What can I use instead of bay leaf? The best substitutes for bay leaves are dried thyme, boldo leaf, oregano, parsley, and sage. Sweet basil, rosemary, and Indian bay offer different but delicious flavor profiles.
Bay leaves are long, pointy leaves from the evergreen laurel tree. They have a spicy, complex flavor with mint and citrus hints. Fresh, dried, or crushed bay leaves impart a subtle, earthy flavor to savory dishes like soup, meatloaf, meatballs, stews, and vegetables.
Always remove bay leaves after cooking, as they are too tough to eat. Here are the eight best substitutes for bay leaf.
The Best Bay Leaf Substitutes
The best substitute for bay leaf is dried thyme.
This delicate herb with grey-green leaves has a beautifully sweet, piney fragrance. Used fresh or dried, thyme imparts an earthy, almost minty undertone.
Fresh thyme is rich in vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, which are excellent for the immune system.
French or wild thyme is milder than English thyme, with lemon thyme having a delightful citrus flavor.
Use thyme to replace bay leaves in savory dishes, including stocks, stews, marinades, soups, and stuffing. It is delectable with beef, lamb, and rabbit.
Because thyme has a more robust flavor than bay, use ¼ teaspoon dried thyme to replace each bay leaf.
Boldo leaf is an ideal substitute for bay leaf.
Native to South America but related to the bay, the boldo is a shrub-like evergreen tree.
The leaves of the boldo tree are used for culinary and medicinal purposes. They are often steeped in water to make a tea-like infusion.
Boldo leaves are larger than bay leaves but have a similarly woody, slightly bitter flavor.
Boldo leaves are most commonly used in Chilean and Argentinian cuisine, adding earthiness to savory fare.
Use boldo leaf instead of bay leaf in slow-cooked stews, gravies, fish, and vegetable soups, especially mushrooms.
Replace bay leaves with boldo leaves 1:1, with the proviso that boldo leaves have a more peppery flavor.
Oregano makes an ideal substitute for bay leaf.
Also called wild marjoram, oregano plants have heart-shaped green leaves and an earthy fragrance.
Oregano is known for its bold, bitter-sweet flavor, which you encounter in Greek, Italian, and Turkish cuisine. You can use both fresh and dried oregano.
Oregano has a fresher, more robust taste than bay leaves but adds a similarly savory depth to food.
Use oregano in seafood, lamb, and vegetable recipes as a bay leaf alternative. The herb pairs particularly well with brinjals, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, and lemons.
Because oregano has such a bold flavor, use ¼ teaspoon of crushed, dried oregano per bay leaf.
Parsley is a convenient substitute for bay leaf.
One of the essential kitchen herbs, parsley’s bright green leaves are a favorite in French, Italian, Middle Eastern, and English cuisine. The herb has a bright grass flavor, more vibrant if used fresh than dried.
The stronger-flavored flat-leafed parsley is popular in Mediterranean cooking, while the curly-leafed variety has a milder flavor.
Parsley often appears as a garnish, but it isn’t just pretty: it is packed with vitamin C and enjoyed as a natural immune booster.
Use parsley instead of the bay leaf when adding color and flavor to salad dressing, soup, stock, and sauce. It goes well with most savory food, including pork, beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, and potatoes.
Because parsley has a similarly subtle flavor to the bay, you can replace each bay leaf with a teaspoon of dried parsley.
Another aromatic herb to replace bay leaf is sage.
One of the best-loved herbs, sage has characteristically long, grey-green leaves. Its smoky, musky flavor and astringent quality make it an ideal companion to rich food, cutting through cream and fat.
Although sage can be used both fresh and dried, young, fresh sage leaves have the most flavor.
Replace bay leaves with sage if you want a fragrant, sharp flavor with potato, cheese, cream, and butter.
It’s gorgeous with pumpkins of all kinds, pasta, pork, veal, and chicken, and it is well-known for its use in poultry stuffing.
Use ½ teaspoon dried sage for every bay leaf, as it can overwhelm other ingredients.
Sweet or regular basil is a flavorful alternative to bay leaf.
One of the most popular herbs, sweet basil, has a fresh, herbaceous flavor. The large, bright green leaves are commonly used in Italian cuisine and feature in salads, pasta sauces, pizza, and pesto.
It goes so well with tomatoes that it is sometimes referred to as the tomato herb.
Fresh basil’s essential oils and floral notes are markedly different from bay leaves, so it’s preferable to use the milder dried version.
However, even dried, sweet basil can handle other strong flavors and replace bay leaves in hearty tomato-based lamb, liver, and fish dishes.
Because of the differences in potency and flavor, use ¼ teaspoon dried basil to replace each bay leaf.
Rosemary is a tasty substitute for bay leaf.
With its dark green, spiky, pine-like leaves, rosemary is one of the most distinctive herbs. The pungent aroma and peppery, summery flavor add intensity to savory food and an unusual twist to sweets.
Rosemary does not taste or look like bay leaves, so it is not an exact replacement. However, if you’re looking to add a punch of flavor to lamb, veal, game, or pork, rosemary will not disappoint.
This herb also goes well with potatoes, spinach, and pumpkin.
Because it is much more intense than bay leaves, rosemary should be used sparingly.
A small sprig of fresh or ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary can replace a bay leaf.
Indian Bay Leaf
Try the Indian bay leaf as an alternative to the regular bay leaf.
Although both are called bay leaves and distantly related, Indian bay leaves and laurel bay leaves are different herbs.
Indian bay leaves also called tej patta, come from a type of cassia tree. They are light grey-green and much bigger than other bay leaves, measuring around four to six inches (10-15cm) in length.
Indian bay leaves are typically used in North Indian cuisine.
They have a spicy, cinnamon-like aroma with the zest of cloves. They add flavor to spice mixes (including garam masala), rich kormas, and biryani, the famous rice dish.
Use Indian bay leaves as a substitute in spicy, hearty fare – they will stand up to intense flavors and creamy richness better than a regular bay.
They are delicious when added to traditional South African boboties, curries, tomato sauces, and lentil dishes.
Replace bay leaves with Indian bay leaves in equal amounts, with the proviso that their flavor profile is somewhat different, although equally flavorsome.