In the kitchen, bay leaves are a popular ingredient to use when cooking. They have a distinctive flavor and can also add a certain complexity to dishes. But there’s a problem: you might not always have fresh bay leaves on hand!
That’s why it’s important to know about some great substitutes for this ingredient. Best recommendations for bay leaf substitutes that you should know about are:
- Basil (which tastes like fresh basil),
- Thyme (with an herbaceous quality),
- Oregano (appropriate for Mediterranean dishes),
- Rosemary (especially great in soups and stews),
- Juniper Berries (a tangy flavor that is especially appropriate for meats)
In addition, you can use boldo leaves or Redbay leaves that have similar flavor profiles. Keep reading to know where and how you can substitute these ingredients.
Table of Contents
- What is Bay Leaf?
- 7 Best Bay Leaf Substitutes
- What Does Bay Leaf Taste Like?
- Does a Bay Leaf Make a Difference?
- Is Bay Leaf the Same as Basil?
- Does a Bay Leaf Really Add Flavor?
- Which Is Better Fresh or Dried Bay Leaves?
- Why Can’t You Eat Bay Leaves?
- Final Words
What is Bay Leaf?
Bay leaf, also known as bay laurel, is a spice that comes from the evergreen bay laurel tree. This tree has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and cooking.
The leaves have a distinctive smell and flavor – an aromatic herbaceous scent with woody undertones – and can be easily dried to preserve their aroma.
Bay leaves can be used whole or ground into a powder. The whole leaf will keep its flavor longer than if you use the powder form, but it needs to be removed before serving because visibility is not appealing in your dish.
Bay leaf has been mostly used in cooking pork, beef, soups, stews, and braises – and is also great for marinades.
Because bay leaves have a low culinary value, it’s important to know about these other options that you can experiment with if you don’t have access to fresh bay leaves!
7 Best Bay Leaf Substitutes
Basil is a great way to go if you’re looking for a bay leaf substitute. The flavor is similar, but it’s more pronounced and distinctive – and the leaves themselves are easy to harvest from your garden or windowsill herb planter!
You can also grow basil indoors in a pot at any time of the year.
Make sure to grab a sturdy stem when choosing which leaves to use. Strip them from the rest of the stems and add them to your dish whole.
When cooking, add basil at the beginning to allow it time to soften in liquid. Remove before serving for best appearance – and enjoy!
Additionally, thyme can be used as a substitute for bay leaf if you’re looking for something with a similar flavor and aroma – but maybe not quite as sturdy. To do this, simply strip the leaves off of their woody stems and add them to your dish.
When cooking, add thyme at the beginning too; it should be soft and falling apart by the time you’re ready to serve.
Oregano is a treat for Mediterranean recipes: this herb has a flavor that works perfectly with dishes like chicken or lamb kabobs, or when baking mussels. Strip the leaves from the stems before using them to add oregano to your dish, whole or ground up.
As with basil and thyme, oregano works best when added at the beginning of cooking so it has time to infuse into your food. You can also combine oregano with a bay leaf for a double hit of flavor.
Rosemary is another strong herb that has an aromatic quality similar to bay leaf—and it can be added to your dish both whole and ground up.
If you’re adding rosemary in its whole form, make sure to remove the leaves before serving so they don’t get stuck in your teeth!
5. Juniper Berries
Juniper is a tart flavor that goes particularly well with meats. To use juniper berries as a substitute for bay leaves, add them whole when cooking and remove them before serving.
You can also combine juniper with rosemary or thyme to boost the flavor even more in recipes like soups and stews.
6. Boldo Leaves
Boldo leaves are another strong herb that can be used in place of bay leaf – but since they’re very bitter, it’s best to use them along with another sweet or mild flavor.
To substitute boldo leaves, you’ll also want to add some basil, oregano, or thyme to reduce the impact of that bitter taste.
Strip boldo leaves from their woody stem and add them whole to your dish before cooking. They can be left in for serving as long as you take care to remove them before eating so they don’t get stuck in your teeth!
7. Redbay Leaves
Redbay leaves are similar to boldo, but their bitterness is not as intense. Because of this, Redbay can be used alone or combined with another herb like bay leaf. The flavor will be light and fresh – with the tartness typical of laurel family trees.
They also pair well with meats, so they’re great for hearty stews and broths. Strip Redbay leaves from their stems before using them whole or grounds up in your dish.
Just as with boldo, they should be removed prior to serving so they don’t get stuck in your teeth!
What Does Bay Leaf Taste Like?
Bay leaf has a strong, pungent flavor that is somewhat bitter and carries hints of pine and eucalyptus.
It’s also highly aromatic; bay leaves actually contain essential oils which give them those characteristic notes – and those oils are what make bay leaves so good for seasoning dishes.
Does a Bay Leaf Make a Difference?
It certainly can! Whether you’re using a bay leaf in soup or stew, seasoning meat with bay leaves, or adding it to your dish for its aromas and flavor, bay leaf truly makes a difference in your dish.
Is Bay Leaf the Same as Basil?
No, bay leaf is distinct in its own right—but there are some herbs that have the same flavor, aroma, and essential oils as bay leaves. You can successfully substitute basil for bay leaf when cooking, but keep in mind they are not carbon copies of each other.
Does a Bay Leaf Really Add Flavor?
Yes, bay leaf adds flavor just by being in your dish! Bay leaves are aromatic in that they have oils that seep out when the leaf is cooked in oil or water. Add a bay leaf to your soup or stew and you’ll immediately smell its heady aromas wafting through the air.
Which Is Better Fresh or Dried Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves are fantastic either way! However, some herbs like a bay leaf that grows in warm climates may be more flavorful if you use them fresh – whereas those that grow in cool climates might be tarter and more aromatic when they’re dried.
Which is best for your dish? That’s up to you! I’d recommend trying both and see which one brings your favorite flavor.
Why Can’t You Eat Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves are completely safe to cook with. They are not dangerous to eat but because of their texture and even after hours of cooking, they’re almost impossible to chew.
You can use the bay leaf in cooking without having to worry about your safety! Just make sure you always remove the leaves before serving your dish; otherwise, they could get stuck in your teeth, or could scratch your digestive tract.
Now that you have some knowledge about the 7 best substitutes for bay leaf – including both herbs and spices – you can save money and still enjoy a dish.
Many of these herbs are common in your garden, window planter box, or even pots on the patio, so there’s no need to spend money buying them from the store.
If you don’t have access to fresh bay leaf, try some of these substitutes!
What other substitutes do you use in place of bay leaves? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you about what substitutions work best for your cooking style or favorite recipes.