Add a touch of the Mediterranean to your cooking without using bay leaves.
Since ancient times, the Greeks used bay leaves to add flavor to their stews, soups, sauces, and more. With time, bay leaves became a staple of cooking internationally.
But how do you compensate when you can not find any bay leaves?
Below, we present the top 10 bay leaf substitutes you can use to take your savory dishes to a whole new level.
Table Of Contents
- The Taste of Bay Leaf
- Types of Bay Leaves
- Top 10 Bay Leaf Substitutes
- Popular Bay Leaf Recipes
- FAQs About Bay Leaf
The Taste of Bay Leaf
Bay leaves possess a subtly strong, bitter flavor with a pepper and mint taste. It also adds a hint of pine. Look for these flavors when looking for a bay leaf substitute.
Although no other herb or spice can replicate the flavor of bay leaves, a few come closer than the others. These substitutes add the same peppery, minty, or pine-like taste to your dish that bay leaves provide.
The pungent nature of bay leaves means you can only use them in sparing quantities. Often, you can flavor a recipe with a single bay leaf.
Bay leaves tend to retain their hardness even after several hours of cooking. It becomes necessary to remove the leaves before serving. Bay leaves do not taste good, and ingesting this herb can lead to indigestion.
Types of Bay Leaves
Bay leaves come in three forms—fresh, dried, and ground.
Fresh bay leaves usually possess a stronger flavor than the crushed or dried ones. However, the crushed and dried varieties distribute flavor more evenly throughout the dish.
Too much use of bay leaves can leave your dish with an excess taste of mint. We recommend keeping this in mind when using a bay leaf substitute.
Bay Leaf Species
The Turkish and California varieties represent two distinct species of bay leaves. Unless specifically mentioned, the Turkish bay leaf represents the one you want for your dish.
Turkish bay leaves grow on the Mediterranean bay laurel tree. Turkish bay leaves possess a milder, sweeter flavor than the Californian variety.
California bay leaves provide dishes with a sharp taste. They grow on the California bay tree and possess a strong, minty, eucalyptus flavor.
Most bay leaves available in North America come from the California bay tree.
Indian bay leaves taste like cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. This unique taste means Indian bay leaves do not work as a good substitute for the other bay leaf species.
However, Indian bay leaves go well with Caribbean curries, sauces, or homemade aromatic teas.
How to Swap Fresh, Ground, and Dried Bay Leaves
Each type of bay leaf comes with different potencies. Keep this in mind to avoid using them in equal amounts when substituting them.
Below, the list will help you swap fresh, ground, and dried bay leaves without ruining your dish.
- One fresh bay leaf equals two dried bay leaves
- One dried bay leaf equals ¼ tsp of ground bay leaves
- One fresh bay leaf equals ½ tsp of ground bay leaves
Top 10 Bay Leaf Substitutes
Substituting bay leaves with other herbs represents a not-so-easy task because of its unique flavor. However, we compiled a list of the top ten bay leaf substitutes to make things easier for you.
1. Dried Thyme
The best substitute for bay leaves, dried thyme, comes from the Mediterranean region.
Although dried thyme looks quite different from bay leaves, they possess a similar, subtle mint-like flavor.
Dried thyme works quite well as a bay leaf substitute in lamb and beef recipes.
- One bay leaf equals ¼ tsp of dried thyme
- ¼ tsp of crushed bay leaves equals ¼ tsp of dried thyme
2. Dried Basil
Basil belongs to the mint family and works as a bay leaf substitute. Similar to bay leaves, basil possesses a peppery, minty flavor.
Fresh basil does not work as a proper substitute because of its anise-like properties. It adds an unwanted sweetness and licorice-like taste to the dish.
Dried basil, however, tends to lose the hint of anise and comes closer to the taste of bay leaves.
We recommend using dried basil as a bay leaf substitute in Italian, Thai, or other tomato-based dishes.
- One basil leaf provides almost the same amount of flavor as a bay leaf
- ¼ tsp of crushed bay leaf equals ¼ tsp of dried basil
3. Juniper Berries
An unusual substitute for bay leaves, juniper berries consist of a flavor of pepper and pine.
Although small, these berries possess an overwhelmingly strong taste which means you need to use them sparingly.
You can use the berries whole or grind them to release the flavor. Although safe to eat, we recommend discarding the berries before serving.
- One bay leaf equals two to three whole or ground juniper berries
Interested in this option? You may like the top 12 substitutes for juniper Berry.
Dried oregano possesses a slightly minty, pungent, and bitter flavor which helps it work as a bay leaf substitute.
Easy to find, dried oregano works just as well as basil when used as a bay leaf substitute.
Use dried oregano to flavor meat-based recipes like lamb and beef.
- One bay leaf equals ¼ tsp of dried oregano
- ¼ tsp of crushed bay leaf equals ¼ tsp of dried oregano
Don’t have oregano in your kitchen? You can still use some oregano alternatives.
5. Boldo Leaves
Native to Chile, boldo leaves come from the boldo plant and represent a good bay leaf substitute.
They possess a softer taste overall than bay leaves. The rich, savory, and bitter flavor helps boldo leaves work well with lighter recipes like mushroom or vegetable-based dishes.
However, boldo leaves can become overpowering if used in large amounts.
- One bay leaf equals a half boldo leaf
- ½ tsp of crushed bay leaves equals ¼ tsp of crushed boldo leaves
Rosemary is one of the most popular herbs in America. It has the ability to be an amazing bay leaf replacement thanks to its flexible taste and soft texture.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and it has a different look compared to bay leaves. With small, narrow leaves attached on their slim plant body, rosemary offers an herbal aroma you’ll find in bay leaves.
Use it in soups, stews, galoshes, and mixed green recipes.
- A 1:1 ratio is recommended
7. Curry Leaves
If you’re looking for an Indian bay leaf substitute, look no further than curry leaves. It’s common in many Indian and Southeast Asian recipes to add that signature flavor!
Its flavor can be described as savory with just hints of acidity that make it warm on your tongue!
- Use a half curry leaf in place of 1 bay leaf
Sage is a member of the mint family and can be used as a substitute for bay leaf. It is a popular ingredient that can be found in many dishes.
Sage has a strong fragrance like Rosemary but with hints of mint and peppery taste to it as well, which can be used to substitute bay leaf when cooking meat or seafood.
- Use a 1:1 ratio and add more if desired
9. Red Bay Leaves
In fact, red bay leaves are green leaves from an evergreen tree – the red cove plant. It has a sharp, bitter taste and is often used as a seasoning for appetizing food.
Red bay leaves can be a great alternative when bay leaf isn’t available.
For a health meal, only use the red bay leaves that haven’t been treated with pesticides. Make sure to wash the leaves thoroughly before adding them to recipes.
- One bay leaf equals a half red bay leaf
In case you’re in a hurry; then, cilantro can substitute bay leaves to complete a delicious soup or stew.
Cilantro is a perfect ingredient for adding a bright, grassy, and lemony flavor to dishes.
From my point of view, cilantro works like a charm in many stir-fries, curry dishes, and soups.
Popular Bay Leaf Recipes
Bay Leaf Rice
Bay Leaf & Oregano Egg Curry
Bay Leaf Tea
FAQs About Bay Leaf
What do bay leaves do?
Bay leaves add fragrance and a distinctive flavor to your cooking. In many countries, people use bay leaves to flavor stews, soups, braises, and pâtés.
What is bay leaf good for?
Bay leaves represent a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Including bay leaves in your diet improves your overall health.
Why can’t you eat bay leaf?
Although safe to eat, bay leaves tend to remain stiff and rigid even after hours of cooking. Consuming bay leaves may cause indigestion, damage to your digestive tract, or pose a choking hazard.
What does a bay leaf look like?
Fresh bay leaves look dark green on top with a paler shade on the underside. Dry bay leaves possess a more muted and uniform color.
What’s the best substitute for bay leaf in soup?
Oregano is a great substitute for bay leaf in both soup and other recipes. It has hints of mint and is perfect with soup (especially split pea soup and chicken soup).
What’s the best substitute for bay leaf in spaghetti sauce?
Bay leaf can significantly enhance the flavor of spaghetti sauce. If it’s not available in your kitchen, you can use Basil.
Basil has a sweet herbal scent and minty enough like bay leaf, and can be a perfect alternative in spaghetti sauce.
What’s the best substitute for bay leaf in Adobo?
Thyme will be the best substitute for bay leaves in Adobo. Just like bay leaf, thyme has a minty flavor that can be perfectly used in Adobo.
To replace one bay leaf, use ¼ tsp of dried thyme.
If you ever find yourself out of bay leaves, you can opt for any of the top 10 bay leaf substitutes mentioned above.
However, thyme, with its minty taste, represents the best substitute. Used generously in Mediterranean cooking, thyme works as a substitute in pasta and meat dishes.
If you can not find thyme, you can also use oregano or basil as substitutes. Juniper berries and boldo leaves prove tough to acquire but work quite well as substitutes too.