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Don’t Have Bay Leaf? Here Are 11 Substitutes You Can Try 

Ever had those kitchen confusion moments where you’re making some rich stew or soup, and it requires bay leaves, and after combing through your spice cabinet, you realize you don’t have any? Trust us, we’ve been there multiple times. 

As common as bay leaves are, sometimes you just run out at the last minute or can’t find them at your grocery store.

This is why we’ve specifically put together the best bay leaf substitutes to keep you well on your way to whipping up a tasty dish.

What Are Bay Leaves?

Bay leaves are aromatic leaves obtained from the sweet bay tree, an evergreen plant of the Lauraceae family. Although they are commonly used in cooking, these leaves haven’t always been limited to the kitchen.

In ancient roman and greek cultures, they were used as a symbol of success and crowned on the head of warriors after winning a battle.

They also have many health benefits. Notably, they are rich in vitamins A, B6, and C and can also help manage diabetes.

There are five main varieties of bay leaves, but the two most common ones you’ll usually find are the Mediterranean bay leaf and California bay leaf.

Often added to soups, stews, broths, and sauces, bay leaves impart a subtle minty taste which adds a layer of floral flavor.

Bay leaves can be used fresh, dried, or ground, but the most commonly available option is the whole dried leaves. 

These leaves are infused into liquid-based dishes and discarded after cooking. Since their taste is very subtle, most people often make the mistake of thinking bay leaves don’t have that much flavor or make a difference in a dish.

However, their flavors are best extracted when used in slow-cooked dishes.

Now, let’s dive into the substitutes to use when you don’t have bay leaves.

Nutrition Table

Nutrition Value TableCalories (Per 100g)
Oregano306
Thyme101
Basil22
Rosemary131
Juniper Berries33
Sage315
Red Bay Leaves313
Boldo Leaves31
Curry Leaves108
Mexican Oregano306
Cilantro23

1. Oregano

Oregano is one the best bay leaf substitutes you can get your hands on when it comes to flavor. It is from the mint family of plants and is often paired with bay leaves.

Although it has a more pronounced flavor and a trace of subtle bitterness, oregano imparts a similar rich mintiness and earthy flavor similar to a bay leaf.

It is more commonly known as an Italian staple for dishes like pizza, but you can use it for anything from marinades to meat dishes and soups. However, it is particularly well suited to tomato-based stews and sauces.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing bay leaves with oregano.

2. Thyme

Thyme is another great substitute for bay leaves from the mint family. Much like bay leaves, thyme has an earthy and minty flavor profile. It also has a floral aroma that is both sweet and savory.  

Thyme is versatile and can be added to meats, soups, stews, pasta, and even vegetables. It can often be found in its fresh form, but dried thyme is the best variety to use in a dish that calls for dried bay leaves.

How To Substitute

Use ¼ of a teaspoon of dried thyme for each whole bay leaf required. 

If you’re a fan of growing plants in your garden, you can also plant thyme so that you always have it readily available. Here is a video to show you how :

3. Basil

Basil is another great substitute for bay leaf. It is another herb from the mint family and is often used in a wide range of dishes. It has a sweet and spicy flavor with a touch of mintiness that mimics the flavor of bay leaves really well. 

There are many different varieties of basil which include Thai basil, sweet basil, cinnamon basil, lemon basil, and other different varieties. So, you’ll have many options to choose from. 

You can pair Thai basil and cinnamon basil with Asian dishes and use sweet basil with any dish that has an Italian origin.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing bay leaves with basil.

4. Rosemary

Rosemary is a common spice well known for its rich flavor and versatility. It also comes from the mint family.

Using rosemary won’t really get you the same flavor of bay leaves, but it imparts its own complex piney and citrusy flavor along with notes of mint. 

Rosemary also makes a healthy addition to any diet as it is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B6, and C. You can add rosemary to a wide range of soups, stews, and meat dishes.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing bay leaves with rosemary.

5. Juniper Berries

Juniper berries are seed cones of the juniper plant. They have been used for their medicinal properties for many years and are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants.

In terms of flavors, their piney and fruity taste make them a popular spice in many dishes.

They are an ideal substitute to use in place of bay leaves as they mimic the flavor profile really well and can be incorporated into most soups and stews that call for bay leaves. 

However, juniper berries are not considered suitable for children and pregnant women. So, if you’re cooking for either one of those demographic, juniper berries might not be the best option for you.

How To Substitute

Use ¼ of a teaspoon of juniper berries for each bay leaf required.

6. Sage

Sage is a fragrant herb long known for its medicinal properties. However, it has become a common ingredient in many cuisines around the globe.

It has a similar shape and size to bay leaves, so people sometimes confuse the two. However, they can be used interchangeably since their flavor profiles are very similar.

For example, where bay leaf is mild, and minty sage is earthy and minty with peppery notes that are a delight to the palate. 

Most people often associate sage with dishes like poultry, potatoes, and stuffing, but you can also add it to a wide variety of soups and sauces.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing bay leaf with sage.

7. Red Bay Leaves

Red bay leaves are a type of bay leaf from the red bay tree, an evergreen shrub. 

Unlike their name suggests, this variety of bay leaves are actually not red, but they get their name from the tree they are obtained from.

They are not as common as regular bay leaves, but if you can get your hands on them, they make an ideal substitute as they impart a similar flavor profile. 

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when using red bay leaves in place of regular bay leaves.

8. Boldo Leaves

Boldo leaves are derived from an evergreen tree native to South America. They are closely related to the plant family to which bay leaves belong and can be used as a replacement when you don’t have bay leaves. 

These leaves have an earthy aroma and a mildly bitter taste that imparts a layer of rich flavor to most dishes. Boldo leaves are also known for their many health benefits and help relieve indigestion, achy joints, and bacterial infections.

These leaves are typically added to vegetables, soups, stews, meat, and fish dishes.

How To Substitute

Boldo leaves have a stronger aroma than bay leaves, so you’ll need to reduce the quantity to avoid overpowering the dish. Start with ⅛ of a teaspoon for each bay leaf required, and then add more if necessary.

9. Curry Leaves

Curry leaves are an herb native to India, but they have quickly become a popular spice in many parts of the world. They are derived from the curry plant, which is also known as the sweet neem plant.

Unlike the name suggests, these leaves are completely unrelated to the usual curry powder you may have in your spice cabinet.

Instead, they are strongly aromatic and have a unique citrusy flavor profile reminiscent of lemon grass. Curry leaves are a staple in many Indian stews and curries and work well with a wide variety of other dishes.

How To Substitute

Use ¼ of a teaspoon of curry leaves for each bay leaf required.

10. Mexican Oregano

Mexican oregano is a variation of oregano that is quite different from the traditional one most people commonly associate with Italian and Mediterranean cuisines

This oregano has a robust anise-like taste with notes of citrus and lemon. It also has minty undertones that impart a rich flavor to many dishes. So, it is a lovely substitute for bay leaves. 

You can use Mexican oregano in soups, stews, meat dishes, and chili. Fresh Mexican oregano is usually not easy to find in the states,

so you’ll almost always only find it in the dried form. It is commonly stocked in the spice section of most grocery stores. 

How To Substitute

Use ¼ of a teaspoon of Mexican oregano for each bay leaf required in a dish.

Mexican oregano is a very common ingredient in Mexican dishes. So, if you’d like to learn how to use it to whip up a delicious Mexican stew, here is a video to give you some inspiration :

11. Cilantro

Cilantro is another great substitute for bay leaf. It is a very versatile herb used to flavor anything from guacamole to chilis and stews.  

Due to its strong citrusy taste, you may not get the same flavor of bay leaf when using cilantro. However, it imparts its own rich taste and flavor and elevates any dish that calls for bay leaf. 

You’ll also notice the taste in your dish a lot more than bay leaf, which is often very subtle.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing bay leaves with cilantro.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Bay Leaves Really Make A Difference?

Bay leaves have a subtle flavor, so they don’t hit you smack on the plate with a bold taste. However, they do make a difference.

When properly introduced into a slow-cooked soup, stew, or sauce, they add a layer of mintiness and a unique tea-like aroma.

Can You Substitute Basil For Bay Leaf?

Basil has a balanced sweet and savory flavor with a subtle mintiness that is very similar to bay leaves. So, it is a great substitute to use when you don’t have bay leaves.

Is Bay Leaf The Same As Oregano?

Bay leaves and oregano are not the same thing. Although the two are usually paired together and added similar dishes, they have different characteristics and slightly different tastes.

Do Bay Leaves And Basil Taste The Same?

Bay leaves and basil tastes somewhat similar as they both possess a touch of mintiness. However, basil has a more pronounced flavor with sweet and spicy hints, while bay leaves are mild and subtle.

Why Do You Remove Bay Leaf Before Serving?

Bay leaves are usually removed before serving because they taste bitter when eaten on their own, and no one really wants to chew on a bitter chunk of leave while eating a tasty dish.

Are Bay Leaves Edible?

Most commercially sold bay leaves are technically edible. However, it isn’t really advised to do so because they are quite bitter and aren’t easily broken when passing through the digestive system.

They also constitute a choking hazard if you’re careful.

How Much Bay Leaf Powder Equals One Bay Leaf?

A quarter of a teaspoon of bay leaf powder or crushed bay leaves is equal to one whole dried bay leaf.

What Is The Benefit Of Bay Leaf In Cooking?

Bay leaves are added to slow-cooked dishes to add a layer of subtle minty flavor. They also impart a unique menthol-like aroma which is why they are commonly added to soups and stews.

11 Bay Leaf Substitutes You Can Try 

5 from 5 votes
Prep Time

15

minutes
Cooking Time

1

hour 

50

minutes
Total Time

2

hours 

5

minutes

Basil has a balanced sweet and savory flavor with a subtle mintiness that is very similar to bay leaves. So, it is a great substitute to use when you don’t have bay leaves.

Ingredients

  • Oregano

  • Thyme

  • Basil 

  • Rosemary

  • Juniper Berries

  • Sage

  • Red Bay Leaves

  • Boldo Leaves

  • Curry Leaves

  • Mexican Oregano

  • Cilantro

Directions

  • Pick any substitute you prefer from the lists above.
  • Follow the recipe instructions for your preferred substitute and use the proper ratio required while cooking.

Recipe Video

Jess Smith