Leaf Substitute

Fresh bay leaves, which have floral notes in flavor, can also be found (occasionally) at the grocery store. Look for herbs in the produce aisles of your local grocery store.

Fresh bay leaves, on the other hand, are typically more expensive than dried bay leaves and do not last nearly as long. As a result, dried bay leaves are the preferred option.

WHAT DOES BAY LEAF TASTE LIKE?

Bay leaves have a strong, slightly bitter flavor. They have a peppery and minty flavor with hints of pine, so keep that in mind when looking for a bay leaf substitute.

There are no herbs or spices that taste exactly like a bay leaf, though some herbs have a similar menthol, pepper, or “piney” flavor and come close.

Bay leaves are used sparingly due to their strong flavor. One bay leaf is usually more than enough to flavor an entire recipe.

Even after several hours of slow cooking, bay leaves are stiff, so they must be removed and discarded before serving.

They are not only unpleasant to chew and eat whole, but they can also harm your digestive tract (so toss ’em before dishing up).

Whole bay leaves, like most herbs, have a stronger flavor than crushed or dried counterparts.

Dried, crushed bay leaves, on the other hand, will distribute more flavor throughout your entire dish, which can backfire and leave your recipe tasting too minty.

Keep this in mind if you use ground bay leaves instead of whole leaves. You should always begin with a very small amount (exact measurements are listed below).

BAY LEAVES VS. SAGE

Although bay leaf and sage look similar in shape and size, they are completely different herbs. Soups, stews, sauces, and beans are the best places to use bay leaves.

Sage works well in stuffing, poultry, pork, pasta, potatoes, with onions and walnuts, and with cheese.

BAY LEAF SUBSTITUTES

Depending on the recipe, one fresh bay leaf equals two dried bay leaves, one dried bay leaf equals 14 teaspoon crushed bay leaf, and one fresh bay leaf equals 12 teaspoon crushed bay leaf.

1. THYME

Thyme
Thyme

Despite its different appearance, thyme can be used in place of bay leaf.

They both have a minty flavor, so when substituting one for the other, start with 14 teaspoon dried thyme (add more if you don’t think the flavor is strong enough).

2. OREGANO

Oregano
Oregano

Oregano, a great substitute for bay leaf, will add a robust flavor to your recipe due to its earthy, slightly bitter, bold, sweet, and spicy flavor.

Fresh oregano, like bay leaf, can be considered peppery. Because a little goes a long way, substitution amounts vary depending on how much you enjoy this potent herb, but as a general rule of thumb, use 14 teaspoons of dried oregano for every 1 bay leaf called for in the recipe.

3. OREGANO MEXICANO

Oregano Mexicano
Oregano Mexicano

Mexican oregano is a type of oregano that is distinct from the more commonly associated Italian or Mediterranean oregano. Mexican oregano has citrus undertones, whereas regular oregano has minty undertones.

Chili, salsas, beans, and meat dishes cooked in a Latin or Mexican style would benefit from this substitution.

In place of one bay leaf, use 14 teaspoon.

4. BASIL

Basil
Basil

Because basil has a sweet flavor, it can be used in place of bay leaves in recipes that are Italian in origin, such as tomato-based dishes and beef.

Basil isn’t usually recommended for other recipes because it can overpower the flavor. If you want to use basil instead of bay leaf, use a 1:1 ratio. It’s worth noting that 4-8 fresh basil leaves equal 1 teaspoon dried basil.

5. BOLDO LEAVES

Boldo Leaves
Boldo Leaves

Boldo leaves, which are related to bay leaves, are commonly used in South American cooking. If you can find boldo leaves, use half the amount as you would bay leaves. If your recipe calls for two bay leaves, substitute one boldo leaf.

Boldo leaves have a similar flavor to bay leaves, but they are known to be strong and potentially overpowering if used in excess.

6. BERRIES DE JUNIPER

Berries de Juniper
Berries de Juniper

If you don’t have any pregnant women or young children who are advised not to consume juniper berries, you could use them in place of bay leaf, using 14 teaspoon for every bay leaf called for in the recipe.

They have a flavor similar to bay leaves, leaving a slightly piney, fruity, peppery aftertaste. *Also, juniper berries go really well with rosemary!

7. ROSEMARY

Rosemary
Rosemary

Rosemary’s flavor isn’t quite like that of bay leaf, but it is a popular herb used in cooking due to its robust flavor.

It’s adaptable and can be used in place of bay leaves with steaks, roasts, fish, lamb or mutton, goat, pork, and other gamey meats. Use a 1:1 ratio and adjust as needed.

8. RED BAY LEAVES

Red Bay Leaves
Red Bay Leaves

Red bay leaves are a type of evergreen tree that grows on the red cove plant, which is not a common pantry item.

The leaves aren’t actually red (they’re still green), but they do resemble bay leaves. Use it to season dishes in the same way that you would a bay leaf.

BEST SUBSTITUTIONS FOR SPECIFIC RECIPES

FOR INDIAN RECIPES

  • The leaf commonly seen in Indian recipes is not the familiar and beloved laurel bay leaf. It’s completely different. The Indian Bay Leaf, also known as Teja Patta, is derived from the cassia tree and has a cinnamon-like flavor.
  • It is not recommended to use the laurel bay leaf in Indian cooking; instead, if you don’t have an Indian bay leaf, substitute cassia, cinnamon, or clove.

SUITABLE FOR SOUPS AND STEWS

  • As bay leaf substitutes for soups and stews, thyme, oregano, or boldo leaves are recommended. Any of these herbs will produce a beautifully flavored final dish without jeopardizing the recipe’s integrity.

THE SHELF LIFE OF BAY LEAVES

Bay Leaf Shelf Life
Bay Leaf Shelf Life

Dried bay leaves quickly lose their flavor. Replace your supply every six months, but don’t throw out the old ones.

Moths will be deterred if you sprinkle them around your pantry.

GROW YOUR OWN BAY LEAVES

Although bay laurel is originally from the Mediterranean, it can be grown in the United States.

It is suitable for outdoor planting in zones 8 through 11, and can be grown as a houseplant in all other zones.

It can reach 60 feet in height if left to grow naturally, but it’s simple to prune a bay laurel to keep it small and ornamental.

A potted bay laurel typically grows to a height of six feet. In the winter, bring your bay laurel indoors. Then, in the spring, move it outside.

Because bay laurels are evergreen, the leaves can be harvested at any time of the year.

Many people who grow them choose to harvest the leaves as needed, and since fresh bay leaves are far more flavorful than dried, this is unquestionably the best way to go if you have access to a tree.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a bay leaf really make a difference?

Yes! While the importance of the bay leaf is debatable, and you probably wouldn’t notice if it was missing, bay leaves do add a nice herbal flavor to slow-cooked sauces, soups, stews, rice dishes, and other dishes. It is not recommended to eat a bay leaf, but if you are particularly curious and want to find out what they taste like, simmer some in a pot of water and give it a try!

What flavor does a bay leaf add?

As previously stated, bay leaves add a minty, piney, black pepper flavor that can be slightly bitter and floral.

Can you substitute basil for bay leaf?

Without a doubt! If you do substitute basil for bay leaf, it is best to use dried basil because the flavor will be more similar to that of a bay leaf. Basil, a mint family member, has a bitter, peppery flavor with hints of licorice anise. Basil loses its anise flavor when dried and resembles a bay leaf.

What is the best substitute for bay leaves?

Bay leaves are best substituted with oregano or thyme (in general). Read on for more substitutions to fit what you have on hand and/or to best suit your recipe.

Does a bay leaf really make a difference?

Yes! While the importance of the bay leaf is debatable, and you probably wouldn’t notice if it was missing, bay leaves do add a nice herbal flavor to slow-cooked sauces, soups, stews, rice dishes, and other dishes.

It is not recommended to eat a bay leaf, but if you are particularly curious and want to find out what they taste like, simmer some in a pot of water and give it a try!

What flavor does a bay leaf add?

As previously stated, bay leaves add a minty, piney, black pepper flavor that can be slightly bitter and floral.

Can you substitute basil for bay leaf?

Without a doubt! If you do substitute basil for bay leaf, it is best to use dried basil because the flavor will be more similar to that of a bay leaf.

Basil, a mint family member, has a bitter, peppery flavor with hints of licorice anise. Basil loses its anise flavor when dried and resembles a bay leaf.

What is the best substitute for bay leaves?

Bay leaves are best substituted with oregano or thyme (in general). Read on for more substitutions to fit what you have on hand and/or to best suit your recipe.