5 Best Bay Leaf Substitutes

Need a last-minute bay leaf substitute? These best five ingredient alternatives will get you out of trouble.

best bay leaf substitutes

What are bay leaves?

Bay leaves come from the Laurel tree. As such, they are sometimes called laurel leaves. They come as whole leaves and can also be used fresh or as dried versions. They can also be ground and used as a powder in various recipes. The laurel plant is a shrub that grows around the year. Bay leaves are known for their fragrant and floral notes, which they bring to a dish in all their glory. 

Bay leaves also have a strong bitter taste. So it’s important to know what quantities to use lest you end up with a dish that you can’t stomach. Less is more. Their strong taste means that one leaf may be all that you need for an entire recipe.  

When you use dry whole bay leaves, you can expect a more robust flavor than when you use fresh leaves. There are two primary varieties of bay leaves, and these are Turkish and California varieties. The main difference being the shape of the leaves.

Fresh vs. dry bay leaves

You can get bay leaves in different forms, and this is one of the things that makes it such a versatile spice. The two can be used in place of each other depending on the recipe. However, the quantities will differ because the intensity of taste also varies. One of the differences between dry and fresh bay leaves is their appearance. Fresh leaves are green and glossy, and dry leaves are browner in color. 

The process of drying the leaves also brings out its stronger side. The flavor intensifies as the leaves are dried. Also, their shelf life increases considerably when they are dried as compared to when they are fresh. However, when it comes to taste, the two have different tastes. The fresh version has a robust menthol-like taste. If it is left too long in the dish, it tends to take over the flavors. Dried bay leaves have a strong, bold flavor. 

The other difference is that fresh bay leaves are more costly than the dried version. So if the price is a factor for you, then you want to go for dried-over fresh. The replacement ratios are as follows. You can use one fresh bay leaf in place of two dried bay leaves. You can substitute a single dried bay leaf with ¼ teaspoon of ground bay leaves, while a fresh leaf can be replaced by ½ a teaspoon of ground bay leaves. 

Thyme

Thyme is an everyday fresh herb used in place of bay leaves. The leaves grow on thin stems and are plucked to season dishes with. You can either use it in conjunction with other spices or on its own. It can be found as both fresh and dry herb, and they both taste the same. It has many different health benefits, so it has been used throughout the years in various cuisines. 

The taste is sharp and grass-like. The taste that will jump out the most is the citrus lemon flavor. To get the best results when you don’t have bay leaves, substitute them with dried thyme. Dried thyme will have a similar flavor to bay leaves, and so it fits right in, especially in beef and lamb recipes. Use ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme in place of 1 bay leaf or ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme in place of ¼ teaspoon of crushed bay leaf.

Oregano

This herb is a member of the mint family, and as such, it bears similar flavors, taken from the oregano plant. Its origins can be traced back to the Mediterranean.  The flavors are mainly thanks to the antioxidants in it, and they are strong and earthy, and spicy. 

The leaves are small, but they pack a punch. They are pungent enough to flavor a variety of dishes effectively. It makes a good substitute for bay leaves because it is aromatic and also minty. It pairs well as a bay leaf substitute with tomato-based dishes. 

To use it as a substitute, use ¼ teaspoon of dried oregano for one bay leaf. Or equal amounts if you are replacing crushed bay leaves. 

Basil

This herb is another member of the mint family. It, therefore, brings with it flavor profiles that are synonymous with the mint family. It is native to India and is quite aromatic. Another thing that it has in common with bay leaves, making it a good substitute. It works well when paired with fresh salads. Fresh basil leaves, just like fresh bay leaves, are green and glossy. 

The dried version of basil leaves is similar to the dried version of bay leaves. The subtle pungency, aromatic and sweet flavors make it a suitable replacement for bay leaves. One fresh bay leaf can be substituted by one fresh basil leaf. If you are dealing with dry ingredients, 1/4teaspoon of crushed bay leaf is the same as ¼ teaspoon of dried basil. 

Juniper berries

You may know these berries as the spice used to flavor gin, but that’s not all it’s good for. Juniper Berries are an excellent option for cooking. The name can mislead you to think juniper berries are a fruit of some kind when they are more of a spice. 

Juniper berries are an aromatic herb, and their flavor makes them an excellent choice for flavoring food. They have pine and pepper-like flavor, which can overpower a dish if they are not used sparingly, just like bay leaves. 

To replace bay leaves with juniper berries, use 2 or 3 berries for one bay leaf. Like bay leaf, you can use the berries to get the flavor from, but you will need to remove them to keep the flavors balanced. 

Boldo leaves

These leaves are taken from the boldo plant. They make an excellent bay leaf substitute because they have similar notes and flavors, such as being bitter. However, they are still somewhat milder and softer than bay leaves. Since they are milder, they can pair well with recipes that require a milder taste and still have the same taste as you would get from bay leaves. 

To replace bay leaves with boldo leaves, you can use ½ a boldo leaf for every single leaf called for in the recipe. Or you can use ¼  teaspoon of crushed boldo leaf for ½ a teaspoon of crushed bay leaf.

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