8 Good Bay Leaf Substitutes
You usually have bay leaves in your spice rack, right?. Any self-respecting gourmet home chef will have these aromatic leaves around. And yet it can happen: you are out and you need them for your dish. Do not worry, you can always work around the recipe. How about you try a bay leaf substitute?
Bay Leaf Flavor Profile
Bay leaf, aka laurel leaf, has a complex flavor. We’re not surprised, since laurel leaves were used as the crown for Greek Gods and Roman Emperors. We’re adding laurel wreathes in our foods now to make them godlike! And we still feel like conquerors of the world, even with a sub!
Bay leaf is a major component in rich, hearty dishes. Bay leaves are added to soups, stews, roasts, chili, meat, and veggie broths because they enhance the flavors of the ingredients. And let’s not forget, they come with a spark of their own flavor!
When it comes to mint you know it: it’s fresh and camphor-like. When it comes to chili peppers you know it: they’re hot and spicy. With some spices and herbs, though, it’s not as simple as that! And the bay leaf is one of them!
Bay leaves provide a deep, rich, multi-faceted flavor profile. Fresh, dried, crushed, whole, or ground, bay leaves come with a flavorsome bouquet. What can you replace bay leaves with, you’re asking? Maybe look to replicate some of the features of bay leaves:
- Bay leaf is minty-fresh, resembling menthol and spearmint
- Bay leaf has a deep, earthy flavor, having piney and nutty tones
- Bay leaf has a zing to it, bringing a certain bitter taste and a peppery undertone
- Bay leaf comes with a herbal, floral touch, although delicate and smooth
- Bay leaf can give your dish a bitter taste, depending on how much you use
Extra info: There are many versions of bay leaf, and depending on your region, you may have access to one type or another. Turkish bay leaves grow in the Mediterranean region and are the ones mostly used in Europe. They are sweeter and milder in flavor.
Californian bay leaves are used in the US and they have a stronger minty, camphor-like flavor. They remind you more of eucalyptus, due to their sharper aroma. Indian bay leaves, aka teja patta, are quite different, tasting like cloves, cinnamon, and allspice.
Looking for a bay leaf substitute? Try one of these!
Before we dig into the rich world of alternatives for bay leaves, here are some tips on how this aromatic herb differs in flavor, depending on its form. Are you using fresh, dried, or ground bay leaves? It’s important to know so you swap the right amount:
- One fresh bay leaf = two dried bay leaves
- One dry bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon ground bay leaves
- One fresh bay leaf = ½ teaspoon ground bay leaves
That being said, here are some choices to consider instead of bay leaf.
1. Dried Thyme
Dried thyme is a great bay leaf alternative. Probably one of the best. While the two do not look alike and they do not belong to the same plant family, they can be interchanged. Dried thyme also has a minty, piney, herbal-floral aroma and comes with an earthy, deep touch.
- Use it with meats and roasts. Thyme goes great with beef, lamb, chicken, beans, and baked veggies.
2. Dried Oregano
Some say dried oregano is the best bay leaf substitute. Well, it does come close! With a floral, fragrant aroma, a touch of bitterness, and a hint of minty freshness, oregano can stand in for bay leaf.
- Oregano works wonders in stews, casseroles, soups, and anything broth-based. It’s especially suited to tomato-based dishes. It completes all kinds of meat.
Extra tip: Combine oregano and thyme and you will come very close to bay leaf!
3. Dried Basil
Fresh basil is rather sweet and anise-like. But dried basil works just fine in place of bay leaves. When dried, basil loses that anise, licorice flavor. However, it maintains that floral, fresh, sweet aroma and the little peppery kick that makes it similar to bay leaf.
It lacks the depth, bitterness, piney, earthy, woodsy taste that bay leaf has, but it can do the trick.
- Use basil in recipes that contain tomato-based sauces and broths.
4. Dried Rosemary
In terms of appearance, these certainly couldn’t pass as twins. Still, dried rosemary can replace bay leaf. This Mediterranean herb has minty, floral, herby, piney, minty, woodsy, earthy, bitter aromas, and just like bay leaf, it lingers on.
- Use rosemary in cooked dishes such as soups, goulashes, stews. This herb is perfect with roasts and meats such as pork, sheep, lamb, beefsteak, and fat, oily fish.
5. Juniper Berries
Who’d have though of these as a bay leaf substitute? Juniper berries add that specific piney, menthol, deep aroma that bay leaves have. Aromatic and a little spicy, and with a touch of lemon freshness, juniper berries are intense and pungent, just like bay leaf. So be cheap when using them!
- Juniper berries are ideal with duck, pork, beef.
6. Boldo Leaves
If you have a Chilean heritage you might have heard of these. Boldo leaves replicate many of bay leaf characteristics in terms of flavor. Rich, earthy, woody, and with a bitter touch, boldo leaves can be a good replacement for bay leaves.
- Use them in stews and soups, especially in light, not so hearty dishes. They are particularly great with veggies, and especially mushrooms.
7. Curry Leaves
These aren’t quite the same, but still, curry leaves can be suitable as a substitute for bay leaves. They are somewhere between lemongrass and anise, quite pungent, with a lemony hint, a little sour, and with a warm feel. But, if nothing else is in sight, you can add them to bay leaf recipes
- Curry leaves are especially good in anything curry-based, in sauces and stews including coconut milk and cilantro.
They do look alike, so there’s the appearance factor! Bay leaves go better in broths, liquids, and any sauces.
- Sage is ideal for rich, rather dense foods (stuffings, potatoes, cheeses, creamy, rich, thick sauces with butter for your pasta). Still, if push comes to shove, you can use them.
Close-enough bay leaf alternatives
So, you’re going through your spice rack and still can’t find a bay leaf replacement? Maybe you can find some of the following in your kitchen. You can pull it off with:
- Lime zest
- Kaffir lime leaf
- Mexican oregano
- Redbay leaves
How to substitute bay leaf: the perfect amount to get a similar aroma
Bay leaves have a strong, pungent aroma. Typically, one leaf suffices to add flavor to a pot of stew or soup. Whole bay leaves are more intense than crushed ones. But here’s how to calculate the amount for a replacement.
- 1 bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon crushed bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf = 1 basil leaf
- ¼ teaspoon crushed bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried basil
- 1 bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon of dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon crushed bay leaf = 1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
- 1 bay leaf = maximum 3 juniper berries (whole or ground)
What to use instead of bay leaf in specific recipes
What can you use instead of bay leaf for adobo, soups, Indian dishes? We’ve got you covered!
- The best substitute for bay leaf in adobo
This meaty, glazed, thick, intense Asian dish is full of flavors. The soy, vinegar, and black pepper marinade works just fine with thyme, for its minty, floral, woodsy hints. Fresh thyme would be a better replacement for bay leaf, but dried works perfectly fine too.
- Try this substitute for bay leaves in soups
Stews, sauces, thick minestrone, soups are perfectly fine with thyme, oregano, or boldo leaves if you have them around. They are flavorsome but light and airy, not overpowering the dish.
- The best bay leaf substitute in Indian food
Indian bay leaf, aka teja patta, is the one to use in Indian recipes. It has cinnamon and clove-like flavors that complete this cuisine. While the Indian bay leaf may seem similar to the one you use, it’s not the quite the same laurel! Teja patta comes from the cassia tree. This makes it similar to cinnamon so do not swap teja patta for bay leaves.
While you’d think your dish is ruined if you don’t have bay leaves around, as you can see, that is not the case. You just have to adapt and find the best bay leaf substitute for your dish.