Basil Substitute Ideas – Basil Leaves: Dried & Fresh

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Some will argue there’s no substitute for basil. Sometimes I am one of them, but I understand things happen – and often to me – and sometimes we just don’t have all the ingredients on hand, and no time for the store. Sometimes a basil substitute is necessary!

One of the garden’s most fragrant herbs, basil is beloved in many recipes from entrees to sauce, drinks, and everything in between. Finding a good basil substitute can make or break your meal.

In a perfect world, you’d have your own little basil plant sitting on a sunny windowsill in your home! (Preferably your kitchen!) Or better yet, in your garden!

If this is not the case, and you have no basil on hand, it’s time to seek a basil replacement. No need to change your meal plan just because you ran out of this fabulous herb.

(Unless, of course, you’re a perfectionist in the kitchen and I totally get that because I am too, sometimes! In that case, I’ll see you around at the store! Haha!)

Well, anyway, nobody’s perfect all the time. Let’s get started to discover the best basil substitute ideas!

But first, let’s dig into what aromas and tastes make basil so irresistible…

Sweet Basil Plant - Basil Substitute Ideas for Cooking!
Sweet Basil Plant – Basil Substitute Ideas for Cooking!

What does basil smell like?

Basil smells like summertime in the garden, especially paired with nearby tomatoes. More specifically, most people describe the smell of basil as strong, clean, and aromatic, a bit peppery with a touch of mint, or a bit of lemon.

What does basil taste like?

Like its smell, basil brings a strong, rich taste to your recipes. Basil’s taste reflects its smell, with notes of pepper, mint, lemon, and truly a flavor all its own. Some say basil may also taste slightly grassy or green, or with a touch of anise.

(I don’t care for anise yet I love basil, so I cannot vouch for this part. Truly, I think it’s hard to describe the taste and smell of basil – something so unique and unlike anything else we grow!)

Different types of basil may feature different notes that match its variety, such as lemon basil or cinnamon basil. You may need to grow a few different kinds of basil to figure out your favorites!

What does basil go with?

Basil pairs beautifully with tomatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar or glaze, olive oil, lemon, mint, and even fruit. Enjoy using basil in Italian dishes, sauces, and pasta recipes, as well as in Mediterranean food, Asian dishes, and other cuisines.

This herb makes a fantastic pesto but also serves as a delicious garnish or flavor enhancer in countless entrees, appetizers, and sides.

Basil and Tomatoes go well together! Pile of Roma tomatoes with fresh basil leaves on the counter
Basil and Tomatoes go well together! Pile of Roma tomatoes with fresh basil leaves on the counter

Finding a Good Basil Substitute

Sometimes, you can totally get away with an herb substitution. Other times, basil may be too important to the recipe.

To help decide if you should use an alternative for basil when the herb isn’t on hand, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is basil the focal point of the recipe or just a part of the overall flavor profile?
  • Will a basil substitute save dinner -or- totally change the final flavor?
  • Is the recipe’s final result worth a last-minute trip to the grocery store?

In some cases, you may feel the role of this beloved herb is too strong to try a basil alternative. In those situations, I say listen to your gut!

And either way, I’m going to share some possible basil substitutions with you in hopes of helping!

Dried Basil Substitute

Sub in fresh basil as an easy and equally delicious dried basil substitute. This simple swap works well in a wide range of recipes and keeps the integrity of the intended flavors.

If you have a basil plant, harvest some fresh basil leaves right then and there. You may need a bit more fresh basil than what the recipe calls for (in dried), but this is the easiest dried basil substitute you’ll find.

If you have no basil on hand at all, you may consider other dried herbs to save the meal:

  • Oregano – This aromatic herb boasts an impressive flavor that lends itself nicely to Italian dishes, among others. Consider dried oregano as a substitute for dried basil in a pinch.
  • Thyme – Basil and thyme hail from the same family, so it makes sense they can serve as a substitution for each other. Since thyme has a milder flavor, you may need to add a bit more, even double what the recipe calls for in basil.

When substituting for dried basil, you can usually use an equal amount of dried oregano or thyme. You may need to double the amount of fresh basil.

Try to do a taste test if your recipe allows it, or a sniff test if not.

Fresh Basil Substitute

If you have it on hand, you can substitute dried basil for fresh. This is truly an easy swap that gives your recipe a similar outcome to what you’d be expecting without any substitutions.

Consider these other herbs as a fresh basil substitute if you don’t have any basil at all on hand:

  • Oregano – Robust, aromatic, and flavorful, dried or fresh oregano works well as a basil substitute. Swap oregano for basil in a 1:1 ratio in most cases. Oregano carries the closest flavor, texture, and color for basil. If you’re switching from dried to fresh or vice versa, remember that dried herbs are generally more potent. In those cases, you’ll likely want to add extra fresh herbs to reach the correct flavor.
  • Thyme – As with dried basil substitutes, thyme can also sub for fresh basil. Again, it’s a milder herb, so sometimes you might need a bit more to increase the flavor.
  • Mint – Though all in the mint family, mint as a basil replacement may vary the flavors a bit. Keep this in mind and be sure you choose ingredients that complement mint if you do choose this substitution.
  • Savory – The taste and smell of savory range from peppery summer savory to earthy winter savory. Depending on your needs, savory spice could be a decent basil substitute in a recipe.
  • Tarragon – With bittersweet flavor reminiscent of anise / licorice, tarragon may be used as a basil alternative in some cases. Keep in mind the sharp flavor edges on licorice and make peace with that or move along to a different choice. (I don’t particularly enjoy anise flavor, so I will skip this basil substitute.)
  • Italian Seasoning – Many times, Italian seasoning actually contains basil, making this seasoning blend a fine substitute for basil in Italian dishes and others that accommodate Italian herbs.
  • Rosemary – As another alternative to basil, rosemary may be suitable in some Italian dishes or your favorite spaghetti sauce. Aromatic rosemary brings its own flavor and fragrance to the table, so be aware of this in choosing how much to add to the dish.
  • Sage – You may be able to skate by a basil shortage with sage as a basil replacement. This herb has a mustier aroma, yet it pairs nicely with meat, fish, and hearty dishes like soups and stews. Remember to do the taste test or sniff test to check your work in substituting basil in your recipes!
Basil Substitute Ideas - Fresh Basil Growing
Basil Substitute Ideas – Fresh Basil Growing Outside

Substitute for Basil Leaves

When looking for a substitute for basil leaves, keep in mind whether it’s the shape, texture, or flavor that means the most to your recipe.

  • Spinach Leaves – With whole leaves suitable in shape, color, and size to substitute basil, you can try spinach in a pinch. The flavor won’t be entirely true, as it’s quite a bit milder, but you can swap in spinach to get by a time or two.
  • Oregano – The leaf size isn’t the same when using oregano as a substitute for basil leaves, but the flavor helps out a lot. You might try a blend of spinach and oregano to get a bit of both worlds.

Pesto Substitute

If you’re seeking a pesto substitute, first decide why the swap. Maybe you don’t like pesto; that’s one thing and you can try a different blend. If you just don’t have any basil, you can’t truly make a pesto without it. Sorry to say, you’ll have to run to the store (or bribe your significant other!).

If you’re just running low on basil and need to supplement, you can usually get away with that kind of basil substitution as long as some of the original flavor is there!

Here are some ideas for a pesto substitute (if you want an alternative for basil altogether or just some filler):

  • Arugula – If you’re looking specifically for a pesto substitute, try arugula! This quick-growing vegetable also offers a peppery flavor that blends well in filling out your pesto requirements. Simply substitute arugula in equal quantities to the missing basil.
  • Herb Blend – A mix of flat-leaf Italian parsley, oregano, and thyme chopped without stems can sub for basil in pesto. Just remember it isn’t truly pesto without the basil! Add these herbs to bulk it up if you won’t have enough or try them as their own seasoning blend instead.

Sometimes There’s NO Basil Replacement!

Choosing a basil replacement starts with a bit of careful thought on the dish you’re making. After all, sometimes there’s NO good replacement for basil. It is THAT good of an herb with its own unique flavor!

I’d argue just postponing your recipe with the missing basil, but that isn’t always possible, either. I’d say make a judgement call.

If you’re truly in love with basil, you may not be happy with the results of different basil substitutes, anyway. Search the soul of your inner chef and see where you land!

Purple Basil for sale with other herbs
Purple Basil for sale with other herbs

Final Thoughts: Basil Substitute Ideas

If you’re looking for a good substitute for basil, I hope these suggestions give you some room to be creative in the kitchen! Again, your mileage may vary based on which basil replacement you choose and what recipe you’re making.

Do you have any experiences using a basil substitute instead of the real thing? Share your kitchen war stories in the comments – we want to hear it!

Also, what’s your preference when it comes to substituting fresh or dried basil? Do you have any questions or other tips? Hit us up – we always love hearing from you!

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