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What’s The Top Substitute For Basil Leaves In Cooking?

There are several herbs and spices that can be used as a substitute for basil leaves, and knowing them will definitely come in handy in the kitchen.

If you can’t find basil or want to discover other flavors, there are alternatives that’ll work in your favorite recipes.

Pesto, salads, pizza and pasta dishes won’t lose their unique flavors and textures, I assure you.

Without further ado, let’s talk about some amazing herb substitutes for basil leaves.

What's The Top Substitute For Basil Leaves featured image | Girl Meets Food

What is basil?

Basil is a popular culinary herb with a distinct, sweet, and somewhat peppery flavor. There are several varieties of basil – sweet basil, Thai basil and lemon basil.

Basil is used regularly in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, in addition to its commonplace presence in Italian food, as well as other European and Mediterranean dishes.

It’s a key ingredient in pesto and other sauces, and it goes great with pasta and salad.

Healing properties such as reduced inflammation, improved digestion, and relief from nervous tension and anxiety have contributed to basil’s long history of use.

The fact that basil is both a delightful and healthful component of so many different cuisines explains why its popularity has endured for so long.

Best substitute for basil leaves

Basil leaves on a cutting board | Girl Meets Food

Here are some alternative fresh herbs you can use as substitutes for basil.

  • Oregano

Oregano and basil are both in the mint family and have similarities in their uses. The versatile oregano complements a wide variety of dishes.

It has a strong flavor, especially in dried form. So it’s best to use a smaller amount as an alternative to basil.

I tried using fresh oregano leaves when I didn’t have any fresh basil for a caprese salad. It actually tasted the same if not better!

  • Thyme

Substituting thyme for basil leaves is another option. As compared to basil, thyme has a more earthy flavor, while it still retains some of basil’s flowery undertones.

Soups, stews, and meat recipes all benefit from thyme’s inclusion. It’s often associated with Mediterranean cuisine and French meat dishes.

When I didn’t have any basil for a blackberry smoothie, I decided to grab some fresh thyme instead. I was really impressed that it actually worked out and tasted amazing!

  • Parsley

Fresh parsley has a both bright and slightly bitter flavor. It’s very versatile and can be used in a variety of ways, including in salads, sauces, soups and stews.

Parsley doesn’t taste exactly like basil but it can add some interesting notes to your favorite recipes.

  • Cilantro

Cilantro is an intriguing herb because of its distinct, spicy flavor. Although it’s not the most similar to basil, it will do in a pinch.

Salsa, guacamole, tacos, and curries are just a few of the many Mexican and Asian foods that benefit greatly from the use of fresh cilantro.

When I used its green leaves for a lemon basil vinaigrette, I was able to come up with a whole new recipe which is now my go-to salad dressing. 

  • Mint

Mint is a versatile herb that can be used in a variety of recipes. It adds a refreshing, cooling flavor to dishes and has many medicinal properties.

Minty flavor resembles the original basil flavor but it features more coolness. So it’s best to use fresh mint in salads, desserts and cocktails.

Check out my article if you need some ideas on how to substitute mint in your cooking, check out this article. It has a lot of fresh ideas!

  • Sage

Sage is slightly bitter but it can be used as a replacement for basil in recipes. Sage is a prominent ingredient in Italian cooking and works well in tomato sauce and pasta meals.

I added fresh sage leaves instead of basil to pasta with a garlic butter sauce. It had a very peculiar and nice taste!

  • Rosemary

Rosemary may give your dishes a little extra something with its somewhat woodsy flavor. Meat, soups, and stews all benefit from the addition of fresh rosemary.

  • Tarragon

Tarragon, with its distinctive anise-like taste, is a fantastic basil alternative. Sauces, marinades, and salad dressings benefit from the addition of tarragon.

I really enjoyed using tarragon instead of basil in pesto. It tasted incredible served with some roasted vegetables.

  • Bay leaves

As bay leaves have a mild flavor profile, they can be used in dishes with basil. They can add a touch of slight sweetness to soups, stews and fish dishes.

  • Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds are great for their particular sweetness and licorice-like flavor. They can work as a fresh basil substitute in pasta sauces, marinades and salad dressings.

  • Celery leaves

Celery leaves have a mild and bitter taste which isn’t the best match for basil leaves. Still, it can be used in some dishes to complement other ingredients and create a unique recipe.

I tried making a celery leaf pesto with olive oil, nuts and cheese. It tasted a bit milder than the original but very delicious!

Substitute for basil leaves FAQs

Basil leaves, a small white bowl of dried basil and a white tea spoon on a wooden surface | Girl Meets Food
Can I use dried basil instead of fresh basil leaves?

Yes, dried basil can be used instead of fresh basil leaves. But it may have a less concentrated flavor.

What substitutes for basil can be used in Italian cuisine?

In Italian dishes, oregano, thyme, parsley, rosemary and tarragon are all good substitutes for basil.

What’s the best substitute for Thai basil?

Sweet basil is the best Thai basil substitute. Cilantro, bay leaves, fennel seeds and mint can also be used as alternatives in Thai cooking.

What substitutes for basil can be used in Asian dishes?

In Asian dishes, cilantro and mint are great basil substitutes. Fennel seeds, bay leaves and cumin can also be used as alternatives.

Can I use dried basil in pesto?

It’s best to use fresh basil in pesto, but if you don’t have any fresh leaves on hand, dried basil will work.

How to store fresh basil leaves?

Store fresh basil leaves in a cool, dry place away from the sun.

If they start to wilt, wrap them in a damp paper towel. This will keep them fresh for up to two days in the fridge.

BOTTOM LINE: there are several basil alternatives that can be used without altering the intended flavor or texture of your dishes. Herbs and spices like oregano, thyme, parsley, cilantro, mint, sage, rosemary, tarragon, bay leaves, fennel seeds and celery leaves are all great choices.

I hope you enjoyed discovering all the popular herbs that can mimic the flavor of basil. Which one is your favorite?

Also, check out these olive alternatives and cheddar cheese substitutes if you’re interested in learning more about similar ingredients.

If you’re into a plant-based diet then it might be worth finding out whether energy drinks are vegan or probiotics are vegan-friendly.