A good basil substitute will surely come in handy if you love cooking with different spices and seasonings and find you’ve run out of the tasty herb.
Whether your recipe calls for fresh or dried basil, there’s always something to use as an alternative.
What is Basil?
Basil is a tender-leaved herb from the mint family but has a distinct taste often used in Italian, Mediterranean, and Asian dishes. It has a balanced sweet and savory taste and can be added to a wide variety of dishes to add a fresh and herbaceous taste.
- Basil means ‘royalty or king’ since it is derived from the Greek word Basileios meaning royalty and king.
- Basil is native to India – and it is regarded as a sacred plant, but it is more often seen in Italian cooking.
- You can store fresh basil in water by placing the stems in a glass of water to keep it fresher for longer.
- It’s estimated that there are 50 – 150 species of basil, with the most common being sweet basil, also known as Genovese basil.
- The herb was used to embalm mummies in Ancient Egypt.
Dried Basil vs. Fresh Basil
You can substitute fresh herbs for dried ones without effort, but it is good to know that all dried herbs, including dried basil, have a more concentrated flavor than their fresh counterparts.
Equivalent of Fresh Basil to Dried
The rule of thumb is that you would need one-third of the number of fresh herbs you would use when using dried herbs, so a 3:1 ratio of fresh basil to dry basil or 1 tablespoon of fresh basil for every teaspoon of dry basil.
Why Is Basil Hard to Replace?
Basil is hard to replace because it has such a unique flavor when used fresh or dried. When adding basil to a pizza or a Caprese salad, there really isn’t a perfect replacement since you won’t find the same flavor in any other herb.
Most Similar Herbs to Basil in Terms of Taste
- French Tarragon
- Italian Seasoning
10 Best Ingredients for a Basil Substitute
Fresh Basil Substitute Options
Oregano is ideal to use with any Mediterranean or Italian dish, and it works well with garlic and tomatoes. It is the closest-tasting basil substitute, and you can use it dried or fresh to replace basil in most recipes. Foods Guy compares both herbs.
If you’re looking to use basil as a fresh topping on a dish like pizza or pasta, spinach is a great green alternative that can withstand some heat. It won’t give you a basil-like flavor but it will add a good green appearance, and it’s great with most cheese, especially when it is baby spinach. Food struct notes that spinach has a higher vitamin content than basil.
3. Basil Pesto
Unless you need to make basil pesto, using store-bought pesto in place of fresh basil is a great alternative. It might have extra garlic and nuts added, but it is great to be used on pizza, like Sally’s Baking Addiction did for their pizza.
Parsley has often only been seen on plates as a pretty garnish, but it adds a great peppery and mild herby flavor to your dish. It is very mild, so you won’t have to worry about it overpowering your dish. Healthline gives a nutritional overview of parsley.
Cilantro is one of those herbs that you either love or hate due to its peppery and citrusy taste. A large number of people dislike the taste, so be careful adding it to the dishes that you’ll be sharing. It works well in soups, salads, and salsas. Your Indoor Herbs explains the differences in tastes between the two green herbs.
Peppermint has a slightly more peppery flavor than spearmint, so it will work better in recipes for a basil substitute than spearmint would. It works well in snacks like this goat cheese crostini from A Couple Cooks.
Substitutes for Dry Basil
7. Italian Seasoning
If your recipe calls for dried basil, chances are, you might need other dried herbs, which you can find in Italian seasoning herb blends. All Recipes explain what herbs go into the blend and how to use it.
Tarragon is often seen in French cooking, and whilst it has its own unique taste, it would add some bittersweetness to your dish. If you’re not convinced, Masterclass shows you how to use the herb.
Sage, especially when dried, has a bold earthy taste that works well in Italian cooking. Start with half the amount of dried sage in your recipe before adding more. Try making Foreign Fork’s take on a pizza sauce with sage added.
Thyme is a herb similar in flavor to basil and oregano without the pepperiness of both. It is great to use fresh or dried in Italian cooking or with roasts. Use about half as much thyme as you would basil. Epicurious has a great thyme pesto recipe if you’re out of basil.
What to Use in Pesto Instead of Basil
- Cilantro – if you like the taste of cilantro, this would be a bold herb to add to your pesto.
- Parsley – it would yield a milder pesto, but wonderful to enjoy on toasted bread or fresh veggies.
- Mint- mint, especially peppermint, would make for a great pesto ideal to use in lamb dishes.
- Arugula – peppery and earthy, this pesto would work well in salad dressings or drizzled over some roasted veggies.
Best Basil Substitute in Bruschetta
- Oregano – oregano would complement the fresh tomatoes that go along with bruschetta.
- Mint – it might be a unique flavor profile, but it would make for a refreshing snack.
- Parsley – it would be much milder than basil but still add an earthy taste to the snack.
Tips for Basil Substitution
- Fresh vs. dried – dried herbs are far more concentrated than fresh herbs, so be careful when substituting dried herbs for fresh basil and vice versa.
- Sauces, stews, and soups – you can get away with a lot more herbs in sauces, soups, and stews than in recipes where you would need fresh basil, so experiment until you like what you’re tasting.
- Fresh substitutions – if you need to substitute fresh basil for something in salads or as toppings, make sure you use a fresh substitute with a similar or milder taste profile to avoid an overpowering topping.