Both fresh and dried, bay leaves add a distinctive flavour to many dishes. But what can you use instead of bay leaves if you don’t have any? Read on for the best substitutes for bay leaves.
- Countries bay leaves are used in cooking
- What are Bay Leaves?
- Best alternative to bay leaves: Dried oregano
- Substitute 2: Dried Thyme
- Substitute 3: Fresh bay leaves
- Substitute 4: Juniper berries
- Substitute 5: Rosemary
- Substitute 6: Boldo Leaves
- Substitute 7: Dried basil
- Best alternatives to bay leaves in specific recipes:
- Substitute for bay leaf in a stew
- Best substitute for bay leaves in soup
- Substitute for bay leaves in Indian recipes
- More Ingredient Substitutions
Countries bay leaves are used in cooking
Mediterranean, East Asian, Caribbean, France, America and India (both Laurel bay and Indian bay leaves.)
What are Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves come from the laurel tree, an evergreen tree from the Mediterranean. Peppery with hints of pine, they are often added to slow-cooked dishes such as soups, stews, sauces and stocks, and then removed before serving. As they are pungent, bay leaves are used sparingly, often 1 or 2 is more than enough in a recipe. There are two main types of bay leaf: Turkish bay (the most common variety) and Californian Bay, which are slightly stronger in taste than Turkish bay leaves and have a minty taste to them. Indian bay is a completely different species (see end of post for alternatives to Indian bay leaves).
Some people question if adding a bay leaf to a dish actually heightens the flavour of the dish. I’m a firm believer that they do, but along the same vein, this means that if you can’t find anything to substitute a bay leaf then you can leave it out altogether. However, if you want to add an alternative to bay leaves in a recipe, here are the best bay leaf substitutes:
Best alternative to bay leaves: Dried oregano
Oregano is slightly peppery like bay leaves, and goes really well in tomato rich dishes too. Especially suited to Italian dishes and olive oil based recipes.
Ratio: 1 bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Substitute 2: Dried Thyme
This slightly sweet and minty earthy Mediterranean herb is less pungent than oregano, and is a delicious addition instead of bay leaves in stews and soup.
Ratio: 1 bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
Best for: Other European dishes, such as this Basque chicken,
Substitute 3: Fresh bay leaves
Fresh bay leaves are shiny and bright green (they are the ones I photographed for these images). As the bay leaf dries, the colour becomes less bright and the flavour intensifies, therefore you need double the amount of fresh bay leaves than dried, or half the amount of dry bay leaves if a recipe calls for fresh bay. Tip: Use Turkish bay leaves if you want to use fresh bay leaves. Californian bay leaves are much stronger and tend to over power a dish when used fresh.
Ratio: 1 dried bay leaf = 2 fresh bay leaves (Unless your fresh bay leaves are Californian bay leaves and not Turkish bay leaves, use less: 1 dried bay leaf = ½ fresh Californian bay leaf).
If you want to use fresh bay leaves instead of ground bay leaves: 1 fresh bay leaf = ½ teaspoon ground bay leaves.
Substitute 4: Juniper berries
Juniper berries are fresh and peppery flavoured, with a slightly tart and bitter pine taste that is slightly similar to bay leaves. You don’t need many of these in a dish.
Ratio: 1 bay leaf = 2-3 juniper berries
Best for: Pork and cabbage dishes.
Substitute 5: Rosemary
This fragrant Mediterranean herb is strong and can impart a pine-like flavour in a dish, like a bay leaf. Rosemary adds a pleasant fragrant undertone, as long as you don’t add too much.
Ratio: 1 bay leaf = a small sprig of fresh rosemary.
Substitute 6: Boldo Leaves
Endemic to Chili, Boldo leaves are commonly used in South America to make tea, and flavour savoury dishes.
Ratio: 1 bay leaf = ½ boldo leaf.
Best for: Mushroom, fish or vegetable based dishes.
Substitute 7: Dried basil
Fresh basil tastes too sweet to be used as a bay leaf alternative, but dried basil loses this sweetness and becomes more peppery, and therefore tastes closer to bay leaves and is suitable to replace bay leaves in a recipe.
Ratio: 1 bay leaves = ¼ teaspoon dried basil.
Best for: Tomato based dishes like savoury mince, sauces and stews, especially Italian and Thai dishes.
Best alternatives to bay leaves in specific recipes:
Substitute for bay leaf in a stew
Dried oregano or dried thyme are delicious alternatives to bay leaves in a stew, or use a fresh bay leaf or two.
Best substitute for bay leaves in soup
Dried oregano or dried thyme again are great in soups! If you have a tomato based soup such as minestrone, a small sprig of rosemary can be a nice addition.
Substitute for bay leaves in Indian recipes
When Indian recipes call for a bay leaf, they often mean Indian bay leaves, also known as Tej Patta, rather than the Laurel bay leaf. Indian bay leaves come from the cassia tree and have a hint of cinnamon rather than pine, so substitute with a pinch of cinnamon, cassia, or a clove.
Yes you can use bay leaves straight from the tree, however you may find they taste more bitter compared to dry bay leaves.
Fresh bay leaves are lighter and more floral in flavour than dried bay leaves, and add a nice flavour to dishes, however they don’t keep as long – a couple of weeks in the fridge compared to up to 2 years fro dried bay leaves, if stored correctly in a cool, dark cupboard. So using dry or fresh bay leaves is purely down to personal choice.
Store dried bay leaves in an air tight container in a cool dark place. If kept correctly, they can be stored for 2 years. They will lose their strength of flavour over time.