For centuries, people have been using the savory herb as a culinary herb in preparing several types of dishes. Most of us love to relish the robust, peppery flavor of both summer and winter savories.
Don’t be confused. The term ‘savory’ in general refers to any flavorful food, as in ‘a savory dish’ or ‘a savory soup’. Here we are dealing with the savory spice, a herb.
This article explores culinary uses of savory spice, types of savory, savory flavor, and best substitutes for savory.
What Is Savory?
Belonging to the mint family, savory is a small green herb that is used as a flavoring spice in cooking. You can find two varieties of savories used in cooking: summer savory and winter savory. Both these varieties are native to the Mediterranean region.
For the Ancient Romans, this aromatic herb was a natural aphrodisiac substance used for making love potion. Because of its peppery flavor, Romans used it as a pepper before the first lot of true pepper imported from India, the land of spices.
Flavor and Aroma of Savory
The wonderfully pleasant aroma of savory is loved by all. So much so, it’s a staple ingredient in several recipes throughout the Mediterranean region.
How do savory taste and smell like? Summer savory has a uniquely hot, peppery flavor; other the other hand, winter savory has a subdued earthier flavor. They both have a complex mixture of flavors with notes of thyme, marjoram, and mint.
Savory in Cooking
Either fried or fresh savory leaves are used according to the type of dishes.
Winter savory is an excellent ingredient used for seasoning all types of meat. It adds a deep, peppery-pine flavor to meat and you can drizzle it over meat before roasting or grilling. Also, used to preserve and flavor salami.
Savory is the main ingredient in the French blend of dried herbs known as Herbes de Provence, a flavorful herbs’ mixture.
The Romans used savory as a salt substitute, and these days too some continue to use it for the same.
Savory essential oil is also used for flavoring baked goods and in herbal medicines. Oil is extracted by culturing the fresh summer savory leaves in white vinegar.
Summer Savory Vs. Winter Savory
What is the difference between winter savory and summer savory?
Basically, both have the same flavors with some flavor elements of thyme, marjoram, and mint.
Summer savory (satureja hortensis) has a lighter flavor and is the type most popularly used, especially in various seasoning blends like Herbs de Provence. It’s a sweet and spicy smelling herb with small light green leaves. Summer savory is mostly found in Acadia, the Atlantic coast of Canada also cultivated in S.E. Europe to W. Asia; popularly used for seasoning meat and bean dishes
Winter savory (satureja montana) is a hardy winter plant with hints of pine and sage. This herbal spice is native to the rocky outcrops of the Mediterranean and N. Africa. This is slightly stronger and bitterer than summer savory.
Fresh savory is not easily available in many regions outside the Mediterranean. If you’re on with a recipe that requires summer or winter savory, consider anyone of the savory alternatives that I’ve listed below. Choose the right substitute ingredient according to the flavor profile of your recipe.
The most closely related to savory in taste is none other than thyme. This aromatic herb has a somewhat minty and pungent flavor.
To make things comfortable for you, thyme is easily available in most places or you may already have it in your kitchen garden.
Both these herbs have a very similar appearance and texture. In fact, if finely chopped savory and thyme leaves are placed side by side, it is difficult to distinguish between the two.
Like savory, thyme can also stand up to long cooking time without losing its flavor.
Thyme works as a good substitute for summer savory and winter savory as well. Use fresh or dried thyme to swap out savory in the same measure.
Sage is a popular culinary herb commonly used in Mediterranean cooking.
This herb has a flavor similar to savory though they differ in appearance. Sage has larger and wider leaves than savory and thyme but pungent pine notes in flavor are common to all these three herbs.
Usually, the fresh leaves of sage provide the best flavor, therefore use fresh sage for substituting savory. Notably, fresh green sage is better for recreating a taste close to savory in your dishes.
Use minced fresh leaves of sage in a 1:1 ratio in place of savory.
In the third place, marjoram deserved to be used as a replacement for savory. This fragile herb is an aromatic herb in the mint family that is native to the Mediterranean and North Africa.
You can sense a mixed flavor of thyme and oregano in this herb. A subtle flavor of basil tinged with pine notes is evident in marjoram. Obviously, you can feel most of the flavor features of savory enshrined in marjoram.
Note, marjoram is a fragile herb that cannot withstand long cooking time, unlike savory. Add it to your recipe midway through cooking.
As a substitute, use marjoram in the same quantity as savory required in your dishes.
4. Herb mixtures
Each herb and spice has a unique flavor and aroma. Chefs say that using a blend of two or more herbs is necessary to imitate the flavor of a single herb.
Certainly, a mixture of suitable herbs can better imitate the flavor of savory instead of using a single herb.
In place of savory, try using two parts of thyme to one part of sage and a pinch of mint. This mixture renders a flavor and aroma that is very close to savory.
Savory belongs to the Labiatae family of plants which include oregano and basil as well. A mixture of oregano and basil also gives a taste quite similar to savory.
Trial and error methods need to be practiced to achieve the best proportion of herbs mixture to use in place of savory.
The Bottom Line
Both summer savory and winter savory add a hot, peppery flavor to your dishes. Even if you don’t have savory in your spice rack, you can still follow a recipe that calls for savory, if you have thyme, marjoram, or sage in your kitchen cabinet. Thyme is our best pick as the most suitable substitute for savory.
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