Basil, that sweet fragrant summery herb that is the perfect pairing for tomatoes, and is a key ingredient in Italian dishes. It’s unique flavour is pretty hard to replicate; but if you are half way through a recipe and realise you don’t have it in, can’t find it, don’t like it, or just need an alternative to basil for a recipe, read on for some of the best basil substitutes.
Basil is a warm and sweet flavoured herb with a hints of spice such as tarragon and cinnamon, combined with grassy mint. Milder than some other herbs, its soft green leaves adds a bright freshness to a great variety of dishes. There are over 10 different varieties available, including lemon basil, bush basil and cinnamon basil. These basil alternatives are for sweet basil (Genovese basil).
Basil is used throughout the Mediterranean, especially in Italian cooking. Basil is also popular in Thai cuisine, but this tends to be Thai basil variety which has a more liquorice flavour and narrower leaves.
Best substitute for basil: Oregano
Whilst the flavour is not exactly the same – oregano has a stronger taste and is more peppery than basil – it is another popular Mediterranean herb, and oregano brings a lovely fresh hint of flavour to a dish. Oregano is often used with tomatoes in Southern Italian cooking.
Ratio: 1:1. Use the same amount of oregano.
Substitute 2: Thyme
Another popular Mediterranean herb, tyme is stronger and slightly sharper than basil.
Ratio: Slightly less than the recipe calls for. Be careful not to add too much as it can begin to taste ‘soapy’ and unpleasant.
Best for: Sauces, casseroles and stews.
Substitute 3: Marjoram
Also known as sweet marjoram, this is another popular Mediterranean herb that tastes similar to oregano, although is slightly milder.
Ratio: 1:1. Use the same amount of marjoram.
Best for: Salads, meat dishes, fish dishes.
Substitute 4: Mint
Mint is a cousin of basil, they both belong to the Lamiaceae family; and whilst basil does have minty undertones, obviously mint is far stronger in flavour and fresher tasting as well as being slightly bitter against basil’s sweetness. Make sure you use peppermint and not spearmint as your replacement for basil.
Ratio: Use less mint than basil
Best for: Sweet recipes such as basil ice cream, or for a fresh green garnish. You can use mint in a pesto (delicious with peas), through I would advise using it in a tomato sauce. Asian dishes are often better for using mint as an alternative to basil rather than Mediterranean dishes.
Substitute 5: Baby spinach
Baby spinach is slightly sweet like basil, and has that wonderful green colour that is especially good for pesto or basil sauces.
Ratio: 1:1. Use the same amount of spinach.
Best for: pesto
Substitute 6: Dried Basil
When using dried basil as an alternative to fresh basil, add to a dishes such as tomato sauce in the beginning rather than at the end. Fresh basil on the other hand is added towards the end of the cooking process as it can cause its oils to dissipate and lose its flavour, or turn bitter if overcooked. The mint flavour is slightly stringer in dried basil.
Ratio: Use 1 tablespoon dried basil per 3 tablespoons of fresh basil (or 1 part dried basil to 1.5 parts fresh basil.
Best for: Tomatoes sauces, stews.
Substitutes for dried basil:
1: Dried oregano
Dried oregano has an earthy, robust flavour that goes so well in sauces, on pizzas or grilled meats.
Ratio: 1:1. Use the same amount of dried oregano.
Best for: Sauces and pizzas.
2: Italian Seasoning
Italian seasoning contains other herbs as well as basil, but if adding to a sauce or stew as a replacement for dried basil it will add a lovely amount of flavour.
Ratio: 1.:1. Use the same amount of Italian seasoning.
Best for: Sauces, tomato pasta sauces
How to freeze basil: Two Ways
If you are a basil fan, but often end up with half a bunch of fresh basil sat in the fridge wilting, you can freeze basil. Either flash freeze, or freeze in ice cube trays. Tip: Use slightly more frozen leaves than the recipe calls for as the flavour diminishes slightly.
- Flash Freezing:
- Wash the basil then pat dry.
- Flash freeze: place the leaves and stalks on a baking tray, not touching, and freeze for an hour or until frozen.
- Remove and place in a zip tock bag or container and store in the freezer for 1-2 months.
- In ice cube trays (these are great for adding to soups, casseroles and sauces):
- Wash and pat dry then finely chop.
- Mix with a little olive oil and spoon into ice cube trays and freeze.
If you only have a small amount of basil and want to make pesto, you can add some baby spinach leaves to still keep the colour. It will be milder in basil taste but this is a popular choice when making pesto for kids. You can also add a handful of rocket/arugula, this will bring a slightly peppery taste.
Oregano and baby spinach are the best substitutes for basil in pasta, if the recipe calls for alot of basil then baby spinach would be the best alternative as oregano has a stronger taste.
Fresh oregano, thyme, and marjoram are all delicious substitutes for basil in bruschetta.
Other fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, and marjoram are great substitutes for basil in salads to provide a light extra flavour and splash of fresh green colour.
Dried basil, Italian seasoning, and thyme all go well instead of basil in sauces.