Basil vs Bay Leaves: When to Use or Substitute


Bay leaves and basil are commonly used herbs in Mediterranean cuisines. They are often used together in flavorful hearty dishes, but these herbs are both present in Asian food too. You might be wondering if they do differ. Do these herbs taste the same or different?

Differences Between Basil And Bay Leaves

In Cooking

You can cook with basil and bay leaves whether they are fresh or dried. The bay leaf will lose some of its vivid colors during the drying process whereas basil will darken and intensify. When dried, basil leaves are crumbly whereas bay leaves can still hold their shape and use in the same way.

You’ll need less dried basil than fresh in a ratio of 1 teaspoon dried to 2 teaspoons of fresh. The bay leaves you’ll need are more dried compared to fresh. The correct conversion is 1 fresh bay leaf is equal to 2 dried bay leaves.

Bay leaves take a long time to steep, emitting their gentle bitter woody-like flavor. Basil came from the mint family; therefore, it is highly aromatic and full of pungent anise and peppery flavors. There’s a slight variation that occurs within the different varieties, but the intensity is always there.

basil and bay leaves

NOTE: Bay leaves have an earthy flavor, which will be more easily released if you snap the leaves. You can do this without breaking them, then finish them out before serving.

Bay leaves are commonly used in French cuisine in a bouquet of Garni. They are commonly used with other strong herbs and spices in pickling and preserving.

Basil tends to be used in pesto and salsa verde types of dishes. You can also use basil chopped finely and added to the casseroles and stews, but as a garnish, basil is a great final addition to lots of dishes. The tender leaves are great in herb salad as well.

In The Garden

When it comes to growing conditions there’s a little comparison between basil and bay. Growing a bay tree in the garden means that a large evergreen tree can become part of the structure of a larger garden, or be grown as ornamental trees in pots. Basil will give ground cover, and is a tender annual in most parts of the world; however, it can be grown indoors all year round.

On the other hand, the bay is mostly indestructible, although there are issues with overwatering. Therefore, only water it when the soil feels dry.

Bothe basil and the bay tree-like sunlight, but not too much of it, as they are prone to damage from heat. Fast draining soil is the best soil medium for both these herbs. There are different varieties of basil to grow and if you’re a keen gardener, you can grab this opportunity to grow Thai basil, Genovese Basil, or any other variety you can.

Once cooked basil and bay leaves do offer similar taste profiles. It means that you can substitute bay leaves with basil. Be cautious of how you should add them to recipes, make sure to remove bay leaves before serving. Woody, earthy, and peppery flavors and are both essentials in different Mediterranean dishes.

Nutritional Value

Before we move on with the nutritional value, I must say that basil is more likely to be consumed, whereas bay leaves are usually used for flavoring. The texture of fresh or dried bay leaves is what makes them unpalatable, as opposed to bay leaves that can be used as a garnish or in cooking. That said the process of steeping the leaves impart some of the healthy value to the dish.

Here’s a table of comparisons showing the nutritional value of bay and basil leaves.

Vitamin / MineralAmount in BasilAmount in Bay Leaves
Vitamin A139 IU 3%108 IU 2%
Vitamin C0.5 mg 1%0.8 mg 1%
Vitamin K10.4 mcg 13%
Folate1.7  mcg3.2 mcg 1%
Calcium4.4 mg14.6 mg 1%
Iron0.1 mg0.8 mg 4%
Magnesium1.6 mg2.1 mg 1%
Phosphorus1.4 mg2.0 mg
Potassium7.4 mg9.3 mg
Basil vs Bay Leaves Nutrition Facts

As you can see from the above-given data, both of these herbs are nutritionally packed. So, if you’re able to get a good mix of these herbs and other herbs into your meal, then you can make a difference to your overall intake of vitamins and minerals.

Appearance

When dried, bay leaves look like a drab olive green. The leaves are oval and smooth with tops that are greener and glossier than the undersides. A typical bay leaf can measure between 1 and 3 inches in length.

The most common type of basil in the US is sweet basil. Basil leaves are large and bright green when picked fresh. Once become dried, they turn darker matte green.

Flavor

Bay leaves have a little flavor when they are fresh; however, after a few weeks of drying their flavors become more pronounced when steep in a liquid. If you cook dried bay leaves, they release a significant amount of woodsy flavor that can be used to season soups and stews. It also has notes of mild bitterness that can neutralize the other flavors.

In comparison, basil is a member of the mint family. Fresh basil leaves are highly aromatic and have a fragrance reminiscent of clove and anise. When basil is dried, the anise notes will diminish and what will be left is complex notes of minty and woody that are similar to bay leaves.

Recipes

Both fresh and dried basil are perfect for tomato dishes and fresh basil is a popular ingredient in pestos. Fresh basil is also a good add-on to salads. Dried basil can complement a wide array of vegetables, such as eggplant and zucchini. It can be used to season poultry and fish in both dried and fresh forms. If you are using dried basil, it is best if you add it in the last hour of cooking.

One of the well-known uses of bay leaves is in western cooking, particularly the bouquet garni popular in French cuisine. Whether in or out of a bouquet garni, you can bay leaves to flavor curries, spaghetti sauces, and other dishes that need long braising. The key to the effective use of bay leaves is to ensure that there’s sufficient liquid for the bay leaf flavors to be infused. Moreover, bay leaves are widely used for pickling alongside other spices.

Fresh or Dry?

Bay leaves are normally dried before they are utilized as they are seldom sold in fresh form. The drying escalates their character and upgrades their shelf-life. While you can get both fresh and dry basil, their flavor changes. It is always better to utilize fresh basil at every possible opportunity. As some volatile oils of basil are lost during drying, you won’t get a similar flavor from dry basil as you would from fresh basil. If you can’t get hold of the fresh leaves, utilize a little amount of dry basil. Clearly, you can’t use dry basil, even reconstituted, to make pesto or add a new flavor to the recipe.

Can You Substitute Bay Leaves For Basil Or Vice Versa?

Since their flavor profiles are quite different, it is best not to substitute one for the other. If you run out of bay leaves or don’t have available in the market, simply omit them. But if you really need to, you can just add a pinch of cinnamon to the dish, if you think that the cinnamon goes well with the food.

In some western cuisines, you may want to add some thyme but still depends if the flavor complements the food.

You cannot just substitute basil with bay leaves for the same reason. If you don’t have basil, you can utilize various spices, depending on what you are cooking. You can utilize marjoram or oregano rather than basil.

It might astound you to realize that there are a couple of things that can utilize both bay leaves and basil together.

For example, in a bouquet garni, which unavoidably utilizes bay leaf as one of the ingredients, you may likewise add some basil.

In a pizza and pasta pureed tomatoes, you can add some bay eaves initially and afterward dispose of them once the sauce is finished. You can likewise utilize basil in the pasta or pizza, before serving.

Bay leaves are different from basil leaves in all viewpoints. At the point when you use aromatics, it is significant that you utilize the right ones to get the flavors and outcomes that you need.

To summarize, here are acceptable pointers you should take note of when differentiating basil from bay leaves.

Bay Leaf

  • Exemplary dishes that depend on the flavor of bay leaf, including pot meal, soups, and stews, game meat, like venison or rabbit, chicken or beef stock, and bean dishes, such as cassoulet.
  • To substitute the kind of bay leaf in a recipe, use juniper berries in sauces or stews or a couple of rosemary sprigs for an alternate, yet similarly woodsy character.

Basil

  • Fresh basil works as an enhancement with most summer foods like Caprese salads with tomatoes and mozzarella, zucchini or green beans, or over fish or pasta with a sauce.
  • Fresh basil deepens the flavor in a traditional tomato-based pasta sauce when you add it for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Save a bit of the basil to sprinkle on the completed sauce also.
  • Entire or torn basil leaves add flavor to Thai curries, green salads, pasta dishes, and other Asian cuisines.
  • Use whole or torn basil leaves strewn over a cheese pizza during the last 5 minutes of cooking to make an exemplary Margherita Italian pizza.
  • Substitute other summer herbs or blends of spices for basil, like fresh oregano, parsley, tarragon thyme, or mint.

Best Bay Leaf Substitutes

If your recipe requires a single whole bay leaf and you don’t have one, you might be tempted to simply forget about it. But how much of a difference could one little leaf truly make?

While this slightly minty, peppery Mediterranean spice might appear disappointing, it works effectively at improving and adjusting strong, weighty flavors in appetizing sauces, soups (like Asian-style borscht), stews, and meat dishes.

Bay leaves can change a dull vegetable dish into a flavorful bomb. If you can’t get your hands on a bay leaf, then it is worth using a bay leaf substitute to get as close as possible to the intended flavor of your dish.

Here are the best bay leaf substitute

thyme
Image credit: Canva

Dried thyme

Dried thyme is the best bay leaf substitute. Although bay leaves and thyme look nothing indistinguishable, dried thyme is likewise from the Mediterranean region and has a similar, subtle minty character. Dried thyme works best as a bay leaf substitute in recipes that use beef and lamb.

Instructions to substitute:

  • 1 bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon squashed bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Oregano

As another bitter, sharp, and somewhat minty spice (and one that is extremely simple to find), dried oregano can likewise function as a bay leaf substitute. Like basil, utilizing oregano as a bay leaf substitute will work best in tomato-based dishes and recipes that use beef and lamb.

Instructions to substitute:

  • 1 bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon squashed bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon dried oregano

Juniper Berries

Juniper berries have notes of pine and pepper, which make them unsuspecting; however viable bay leaf substitutes. Little yet powerful, juniper berries likewise have a solid, overpowering taste, so they should be utilized sparingly. They’re safe to eat, yet you can use them whole and dispose of them before serving (as you would a bay leaf) or crush them before throwing them in to assist with delivering their character.

Instructions to substitute:

  • 1 bay leaf = two or threejuniper berries (ground or whole)

Boldo Leaves

Boldo leaves are local to Chile and grow on the boldo plant. They’re somewhat bitter, rich, and appetizing, however have an overall milder taste than bay leaves—which permits them to function admirably in seasoning lighter recipes, like mushroom and vegetable-based dishes. Boldo leaves can be overwhelming when utilized in large sums, so it’s recommended to substitute at even just half the ratio that the recipe calls for and work your way up from that point.

Instructions to substitute:

  • 1 bay leaf = ½ boldo leaf
  • ½ teaspoon squashed bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon squashed boldo leaf

Best Basil Substitutes

If you don’t like this spice, or you can’t get your hands on any, then, at that point, you will require a basil substitute that is appropriate for your recipe. Here’s a rundown of the suggested choices which will help you finish completing your meal preparation. Remember that utilizing an alternate herb will change the aftereffect of your dinner as no backup ingredient will totally imitate basil.

Spinach

Spinach Leaves

Spinach leaves are an incredible choice in case you’re making pesto. Not every person enjoys the mind-boggling taste of basil, particularly kids. To keep the lively green tone, use spinach leaves instead. Adding a small amount of basil to give the pest a gentle flavor punch may likewise be an alternative.

Use spinach leaves in sautés or Thai cooking to make a tasty meal without a lot of overwhelming flavors.

Italian Seasoning

Numerous Italian recipes will still taste flavorful if you utilize Italian flavoring rather than basil. This flavoring includes parsley, rosemary, thyme, pepper, oregano, and obviously, basil. Pasta sauce is a food that will benefit from this utilizing Italian flavoring.

If you choose to use this option, take a look at the recipe to see what other spices and herbs are utilized. For instance, the ingredients incorporate thyme, you’ll need to use somewhat less as it is now in the Italian flavoring.

Oregano

Oregano is another spice that is utilized regularly in Mediterranean cooking. Although it has a powerful flowery, peppery taste, this famous spice shares a comparative flavor profile to basil. Utilize this substitute in pasta sauces, dishes, or even as an ingredient on pizza or bruschetta.

Thyme

The flavor profile of thyme is hotter than basil, and it additionally has a trademark lemony taste. A mint undertone is what joins it to basil and, similarly as with oregano, it works well in dishes and sauces.

Go easy on proportions when using thyme. It has a special taste that could easily give your dish an unpleasant flavor when abused.

Celery Leaf

Celery leaf is another heavenly alternative in case you’re making pesto. You don’t like the flavor of basil? Use a similar amount of these leaves to reduce the flavor while keeping up with the green tone. For anybody that hates food waste, this is an astounding choice as celery leaves are regularly thrown out, for the stalk.

Conclusion:

Although they are both similar in terms of appearance, basil and bay leaf have different botanical properties and different uses when you use them in recipes.

Basil and bay leaf are not used together as seasoning most of the time because basil complements light summer foods while the bay leaf is perfect for hearty winter dishes, like stews and soups.

Nevertheless, they both bring a touch of bitter, woodsy flavor to a variety of various foods.

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