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Basil Substitute


Below is a basil substitute list for when you’re seeking that replacement or if you’re looking for a little different flavor profile. You can’t take basil out of the kitchen, but you can find a way to replace it. There are several basil substitutes that you can use in your cooking.

small glass jar filled with dried brown-colored spice, glass bottle with label "basil"

What Is Basil?

Basil is an herb that provides a strong, sweet, peppery, minty, and licorice-like flavor. It is part of the mint family, with oregano, rosemary, and thyme. This herb is used not only as a pizza topping or pasta sauces flavoring agent. It’s very versatile that you can use in Mediterranean, Italian, and Indian food. 

The leaves of this herb are distinguishable by their long, shiny, and rounded shape and are often found in the refrigerated vegetable section of local grocery stores when it’s fresh. Otherwise, dried basil is available year-round in the spice aisle. 

It was originally grown and harvested in China, Africa, or India about 5,000 years ago. It has not evolved and grows in many warm locations worldwide like California and Morocco, making it more accessible. 

Types of basil

There are many varieties of basil available, though the most commonly available variety is sweet basil. This type is most often found in Italian and Mediterranean cooking.

Other common varieties include Thai basil, holy basil, and lemon basil. Each offers a unique flavor and has a particular purpose. For example, lemon basil is often in use in desserts. 

Thai basil is a variety of basil with purple stems, dark green leaves, and an anise flavor. This variety has become popular because it offers the aroma of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cumin, peppermint, or tarragon. Thai basil is often used in Asian cuisine.

Best Basil Substitutes and Alternatives

1. Dried Basil Leaves

When the recipe calls for fresh basil, use dried basil leaves or dried basil flakes as fresh basil replacement. These options both provide a nearly identical taste. However, dried basil offers a more concentrated flavor, so you need to use a smaller quantity.

Dried basil is easy to find at the store throughout the year. If you have too much fresh basil, you can also create fresh dried basil by dehydrating finely chopped fresh basil (for flakes). Or, use chopped fresh herbs to alter the size of dried basil pieces for use in future recipes.

Pros

You’ll find the original basil flavor.

Cons

The dried version is much more robust, so it can easily overpower recipes, causing an unpleasant taste.

Cooking Tip:

  • Use 1/3 of dried basil to fresh basil. 

2. Italian seasoning

Italian seasoning is a mix of dried herbs that are commonly used in Italian cuisine. It usually contains basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. If you have Italian seasoning, you can put it on pasta with olive oil and garlic, or in salads.

Pros

Most likely you already have Italian seasoning in your pantry.

Cons

These dried herbs might not work for recipes that require the flavor of basil (such as spaghetti or pasta sauce).

Cooking Tip:

  • When cooking with Italian seasoning, use half the amount of herbs that you would usually use for your recipe.

3. Fresh Oregano

Oregano is a strong, pungent herb that can be used to add flavor to dishes like pizza or pasta.

Fresh oregano is one of the best fresh substitutes for basil. It’s easy to find at the grocery store and it provides a minty, strong, earthy taste. 

The flavor is close enough to basil that it bodes well as a replacement. If there is a need for a dried basil replacement, you can use dried oregano instead.

Pros

This herb is the closest flavor-wise to basil. As you would basil, use fresh oregano in Mediterranean and Italian recipes.

Cons

There is a taste difference present when using oregano over basil. 

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1:2 ratio to replace basil with oregano. 

4. Tarragon

Tarragon shares an anise flavor with basil. It also has a subtle bitterness and intense flavor. The leaves are smaller and longer than basil, so the dish will have a different appearance when using fresh tarragon.

Pros

This herb is an excellent basil substitute in chicken and tomato-based recipes. 

Cons

Like with oregano, there will be a taste difference when using tarragon. 

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio for this replacement.

5. Mint

Pros

If you’re looking to replace the sweet, minty flavor found in basil, using fresh or dried mint is an excellent option. However, mint does not offer the complex flavors found in basil. 

You can use it in Thai and Mediterranean recipes for a pop of flavor.

Cons

Using this herb as a replacement is limited to specific recipes; it is not suitable for Italian dishes.

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio to swap mint for basil. 

6. Thyme

Thyme is also part of the same family (aka Lamiaceae family), providing a similar taste to recipes as basil does. Like most herbs, you can use fresh or dried thyme to substitute basil.

Thyme has a slightly lemony flavor and goes well with dishes like chicken or fish.

There will be a taste difference when using thyme as a swap as it offers a bolder, warm, and more earthy flavor. However, you can use this replacement in pasta sauce, meat-based dishes, and pasta.

Pros

This herb is commonly paired with basil, so you can assume it also pairs well with the other seasoning typically found in basil dishes. 

Cons

As thyme has a more pungent taste than basil, it can overpower the rest of the dish’s flavors more easily. Use a smaller amount first, then add more slowly to avoid this.

Cooking Tip:

  • Start with a 1:2 ratio to replace thyme for basil, adjust as needed.

7. Savory

Winter and summer savory can both work as substitutions for basil as they are from the same mint family. These herbs are common in Italian cooking, making them an excellent swap when creating Italian dishes. 

Summer savory provides a spicier, peppery flavor, so it’s best for recipes where you want to mimic the pepperiness of basil. In comparison, winter savory offers a milder, earthy taste. Use them instead of basil in dishes where you’re looking for a more subtle flavor.

Pros

Both varieties of the savory herb are great additions to recipes that revolve around eggs, beans, vegetables, soups, and stews. Having both types on hand allows you to customize the flavor of savory to better complement the other flavor notes present.

Cons

This herb can be challenging to find at grocery stores as it’s a less common seasoning. 

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing savory with thyme.

8. Fresh Parsley

Parsley is another herb that is commonly used in Italian recipes. It has a similar flavor profile to basil and is much more affordable than other basil substitutes.

This herb is usually seen as a topping or decoration instead of a food inclusion. You can use this as a substitute for basil when you need an edible topping. 

Pros

It brightens dishes and offers a slightly bitter, earthy flavor and peppery kick. Fresh and dried herbs have a much milder taste than basil, though similar enough to be a good substitute.

Cons

The uses for fresh parsley as a replacement for fresh basil are limited. 

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio. 

9. Dried Parsley

As dried parsley provides a more concentrated flavor than fresh parsley, this option has more uses as a substitute for basil. It still offers similar flavor notes like an earthy, peppery, bitterness to dishes. 

Keep in mind this herb is still milder than fresh or dried basil, so you will need to use more for a bolder taste.

Pros

Use this replacement for sauces, meatballs, and marinades. Dried parsley is an excellent swap in recipes that have a European background.

Cons

Even with more options for use, dried parsley is limited to specific recipes. 

Cooking Tip:

  • Start with a 1:1 ratio and increase as needed.

10. Celery Leaf

Celery leaf might seem like an odd replacement for basil. However, celery is in the same family as parsley and offers a similar flavor profile in recipes. Expect an earthy, slightly salty, and licorice-like flavor when using celery leaves as an alternative.

Pros

These leaves have a variety of uses, from soups and stews to a replacement in pesto. Plus, they’re easily accessible as most people already have celery in their kitchens. 

Also, using celery leaves allows less food waste as you’ll be cooking with them instead of tossing them.

Cons

This swap does not bode well with all basil recipes due to a flavor difference.

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio to replace basil with celery leaves. 

11. Cilantro

Cilantro is another herb that you can use instead of basil. It has an earthy flavor similar to basil and is often used as a substitute in Mexican cooking for dishes such as chimichurri.

Keep in mind; this herb has a different taste than basil. However, if you’re only trying to add flavor to a recipe and don’t mind the citrusy taste, you can use cilantro in Mexican and Asian recipes.

Pros

Fresh cilantro is readily available at grocery stores year-round. It provides a bright, fresh flavor to recipes. Use this herb in curry, soup, and stir-fries.

Cons

This alternative is one herb that people either enjoy or dislike intensely. Ensure your dinner guests enjoy the flavor of cilantro before using this swap.

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio to replace basil with cilantro.

12. Fresh Herbs

If you have other fresh herbs on hand, these can make excellent substitutes for basil in soups, sauces, and marinades. You can use garden herbs like rosemary or sage for different basil recipes. 

Keep in mind; you’ll want to try a small amount first to ensure the flavors work well with your chosen recipe before adding a more considerable amount. 

Pros

You likely have them on hand already. Or, you can purchase them easily from a local grocery store or farmers market. 

Cons

The herbs you have will change the flavor of the final dish, though they still offer a delicious flavor. Some grocery stores don’t carry fresh varieties of herbs anymore and when they do, they’re expensive.

Cooking Tip:

  • Start with a pinch or 1-2 leaves, then increase to your taste preference.

13. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is another replacement that offers a somewhat similar taste. This herb is versatile – its uses include sweet and savory recipes and drinks. 

Pros

Use this swap in salads, sauces, candy, and tea for a bright, citrusy taste. This herb is the top option if you seek a lemon basil alternative.

Cons

As this herb is not as common in recipes, you may find it challenging to locate a bunch at the store.

Cooking Tip:

  • Use a 1 :1 ratio. 

14. Spinach

While spinach is not an herb, it provides a similar bulkiness offered by fresh basil in sauce-based recipes and pesto. It’s easily found in grocery stores and is a very affordable option.

Pros

The flavor of spinach leaves are very subtle, so it mixes well with a variety of recipes that other herbs may not bode well with.

Cons

Spinach leaves do not match the taste of basil in recipes. You will need additional seasoning to avoid a bland taste. 

Cooking Tip:

  • Start with a 1 :1 ratio and increase if needed.

15. Arugula

Arugula is another green that can add bulk to basil-based dishes. However, it also provides a sharp flavor and peppery taste in recipes. This swap is another budget-friendly replacement and is pretty easy to find at the grocery store in the refrigerated vegetable section.

You will not find arugula dried, so it’s best as a fresh basil swap.

Pros

Use arugula in fresh recipes like salads. Or, try it as a pizza topping, pasta enhancement, or soup flavoring agent.

Cons

This alternative offers a peppery flavor and has a tougher consistency which is more noticeable in uncooked recipes.

Cooking Tip:

  • Start with ½ the required amount and increase if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is There a Difference Between Dried Basil vs. Fresh Basil?

Yes, there is a difference between dried basil vs. fresh basil. The flavor of dried basil is much bolder than that of fresh basil. In comparison, fresh basil offers a milder taste and different consistency to recipes. Fresh basil is also only available while in season. It’s easy to swap dry basil to fresh basil and vice versa.

What Tastes Similar to Basil?

Besides oregano, thyme, celery leaf, and mint are all excellent basil substitutes. Each of these choices shares flavor notes with basil. While their flavor is not an exact match, they all provide a delicious flavor to recipes.

What Can I Use to Replace Basil in Tomato Sauce?

If you’re replacing dried basil, a fresh basil substitute is an excellent option. Otherwise, spinach leaves work well in tomato sauce as a substitute for fresh basil. While it does not offer a similar taste, it mimics fresh basil leaves’ shape, size, and color. 

Can You Substitute Oregano for Basil?

Yes, you can substitute oregano for basil. It is one of the closest basil substitutes for flavor, size, and color. Oregano offers a spicy and sweet taste to recipes along with an earthiness. 

How to substitute for basil in pesto?

The best options to substitute basil in pesto are leafy greens and fresh parsley. Use 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley to substitute for 1/2 cup fresh basil in a pesto.

Summary

Try one of the above substitutes for basil when looking for a unique flavor in your favorite recipes instead of dashing out to the store to purchase more basil when you run out.

Oregano, thyme, and Italian seasoning are top substitutes for basil due to their flavor. 1 tablespoon dried oregano or thyme could be substituted for 1 cup fresh basil in a soup or pasta sauces.

Celery leaves are an excellent alternative for those who want a subtler flavor in recipes instead of basil’s bold flavor.

Parsley, cilantro, or any other leafy vegetable that can be used in salads.

More Ingredient Substitutes

Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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