Have you ever needed a substitute for fresh basil leaves? I feel like we have all been there. It is hard to keep fresh herbs on hand!
In the summer, I grow lots of basil in my garden so this is never a problem. Then winter rolls around and I am searching for any kind of substitute for basil leaves that I can think of.
I have found many great ways to replace this common herb without losing any flavor or excitement in a dish. You will never wonder what can be substituted for basil ever again!
The best substitute for basil is baby spinach leaves since it has the same texture and similar sweet flavor. Fresh parsley is another good substitute for basil and it will give your foods the Italian flair you are looking for. Dried Italian seasoning is a good choice for substituting dried basil in Italian recipes.
- Best Basil Leaves Substitutes
- What is Basil?
- What is Basil Used For?
- Quick Pesto Recipe
- Final Considerations
Best Basil Leaves Substitutes
1. Oregano – Best Basil Substitute in Pasta
Oregano has a similar, fresh flavor that will work well as a basil substitute. It doesn’t taste exactly like basil (almost nothing will!), but it is just as common of an ingredient in Italian cooking.
Using oregano in place of basil will give your sauce that Italian flair you are looking for!
Replace basil leaves with the same amount of fresh oregano. You can also use half the quantity of dried oregano.
So, if your recipe asks for one tablespoon of fresh chopped basil leaves, replace it with one tablespoon of freshly chopped oregano or ½ tablespoon of dried oregano.
Cilantro has a very different flavor than fresh basil. It is a little soapy, citrusy and has a bit of a spice.
While the flavor may be different, it adds a great taste to any sauce. Using cilantro in place of basil will ensure your sauce is seasoned and not at all bland.
Use the same quantity of cilantro to replace basil. A tablespoon of freshly chopped cilantro can replace a tablespoon of chopped basil.
Cilantro is great in sauce and also perfect for replacing basil in Thai cooking where an extra citrus flavor goes well with the spice.
If you like to use this substitute for many of your recipes, read on to find out in more detail on How to Store Cilantro to extend its useful life.
3. Italian Seasoning
Do you have a bottle of Italian seasoning in your pantry? Now is the time to use it! Italian seasoning is a mix of dried basil, oregano and other Italian spices. It is made for pasta and sauce!
Replace fresh basil leaves with half the quantity of dried Italian seasoning. One tablespoon of fresh basil leaves can be substituted with ½ tablespoon of Italian seasoning. This is also a great substitute for basil in tomato soup.
This is a super convenient substitute since most of us have a bottle of Italian seasoning in the back of our spice cabinet. It’s in there somewhere!
The flavor of thyme is a little more intense than fresh chopped basil.
Fresh thyme has a lemony and mint flavor that is quite yummy but also potent. It can add a nice, herby taste to your pasta dishes.
Use half the amount of fresh thyme as a basil leaf substitute. This will have plenty of flavor to make your food taste fantastic.
You really want to stick to this quantity or the thyme can over power your pasta sauce.
5. Celery Leaves
Celery leaf has a much more mild flavor than basil. It is a perfect fresh basil substitute for anyone who does not like the taste of basil very much. It is also a great way to use your celery leaves rather than throwing them away!
Chop fresh celery leaves and use the same amount to replace basil in your pasta recipes.
One tablespoon of chopped celery leaves can be used in place of one tablespoon of basil. The flavor will be bright and mild, without any overpowering herbal taste.
6. Spinach – Great Alternative in Pesto
Spinach leaves may be your best fresh basil substitute of all. The bright green leaves are the same color and texture. Spinach has a similar, leafy taste that will taste delicious in your pesto recipes.
Spinach is a little sweeter than basil and a little bit more mild. Use the same amount of spinach to replace basil in your pesto recipe.
The spinach leaves will blend right into the other ingredients and look exactly like pesto made with basil.
Since spinach has a more mild taste, I like to increase the lemon juice and parmesan cheese quantities in my pesto recipe. This adds a little more flavor that may be missing when you skip the basil.
If your recipe uses one teaspoon of lemon juice, add 1 ½ teaspoons instead. If you use ½ cup grated parmesan, try making the spinach pesto with ¾ cup parmesan.
Can I use parsley instead of basil? You definitely can!
Parsley is another classic Italian herb, used just as often as fresh basil leaves.
Parsley is a little more mild when compared to basil but it is quite fragrant and bright all on its own. The nice green color also helps your pesto look delicious and fresh!
Replace basil leaves with fresh parsley to make a new kind of pesto. The same quantity of parsley can replace the basil.
You can also use parsley as a great addition to salads and pizzas. It is a perfect fresh herb to use as a basil leaf substitute in any Italian recipe.
Arugula is very often used to replace basil leaves. The peppery taste goes well in pesto recipes and the bright green of the leaves is quite beautiful.
Using arugula in place of basil will give your pesto and other dishes a little bit of spice.
Many people will love this while others may find it too intense. Either way, it is definitely not boring!
Replace basil leaves with the same quantity of arugula in any pesto recipe. It is also fantastic as a pizza garnish or in a salad in place of basil.
Kale can be a good alternative to basil leaves. It is quite hearty and can easily be blended into a pesto.
Kale is fairly easy to find in most grocery stores making it a convenient substitute for basil leaves.
Kale has a pretty neutral flavor. Replace basil leaves with the same amount of kale to make pesto.
You may want to increase the other seasonings in your pesto to add a little bit of flavor.
Try adding 1 ½ times more parmesan cheese and pepper to make the pesto have a stronger taste.
Thai basil does have a subtle minty taste. Using real, fresh mint will give you that taste and a whole lot more!
Mint is a good substitute for basil in Thai foods but it is definitely stronger. You will want to use half the amount of mint to replace basil.
This means, if your recipe asks for 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil, only use ½ tablespoon of chopped mint.
Your food will be nicely seasoned and not too strong. You will also get the color and texture that you want in your Thai dish.
11. Tarragon – Great Substitute for Basil Leaves in Thai Cooking
Tarragon has a similar flavor to Thai basil. It has a licorice taste but is a little more earthy than basil.
Replace fresh basil leaves with the same quantity of fresh chopped tarragon.
I recommend adding a little lemon juice to brighten up the dish and make it taste closer to basil.
For every tablespoon of tarragon you use, add a teaspoon of lemon juice.
Savory is another herb in the mint family. It has smaller, green leaves and is native to the Mediterranean region.
Savory is used in countless cuisines and can definitely be used as a basil substitute.
Summer savory has a sweet taste and smell. It is a little peppery and is similar to thyme or arugula in this sense.
Chop some fresh savory into your favorite thai foods and you will be stunned how delicious it is. Use the same quantity of savory to replace fresh chopped basil in any Thai dish.
13. Fennel – Best Holy Basil Leaves Substitute
If you are looking to replace holy basil in cooking, use fennel in its place. Fennel has a very strong anise flavor with a little bit of a kick to it. The fennel fronds have a nice green color similar to holy basil.
Fennel also has a few health benefits. It acts as an anti inflammatory just like holy basil.
Eating fennel can help keep you full and suppress your appetite. It can even reduce inflammation. I may like fennel even more than holy basil.
Licorice is another adaptogen herb. It has antibacterial properties and can also soothe an upset stomach.
Licorice has many of the same health benefits as holy basil making it a great substitute.
You can use licorice root to add flavor to your foods in place of holy basil. It will add a strong anise flavor but that can taste great with Thai cooking.
Replace a tablespoon of chopped holy basil with a tablespoon of minced licorice root.
What is Basil?
Basil is an aromatic herb that is part of the mint family. The leaves of the basil plant are used in many different culinary applications.
From Thai cuisine to Italian cooking, you can find basil in all different types of recipes!
What Does Basil Taste Like?
Basil can be described as tasting like summer. It has a strong, fresh taste that is unlike any other.
Fresh basil is powerful, pungent and almost irreplaceable. That is why you need a great substitute to help get as close to that basil flavor as possible!
There are actually many different types of basil. Most basil you find in the grocery store is sweet basil or Genovese basil. It has a clove-like, licorice flavor that is sweet, citrusy and herby.
Here are a few different types of basil that you may find and what flavors they will add to your dish:
- Thai basil– Thai basil has pointy, purplish leaves and a subtle anise flavor
- Cinnamon Basil– Tastes like cinnamon!
- Lemon basil– Lemon basil has a subtle citrus flavor and is sweet and bright.
- Lettuce Basil– Lettuce basil has huge, lettuce like leaves that can be used as a sandwich wrap
I highly recommend trying as many different types of basil as possible. You will be amazed by the range of flavors that one simple herb can give!
What is Basil Used For?
Basil has many uses from culinary applications to medicinal uses. Basil has even been said to be a good treatment for snakebites!
Fresh basil leaves are most often used to add flavor to cooking. Fresh basil is mostly used as a finishing herb for dishes.
A little freshly chopped basil on top of pizza or bruschetta will really make the dish pop. Without the basil, they are just bland and boring!
Fresh basil is a common ingredient in pasta sauce and the main ingredient in pesto. Fresh chopped basil is stirred into Vietnamese dishes and lots of Thai recipes as well.
Basil makes a fantastic garnish, adding color and a bit of flavor to a plate. It really is such a multipurpose herb!
Can I Substitute Bay Leaves for Basil?
If this thought has crossed your mind, immediately discard it. Bay leaves and basil are very different.
Bay leaves are often sold dried and intended to be stewed in soups or sauces and removed before eating. Dried bay leaves are actually thought to be dangerous to eat.
A bay leaf can be a great culinary addition but it really is not the best basil substitute.
Is Basil Healthy?
Using fresh basil is a very nutritious way to add flavor to your foods. It has lots of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants.
Many of the nutritional compounds in fresh basil disappear when the herb is dried which is why using fresh basil is always the best idea.
Sweet basil has a compound called eugenol, an antioxidant which can fight free radicals and decrease cell damage. It can reduce the risk of heart disease, arthritis and even diabetes.
Holy basil is full of phytochemicals that can help protect against certain types of cancer. It can also improve your mental health and alleviate anxiety.
Take a look at the nutritional facts for one tablespoon of chopped basil.
You don’t need to worry about too many calories or fats since this herb barely has any at all. Basil is just pure goodness!
Holy Basil Leaves Substitute
Holy basil is also known as tuli or tulasi. It is mainly grown for medicinal purposes or to use as an essential oil.
Holy basil is an adaptogen which means it can help your body adapt to stress.
Holy basil can promote longevity, act as an antiarthritic, stabilize blood sugar and has antioxidant powers.
Holy basil can also be used in Thai cuisine. It is much spicier than other types of basil and often called “hot basil”.
Dried Basil Substitute for Fresh
Using dried basil in place of fresh basil may be your first instinct. It is the same herb, right?
When basil is dried, its flavor changes quite a bit. Dried basil has a much more concentrated taste.
It is stronger than fresh basil however, it also does not have the bright, tender taste of fresh basil.
Dried basil can be a great substitute for fresh basil leaves in pasta sauce, soup or as a finishing herb.
However, it will not work well as a replacement for basil in pesto, on bruschetta or caprese salad.
It really only works as a substitute in small quantities rather than as a main ingredient. Those dishes really need fresh, tender herbs!
Replace two teaspoons of fresh, chopped basil with one teaspoon of dried basil.
Dried basil is usually added at the beginning of a recipe. Stir it into hot oil at the start of a chicken dish or mix it into a tomato sauce before it starts to simmer.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup almonds
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until completely smooth. You want no chunks or pieces- as smooth as possible!
- Stir the pesto into your favorite cooked pasta noodles.
- Enjoy while warm.
There are so many fantastic herbs and spices in the world and I want to try them all. While I love basil, sometimes you need to branch out and try a different herb!
Next time you need basil or are looking for a culinary adventure, try using one of these great basil leaf substitutes. They all work well to season your food and add great layers of flavor. Enjoy!
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nancy do it, no judgment here) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.