If you’re preparing some delicious food and the recipe requires a bay leaf and, unfortunately, you don’t one in your store, then what can you do? Of course, you may choose to just leave the leaf out. However, that might cause a significant difference in how your food taste!
Bay lead is a slightly peppery and minty Mediterranean herb that does a great job at balancing and improving flavors in soups, savory sauces, meat dishes, and stews. Additionally, bay leaves can turn an unpleasant vegetable dish into a sweet and flavor bomb.
But when you lack a bay leaf, then it’s important to use a suitable substitute to try and provide your dish with a closer flavor to the intended one.
What Exactly Does Bay Leaf Taste Like?
Bay leaves are known to have a robust flavor and a bit bitter. They taste minty and peppery as well as with a hint of pine. When choosing a substitute for bay leaf, keep in mind that there are no spices or herbs with the exact flavor as bay leaf. However, there are several herbs that have similar menthol and pepper taste as bay.
Owing to the pungent nature of bay leaves, they are utilized sparingly. Usually, a single bay leaf can be used more than once in flavoring a whole recipe. These leaves are stiff even following many hours of slow-cooking. For that reason, bay leaves should be removed and thrown away before serving. The leaves are unpleasant when chewing and eating whole. They can also be harmful to your digestive tract.
As with the majority of herbs, a whole bay leaf has a more powerful flavor than its crushed and dried counterparts. Dried and crushed bay leaf is going to distribute more flavors throughout your entire recipe, which may go wrong and leave your food tasting too much minty. So, if you substitute ground bay leaf for an entire leaf, then you should always start with a tiny amount.
Types of Bay Leaves
There are mainly two types of bay leaves, namely; California and Turkish bay leaves. Turkish bay leaves are found on the Mediterranean bay laurel tree as referred to as laurel leaves. These leaves are milder, sweeter, and preferred by most people.
On the other hand, California bay leaves are found on the California bay leaves. They have a robust eucalyptus and minty flavor. These leaves have a sharper taste.
There’s also another type of bay leaves in India though from a different species. The bay leaves taste like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. That means it can’t work as a suitable bay leaf substitute. However, it can be used in Caribbean curries and sauces as well as in homemade aromatic teas.
Can I Substitute Fresh, Dried, and Ground Bay Leaf?
Since a fresh, dried, and ground leaf has a different potency, it’s not recommended to substitute it in an equal amount. Below, see how you should substitute fresh, dried, and ground bay leaves to suit your intended taste.
- 1 fresh bay leaf is equal to 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 dried bay leaf is equal to ¼ teaspoon ground bay leaves
- 1 fresh bay leaf is equal to ½ teaspoon bay leaves
Suitable Bay Leaf Substitutes
One of the most suitable bay leaf substitutes is dried thyme. Though dried thyme and bay leaves aren’t similar in any way, dried thyme also comes from the Mediterranean region and features a similar and mild minty flavor. Dried thyme will work best as a bay leaf substitute when put in recipes that utilize lamb and beef.
How to Substitute:
- One bay leaf is equal to ¼ tsp dried thyme
- ¼ tsp crushed bay leaf is equal to ¼ tsp dried thyme
Basil is in the mint family and can work perfectly as a bay leaf substitute. Also, it features peppery and bitter notes. Nevertheless, fresh Basil isn’t a precise substitute for bay leaves as it has a hint of anise. When dried, Basil tends to lose the robust anise notes and ends up tasting like bay leaf.
Therefore, dried basil can be a perfect substitute for bay leaves in Italian and Thai dishes as well as other tomato-based recipes such as stews and pasta sauces.
How to Substitute
- One bay leaf is equal to one basil leaf
- ¼ tsp crushed bay leaf is equal to ¼ tsp dried basil
Oregano is another pungent, bitter, and a bit minty herb that’s easily accessible. When dried, Oregano can be a great bay leaf substitute. Oregano can substitute bay leaf in tomato-based recipes and dishes that use lamb and beef.
How to Substitute
- One bay leaf equals ¼ tsp dried Oregano
- ¼ tsp crushed bay leaf equals ¼ tsp dried oregano
Juniper berries feature notes of pepper and pine, which make them a great bay leaf substitute. The berries also have a strong and overwhelming taste, which means you have to use them sparingly. They are safe for consumption and you can utilize them whole and throw them away before serving. You can also grind before you toss them to enhance the release of the flavor.
How to substitute
- One bay leaf equals two/three juniper berries (whole or ground)
These leaves grow on boldo plant and are native to Chile. Boldo leaves are a bit bitter, powerful, and savory. However, they boast of an all-around taste compared to bay leaves. For this reason, they work perfectly when flavoring lighter dishes such as mushrooms. The boldo leaves shouldn’t be used in large amounts.
How to substitute:
- ½ tsp crushed bay leaf equals ¼ tsp crushed boldo leaf
- One bay leaf equals ½ boldo leaf
As you can see, you don’t have to worry if your bay leaves are out of stock. If you’re lacking fresh, ground, or dried bay leaves, you can use thyme and it will work just fine. They can substitute bay leaves in pasta and meat dishes and won’t compromise the flavor.
If you also don’t have thyme, oregano and basil can be your next option and will work as the best bay leaf substitute in recipes using beef, lamb, and tomato dishes. Boldo leaves and juniper berries can also substitute bay leaves but aren’t easily accessible in local grocery stores.