Bay leaves are often used to flavor soups, broths, stews, braises, and meat dishes in many countries. Don’t be perturbed if you don’t have them in stock. Some other herbs easily available to you can be used as a good bay leaf substitute.
It’s true that bay leaves have a stand-alone distinct flavor that is difficult to replicate. But still, you can do a good job by replacing it with a similar herb.
What Are Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are pungent and have a slightly sharp and bitter taste. In contrast to many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more dominant than its taste.
You can find numerous verities of bay leaves belonging to a different member of the laurel family.
In European cooking, the most commonly used ones are the leaves of a bay laurel tree. Other popular bay leaves’ verities are found in India, Indonesia, and West Indies. They all have a noticeable difference in appearance, aroma, and flavor.
Laurel tree leaves contribute to both the fragrance and flavor of the dishes. They are typically used in broths, stews, soups, and vegetable or meat dishes.
A single bay leaf goes a long way. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid adding more than 2 or 3 leaves to whatever you’re cooking.
Essentially, bay leaves add fragrance to the dish. But these leaves are quite tough and bitter tasting if you are to eat the leaves. For this reason, add the whole bay into your pot while cooking but remove it before serving.
Substitutions for Bay Leaves
Fresh bay leaves have much more flavor than dried ones. In this regard, one fresh leaf is equal to two dried leaves. One dry leaf is equal to 1/4 tsp. crushed bay leaf.
Bay leaves have a rare aroma and flavor. It is rather hard to find a worthy replacement for bay leaf. Let us now look at some of the substitutes that somewhat mimic its flavor and fragrance.
Thyme – Perhaps the Best Alternative
Thyme and bay leaf are different herbs. They differ in appearance and uses in cooking. Also, thyme doesn’t belong to the same family of bay laurel plants. Even so, they have a few things in common.
Dried thyme leaves can be an excellent alternative if you run out of the bay leaf. That is possible because both can generate a minty flavor when dried up.
Thyme works great instead of bay leaf, especially in lamb and beef dishes.
Use about ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme for one fresh or two dried bay leaves.
Peumus boldus is an evergreen shrub found throughout South America, with the largest presence in Chile.
The leaves of Boldo are highly aromatic and can be pungent especially when crushed.
It is typically used in Chilean cooking, in the same way as the bay leaf in Mediterranean cooking. Dried boldo leaves can be steeped and enjoyed as a boldo tea.
The warm and spicy flavor of boldo leaves has a note of bitterness akin to bay leaves. Chefs who use boldo leaf appreciate it to be a superior bay leaf substitute.
As the boldo leaves have a very strong flavor, you will need only half the amount while substituting it with bay.
Juniper berries are tiny blue pinecones of the juniper shrub. This berry has a piney and resinous flavor with a hint of citrus.
Juniper berry complements well in meat dishes when combined with rosemary. It releases its flavor best when crushed or ground.
As it has a strong flavor, use it in small quantities, or else it can overwhelm the taste of your dish. Just two berries are enough to replace a single bay leaf.
When you are cooking Italian cuisine for your best friend, you realized you don’t have the bay leaf in stock. Don’t panic. Just simply use a pinch of basil in place of the bay.
As you know, basil produces a slightly sweeter minty flavor. So it suits best for using in meat recipes or a tomato-based sauce and other dishes.
About the same measure of bay leaf you use in the dish is also the number of basil leaves that need to be used as a replacement.
Oregano is an esteemed herb in Italian and Mediterranean recipes for it gives a delicious flavor to the dishes. Just like the bay leaves, oregano also has several health benefits.
Bay leaves and oregano differ in appearance and family of species. But both of them have a somewhat similar aroma and flavor.
You can easily replace bay leaf with oregano in tomato-based sauces and stews. Recreate the magic of the strong fragrance of bay leaf by adding a pinch of oregano leaves to beef or lamb recipes.
Preferably, use 1/4 teaspoon of crushed oregano instead of bay leaves in your recipe.
There are also few combinations of different herbs that can very well become a substitute for bay leaf.
- Thyme and Oregano: Mix an equal portion of dried or crushed oregano and thyme leaves. Use a quarter teaspoon of this mixture per one bay leaf.
- Allspice and Cinnamon: Use one of each allspice and cinnamon leaves in place of one bay leaf.
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