Bay leaf is one of those ingredients that you often have in soups or stews but don’t even think about. Now, everything is different, though, when you need to cook with it and can’t find it anywhere.
The truth is, these leaves are pricey but mighty, so knowing what to use in their place can be essential.
If you like Italian, Mediterranean, or French food, you surely have had bay leaves in your meals. Technically, these leaves aren’t meant to be eaten but are used for steeping and infusing.
What Is Bay Leaf?
Also known as laurel leaf, this is the leaf of the laurel tree. In some cases, bay leaves can come from a different laurel tree and have a slightly different flavor. These leaves add flavor to broths, sauces, soups, or stews.
Bay leaf has a pine, mint, and slightly peppery flavor. Infusing these leaves adds aroma to the dishes, but can sometimes create a bitterness aftertaste if left in for too long. As you can see, there is a fine balance when using bay leaves, and you need to keep that in mind when replacing them.
What Can I Replace Bay Leaf With?
Since it can be expensive or hard to find, these bay leaf substitutes can come in handy when you’re cooking many dishes:
For Cooking, Adobo, Stew, and Spaghetti Sauce
This choice doesn’t appear similar to bay leaf at all, but thyme is a great replacement both in its dry and fresh forms. Fresh thyme is pungent and very fragrant and can be added to the cooking process when making stews, adobo seasoning, soups, and sauces. Dried thyme, on the other hand, is much stronger so only ⅓ teaspoon should be added in place of a bay leaf.
Finding thyme shouldn’t be too hard and your local grocery or organic store should have it fresh or dry. Remember that thyme is more floral and woody, so make sure that you don’t overpower the rest of the ingredients.
See More: Best Substitutes for Thyme
This herb is part of the mint family and it has a pungent, slightly bitter flavor that is similar to a bay leaf. You can use both fresh and dry oregano when cooking soups, stews, sauces, or meat dishes and when you make adobo. Oregano is widely available, but try your local grocery store, farmer’s market, or organic store.
To substitute for bay leaf, add fresh oregano in the same way that the recipe indicates. If you are using the dry powdered kind, use only about ½ teaspoon for every bay leaf.
Fresh basil has a very distinct sweet and anise-like flavor, but dry basil is a bit peppery. You can use basil in many dishes, including soups, stews, pasta, and spaghetti sauce. Finding basil is not hard, and your grocery store will probably have it fresh or dry.
This herb is common in many Italian dishes, particularly those with tomatoes, as it cuts through the acidity. You can add the same amount as you would bay leaves when using fresh basil. However, use about one teaspoon of dry basil for every bay leaf.
For Beef Stew, Chicken Soup, and Split Pea Soup
#4. Juniper Berries
These are the seeds of the juniper species, which have a fleshy scale and a fragrant smell. Normally, juniper berries go in hand with rosemary and are used in meat dishes. You can add juniper berries in meat stews, chicken soup, split pea soup, and some sauces.
While this is not a common ingredient, you can find it at your local organic market and in some specialty stores. For a closer flavor to bay leaves, mix half juniper berries and half rosemary leaves.
Just like juniper berries, rosemary leaves can help mimic the flavor of bay leaves. Rosemary is a bit piney and has a sharp flavor. You can use both fresh and dry rosemary in any dish, but these two will work well in soups, stews, and potatoes.
If you want to use fresh rosemary leaves, add the same amount as you would bay leaf. When using dry rosemary, add about half the amount, as this is stronger and a bit peppery. You can find rosemary anywhere, but certainly in the produce section of any organic supermarket.
See more: Best Rosemary Alternatives
#6. Curry Leaves
Not to be confused with curry, these leaves are part of the same family as citrus fruits. The flavor is a bit anise-like with a slight hint of citrus, so it can be added at the end of cooking for more aroma. You can use curry leaves in soups, meat stews, noodles, and rice.
While not everyone is familiar with curry leaves, you may have some luck at an Indian store or specialty store. Some organic supermarkets are starting to sell these too. Use only a few curry leaves in place for bay leaves and remove them before serving your food.
While some foods don’t need the bay leaf to get all the flavors, some dishes do require these leaves for aroma and flavor. In stews, meat dishes, and some sauces, bay leaf makes a big difference. Instead of just omitting it, make sure to use one of the substitutes listed here.
Bay leaves like other herbs naturally contain some vitamins and minerals. In this case, they are a source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. They also contain some compounds that aid in digestion, so eating them can help you feel better after eating a big meal.
Ideally, you would use a fresh bay leaf to make this tea, but in a pinch, you can use the dry kind. Simply steep leaves in water and leave them overnight. Doing this allows the flavors to come through.
Bay leaf is a common ingredient in certain cuisines, like Italian, Spanish, or French. Still, buying these leaves can be expensive and sometimes difficult. Instead of changing plans, use any of these 6 alternatives that can all result in similar and delicious flavors.
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