What can I use instead of basil? The best taste substitute for fresh basil is dried basil. Two other excellent substitutes for fresh basil are oregano and baby spinach. You can also use tarragon, arugula, thyme, cilantro, celery leaves, or mint.
Basil is an essential ingredient in many Italian dishes, including pesto. The herb is related to the mint family, and there are over 60 varieties. The most common type used is sweet basil. Basil has a distinct flavor that combines sweet and savory elements. It includes hints of pepper, mint, and anise. Fresh basil is preferred when cooking, but it is available in dried form.
The Best Basil Substitutes
Basil is most commonly used fresh. It is added to recipes toward the end of the cooking process to impart the herbs’ distinctive flavor and healthy green color.
If you can’t find fresh basil, the closest flavor substitute for cooked dishes is dried basil. However, the dried product should not be older than six months since the taste deteriorates over time.
Note that the dried version only works as a taste substitute for fresh basil when cooking things like stews or as an ingredient in sauces or oils.
Dried basil is not suitable as a stand-in for fresh basil when creating pesto or salads. Dried basil is more concentrated than fresh basil.
Substitute dried basil as a substitute for fresh basil at a ratio of 2 to 3. So, if a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons fresh basil, use 2 tablespoons dried herb.
Fresh oregano is the closest substitute for fresh basil in appearance, texture, and taste. Like basil, it is also related to mint and is frequently used in Italian cuisine.
In terms of taste, oregano has a pungent, somewhat bitter flavor. It should be used cautiously as a replacement for basil in dishes if a slightly sweet profile is required.
Oregano works particularly well as a substitute for basil in Italian dishes like pizza and spaghetti sauce.
Although it does not taste like basil, it works in many similar applications, so long as it does not become overpowering. Fresh oregano can also be used to make pesto.
When using oregano as a substitute for basil in cooked recipes, begin by substituting only half the required amount. Then adjust accordingly to taste.
Baby spinach works well to mimic fresh basil’s bright green color and texture in recipes. Regular spinach tends to develop a slightly bitter overtone as it contains more oxalic acid than baby spinach.
Spinach can be used to replace basil in all dishes where the texture and color of fresh basil are required. It lacks the same piquant, peppery taste of basil but can be spiced up as necessary using other herbs.
Baby spinach can even replace basil to make pesto. It won’t taste like basil, but it will resemble the familiar green pesto and can easily be teamed up with other ingredients to give it flavor.
The great thing about using baby spinach as a color and texture replacement for basil is that it is difficult to overpower the flavor of the food.
Spinach has a much milder taste profile, so it can be used at an equal or greater ratio to the amount of basil required.
Tarragon is widely known as a herb used in French cuisine. The fresh taste is a combination of bitter and sweet, with an unmistakable hint of pepper and licorice.
While tarragon does not taste the same as basil, it can be a good stand-in when a fresh, aromatic herb is required.
Like basil, when using it fresh in cooked food, it must only be added at the end of the cooking process to avoid becoming bitter.
We do not recommend this substitution for anyone who doesn’t like the taste of licorice. Fresh tarragon can be substituted at half the amount of basil required in a recipe.
The peppery taste of fresh arugula leaves is always delicious paired with tomatoes, and it is frequently used to give salads a zippy taste or as a tangy garnish. It is most commonly consumed raw.
Arugula, also known as rocket, makes an excellent green leaf substitute for basil when making pesto.
The taste may be a little bit too spicy for some, but it can be mixed with something milder, like baby spinach, to deliver a very pleasing, fresh herb taste with the same color and texture as basil.
Use arugula in the same ratio as basil when using it raw in salads. It can also be substituted at the same ratio as basil when making pesto.
If the taste is too spicey, try mixing it with a milder replacement, like baby spinach or celery leaves.
Fresh thyme can impart a herby, peppery taste similar to basil in some dishes. The herb is widely available in fresh and dried forms.
Take note that the taste of thyme is significantly stronger than basil. It also lacks the sweet element of basil and differs entirely in appearance.
However, it can work well as an aromatic substitution in recipes where a herby taste is required, especially in casseroles, sauces, and chicken or fish dishes.
Thyme can never replace basil in pesto as it is too strong. It should be used sparingly when added to food as a herb replacement, as the flavor can be overpowering.
Cilantro is a frilly green herb with a bold flavor. It is always used fresh and imparts a strong, lemony, peppery taste that goes well in Middle Eastern and Mexican dishes.
The unmistakable taste of cilantro is a flavor that you either love or hate. If you find it appetizing, it can be used instead of basil to create a tasty, herby pesto.
Cilantro is only available in its fresh green, leafy form as it doesn’t dry well. The dried seeds of the same plant are known as coriander, but that delivers an entirely different flavor to food.
Only use cilantro as a substitute for basil if you are familiar with its taste. It should only be used raw or added to cooked food at the end of the process.
Celery is a common ingredient in most homes, but most of us only use the stalks. In some recipes, the leafy green leaves work well as a fresh-tasting substitute for basil.
Fresh celery leaves are similar to basil in many ways. It works well in dishes where fresh basil is needed to add texture and color. This includes salads and pesto.
Unlike other more aromatic herbs with a similar texture to basil, celery is unlikely to taste too strong and skew the overall flavor.
It can be seasoned to taste, and using celery leaves can be a practical, no-waste method of using the entire celery.
Celery leaves will not taste like basil, but they offer a mild taste with a similar color and texture. It can be used confidently in an equal ratio as a substitute.
Mint is related to basil, so it matches up in terms of color and general appearance. However, it has a distinctive, minty flavor.
Fresh mint should only be used as a stand-in for basil in sweet recipes where the dominant minty taste won’t overwhelm or clash with the other ingredients.
We do not recommend mint as a substitute for fresh basil in most recipes.
Mint should only be used as a substitute when a sweet, familiar aromatic flavor profile is required. It can also be used as a similar-looking, leafy green garnish.