You just got to the grocery store, and they are all out of fresh basil. Now what? Fortunately, this post is all about the best substitutes for basil starting with dried basil. Some leafy greens are merely an acceptable substitute while others make for a great alternative to basil!
This list can help you decide what common herb to use in various dishes to get that unique taste you’re looking for. Whether you’re cooking Mediterranean cuisine, cooking up Italian recipes, Thai dishes, or making a family favorite there is an aromatic herb that will work. It’s also always nice to use a versatile herb to garnish your plate for a small amount of green color for those all-important presentation points.
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5 Basil Facts
- The basil plant originates from tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Central Africa.
- It’s estimated that there are anywhere from 50 to 150 different varieties of basil, including holy basil, cinnamon basil, lime basil, Italian basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil. However, the leafy green you are probably most often familiar with is sweet basil.
- This popular herb is a member of the mint family. The flavor profiles of sweet basil offer a fresh, concentrated flavor to dishes with a slightly peppery flavor, anise, and mint taste.
- Basil is a core ingredient for traditional pesto.
- You may be familiar with green basil, but did you know you can also get purple basil?
Dried Vs. Fresh Basil
Always use fresh basil leaves as the taste is optimal. However, if it’s a key ingredient in your recipe, dried basil is the best basil alternative. It’s always good to have dried herbs on hand for moments when you want to emulate the flavor of the fresh herb. Then, you can always use another herb or leaf to add as garnish.
A good rule of thumb is to use about one-third of the amount when using dried basil in lieu of the fresh herb.
10 Best Substitutes for Basil
Are you set on a recipe that calls for basil, and then all your local grocery stores were all out? Not to worry! Here are my top 10 basil substitutes.
Of course, no herb will be identical to basil in texture and taste, but these are the best ways to add a garnish or a herbal flavor to your dish when you are out of basil.
The suggested substitutions are for a 1:1 ratio unless another proportion is given.
Oregano is the best alternative for basil in Southern European and Mediterranean cooking, such as Italian dishes and Greek cuisine. When it comes to Italian cooking I automatically think of pasta sauces! Don’t you? Fresh oregano is a great alternative to basil leaves in tomato sauces. Both herbs have a strong flavor but are equally delicious in Italian cuisine.
These herbs have similar taste and strength (or as similar as you can get without being the same herb).
Due to their twin-like appearance, fresh spinach leaves can be a great substitute for fresh basil. Spinach doesn’t pack a punch of flavor like basil, but you can get some of the desired color and texture as the leaves are similar. Fresh spinach works especially well as a substitute in basil pesto, stir fry, or curry alongside other herbs, adding a more potent flavor.
Just a quick PSA: don’t use frozen spinach to replace fresh basil, as the texture will be off. Plus, you can’t garnish with soggy spinach (well, you could, but it won’t look good, haha).
Speaking of spinach, this Spinach Pineapple Smoothie is incredibly refreshing and healthy!
Tarragon is a good leafy herb to substitute for basil leaves. Use tarragon in dishes with tomatoes or salads including homemade salad dressings. Basil has a mild anise (licorice) flavor, which Frech tarragon can match. On the other hand, you may find Russian tarragon is a little too bitter. Although, there is no harm in experimenting with both to see which one you like best!
As mentioned, basil is part of the mint family. Using a mild fresh peppermint is a good option as you may find spearmint too sweet and not peppery enough in place of basil. Dried mint is a less favorable basil substitute. You can use fresh mint in some dishes that require basil, including Thai cooking or Mediterranean dishes. However, as you can imagine, the minty flavor is only similar to a certain degree. Therefore, you can use mint in a variety of dishes where basil is not an essential ingredient or as the perfect leafy green for garnishing.
When using mint in place of basil, start with one-fourth or half the amount as you would basil. If that’s not flavorful enough, you can always add more.
If you’re making a saucy pasta dish, thyme is a great herb to use instead of basil. It has a more earthy taste and can be a little stronger than basil due to its smaller leaves. So add in half the amount of thyme as you would basil, give it a quick taste test and go from there.
6. Cilantro (Corriander)
Fresh cilantro can be a good alternative in several Asian, Mexican, and Latin American-inspired dishes you might be creating, such as curry, stir fry, rice, and soups. It doesn’t have a similar flavor profile to basil. However, the herbs work well in similar dishes when substituting fresh basil for fresh coriander.
7. Italian Seasoning
Italian seasoning blend is a dried herb mixture that typically uses basil as one of its core ingredients, along with oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Therefore, most dishes can use Italian seasoning as a dried basil substitute.
These dense, needle-like leaves aren’t a universal basil substitute. However, you may wish to use rosemary on any potato dish to add a pop of flavor (trust me, rosemary potatoes are in a league of their own, and once you try it, you’ll never go back!). Rosemary has a more intense flavor, particularly fresh rosemary so go easy on this herb as a substitute for dried basil.
You can use dried parsley instead of dry basil or their fresh counterparts in dishes that are milder in flavor. Fresh parsley also makes an excellent garnish for its mild, grassy flavor and pretty leaves.
10. Carrot Tops and Celery Leaf
If you are big on reducing your food waste, use leftover celery leaves or carrot tops as a substitute for fresh basil in your pesto or as an additional green in almost any salads or dips.
If you’re looking for a fresh basil replacement than the one you traditionally use, opt for the dried form. For the most similar herb to basil in terms of taste, try using oregano, thyme, cilantro, or mint.
Most fresh herbs and lettuces can be used for pesto. My go-to substitutions would be spinach, arugula, parsley, or carrot tops. You could always use a combination of these too!
Along with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and bread, basil is a crucial ingredient in bruschetta. Although fresh basil is necessary for the most authentic Italian bruschetta, you may wish to use oregano, thyme, or marjoram as the next best option.
If you have dried basil on hand, this is the best option as a fresh basil substitute. However, if you are garnishing a dish, an alternative fresh herb is best.
Speaking of good garnish substitutes for basil, parsley is an excellent choice!
What does a Basil Plant Look Like?
Conclusion: What are the Best Basil Substitutes?
There is no ‘perfect’ basil leaf substitute because as with every herb, it has a unique flavor all of its own. No other culinary herb can replicate the taste of basil so opt for dried basil in lieu of fresh when possible. However, out of all the common herbs, oregano is probably your best bet. Each herb mentioned above will work well in recipes for different reasons. Keep taste testing along the way as you add in your herb substitute and do a quick sniff of the herb to check that the flavor will go well with the recipe you are making.
Even if you are confident that an herb will work well as a substitute, it doesn’t hurt to put a few spoonfuls of your recipe into a bowl and add a bit of the herb to see how you like the combo before adding it to the entire batch.
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I really enjoyed this post. Obviously, nothing tastes exactly like basil, but you shared some great flavorful ideas. I like to do it to freeze my basil if I haven’t used it for a few days. This way, it won’t go to waste.