Bay leaves are quite strong in flavor and often sold in spice blends meant to flavor meat and vegetable-based dishes. They also give a rich flavor to homemade soups.
Check the labels on the spices in your cupboard. Sometimes bay leaves are also called Laurel leaves, or Laurel Bay leaves.
The Bay leaf is not a common kitchen culinary herb, and not many recipes call for it, so it is not strange if you do not have a baggie or jar of them on hand. If you run out of them, you have nothing to worry about.
In this article, you will discover the best substitutes for bay leaf.
What is Bay Leaf?
Bay leaf is a leafy herb that has been used in savory culinary creations for centuries. It is associated with French and Mediterranean cuisines.
Fresh bay leaves are rarely used in today’s dishes. This is because they have a medicinal taste like camphor.
This strong, aromatic herb is mostly used to add an earthy, slightly bitter taste to soups, stews, and meat dishes. After simmering them, bay leaves lose their sharpness and develop a rich, sweet flavor.
Common Bay Leaf Varieties
However, not all bay leaves have the exact same taste, which is something to keep in mind when considering finding a bay leaf substitute.
- Mediterranean bay leaf, also known as Turkish bay leaf, has a strong tea-like flavor with a hint of mint. It is cultivated in the Mediterranean region.
- California bay leaf tastes like a cross between pepper and eucalyptus.
- Mexican bay leaf tastes like mild oregano crossed with eucalyptus.
Depending on where you live in the world, you may not have access to all of these bay leaf types or any of them, so it may be necessary to find a bay leaf substitute.
It is also a good idea to see what type of bay leaf your recipe calls for before you shop for a bay leaf or bay leaf substitute.
For instance, some gourmet apple-based desserts call for Turkish bay leaf with a milder mint flavor. Juniper berries might work better for this as a bay leaf substitute instead of oregano, which suits Italian tomato-based dishes much better.
Dry or Fresh Bay Leaves?
Another thing to keep in mind as you search for a bay leaf substitute is that dry bay leaf has a taste quite different from a fresh bay leaf.
In short, the fresher a bay leaf is, the more bitter it will taste. Fresh bay leaves will practically reek of menthol or eucalyptus as you crush them for crumbling in a dish.
Dry bay leaves have milder herbal notes like oregano, thyme, or a whiff of eucalyptus. Dry bay leaves also have a chemical called eugenol, released slowly as the bay leaf is stewed.
It is pretty challenging to find a herb that replicates the lovely, comforting aroma of eugenol breaking down as a bay leaf cooks. Menthol is the most similar chemical to eugenol and is present in thyme.
Herbs containing a bit of eugenol are allspice, galangal, basil, nutmeg, turmeric, oregano, thyme, and marjoram, but not all of these herbs make the grade as a substitute for bay leaf flavor.
Before you begin your search for the substitute for bay leaf in your recipe, check to see whether it calls for the dry or raw bay leaf.
Swapping Dry for Fresh Bay Leaf
Sometimes you have the dry bay leaf on hand but not the fresh one, or vice versa.
If this is the case, you can swap one for the other, considering that fresh bay leaves are much more potent and acrid than dried ones.
If you have a recipe that calls for 1 fresh bay leaf, simply substitute for 2 dried bay leaves.
Sometimes you will get a recipe that asks for ground bay leaves. In this case, 1 dried bay leaf equals 1/4 tsp ground bay leaves.
One fresh bay leaf is the equivalent of 1/2 tsp ground bay leaves.
The Top 5 Substitutes for Bay Leaf
Here are the top 5 bay leaf substitutes, with the most similar and widely available dried thyme, as our first recommendation.
Boldo leaf and Juniper berries are at the bottom of the list because they are harder to find in any grocery store or market.
Basil and Oregano are in the middle of this list as choices because they are not as close to the taste of bay leaf as dried thyme but close enough.
1. Dried Thyme
The best bay leaf substitute is dried thyme. It has a similar minty taste as the bay leaf.
Dried thyme is also grown in the Mediterranean region, so it suits any beef or lamb recipe that calls for bay leaf. Substitute 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme for 1 whole fresh bay leaf.
The dried versions of both herbs can be substituted equally for each other with 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme, equalling 1/4 teaspoon of dried bay leaf.
Basil is a member of the mint family and has the same kind of bitter and menthol notes as bay leaf. However, basil has a slight licorice back taste, known as anise.
Fresh basil tastes more like licorice than the dried version, so use dried basil as a substitute for bay leaf whenever possible.
Basil works best as a bay leaf substitute in tomato-based Italian and chicken-stock-based Thai recipes.
The substitutes for basil and bay leaf are very easy to remember because the swap is one to one.
1 fresh basil leaf equals 1 fresh bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon dried basil equals 1/4 teaspoon dried bay leaf.
Like basil, oregano works as a substitute for bay leaf because it has that bitter, minty flavor. It is also very pungent, with a slight hint of camphor.
Oregano also works best in tomato-based dishes or those from the Mediterranean region.
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano acts as a substitute for 1 bay leaf. The dried measurements of both herbs are one to one. 1/4 teaspoon crushed bay leaf equals 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano.
4. Boldo Leaf
Boldo leaves possess most of the qualities of bay leaves. They are bitter, savory, and a bit peppery. They suit mushroom and vegetable dishes best.
The Boldo leaf is a little camphorous and a bit off in Italian dishes, in the same way, that paprika would not taste quite right in a tomato sauce.
The substitution is 1 fresh bay leaf is equal to half of a fresh bold leaf. Similar proportions go for the dried boldo leaf with half of a teaspoon of crushed bay leaves equaling 1/4 teaspoon crushed boldo leaves.
One issue with the boldo leaf is that they can be extremely hard to find. They are native to Chili and are rarely found in North American grocery stores.
5. Juniper Berries
Juniper berries are quite camphorous, as is true of the fruit of an evergreen tree. However, they can still substitute for bay leaves, as long as you let them simmer in your dish on the stove long enough.
It is suggested that you use juniper berries the same way you would a bay leaf. Put them in the dish whole and discard them after cooking.
The longer you cook the juniper berries, the milder their flavor will become, eventually transforming into a great bay leaf alternative. Juniper berries are usually sold whole. They are tiny, with 2 or 3 berries equaling 1 bay leaf.
Like Boldo leaves, whole juniper berries are hard to find, which is unfortunate as they can mimic the bay leaf taste.
Dried thyme is the champion of all of the best bay leaf substitutes, hitting most of the flavor notes found in the bay leaves.
Basil and oregano almost tie for second place as substitutes, but both have drawbacks. Basil has a bit of a licorice back taste, and oregano has a strong camphorous odor.
Both boldo leaves and Juniper berries work well as bay leaf substitutes, as they also have hints of mint in their flavor. Unfortunately, both are quite hard to obtain in grocery stores.