Making Herb Substitutes the Easy Way

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Cooking from garden to table elevates your home dining experience. But what about when you’ve run out of something and need to find herb substitutes stat?!

No worries, you can simply swap a spice here or there in many cases and we’ll show you how!

Make the most of your mealtime prep by using ingredients you already have in the garden or the cupboard. Forget about running to the store on last-minute notice!

You can make easy herb substitutes at home with spices and seasonings you have on hand.

Fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme - Try different herb garnishes and replacements in your recipes.
Fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme from our 2021 garden – Try different herb garnishes and replacements in your recipes.

And for next time, you can start growing herbs to avoid running out of your favorites in the future.

Consider these steps to help you make the best substitutions for herbs on an as-needed basis.

What are some good herb garnishes?

A fresh parsley garnish tends to be one of the most popular herb garnishes, but it’s far from the only choice. Here are some other ideas for what to use as a garnish.

  • Mint Sprig
  • Cilantro Garnish
  • Basil Garnish
  • Dill Garnish
  • Rosemary Garnish
  • Bouquet of Herbs

These are just a few suggestions for herb garnishes. You can always mix and match them based on the flavor profile of your recipe. You might also consider oregano, sage, thyme, or lemongrass or some combination of any of the above.

Daughter with herbs for sale at Lowes
I like this cute little plant! (She told me to take this picture! Ha!)

What are good spices for chicken?

Chicken tastes delicious with a variety of different seasonings, depending on the recipe. Consider seasoning chicken with rosemary and garlic, thyme, basil, parsley, paprika, citrus like lemon or lime, cilantro, and oregano, to name a few.

What makes a good pork chop rub?

For a delicious pork chop, consider seasoning with fresh garlic and rosemary for an Italian style chop or cumin, chili powder, paprika, and garlic powder. You might also try sage, coriander, and thyme, among other seasonings.

What are some good seasonings for beef?

When you want to add spices to beef, consider the flavor you’re after. Black pepper, rosemary, and garlic go well in a marinade with soy sauce. You can also season beef with cumin, curry seasoning, red pepper, sage, thyme, and parsley, to name a few favorites.

Herb Substitutes Matchmaker

Running out of an herb is less stressful when you know you’ve got a good backup.

Ask yourself these questions to help determine the best herb substitutes to use a pinch of in a pinch!

Is this herb for use as a garnish or part of the meal?

If the herb you’re missing merely needs to make a plate look pretty, you’re in luck. It’s not hard to find other beautiful ways to decorate a plate!

Try these herb substitutes for garnishes.

  • Consider edible flowers instead. Try edible orchids or nasturtiums on the plate instead of your missing herb garnish.
  • Swap parsley for carrot tops. The frilly greens still add a nice touch to the presentation.
  • Use lemon slices or wedges. A pop of sunny yellow brightens up the meal, especially if lemon complements the flavor.
  • Make fruit or vegetable flowers. Another popular garnish idea involves making flowers out of veggies, like roses or tulips, starflowers, and so forth.
  • Get creative! You’re the master behind the meal. Consider the different flavors, colors, and textures and see what you can do to make a splash with a unique garnish idea.

If the herb substitute needs to be incorporated into the actual meal, keep reading for more ideas!

Does the missing herb serve as a standout flavor or a supporting flavor?

When the herb to substitute plays a major role in the flavor of the dish, it’s important to come as close as possible.

Now, I’m not saying to immediately rush to the supermarket to buy some… but I’m also not saying an impromptu grocery run is off the table.

For that herb that delivers a signature flavor, look for substitute herbs offering a similar taste, aroma, and cooking tolerance.  

Herbs with a supporting flavor or a taste that is layered into the dish leave a bit more flexibility in choosing substitutes. (Or, sometimes leaving out the missing herb altogether.)

Look for suggestions based on the individual herb you’re missing.

Is this herb used in leaf form or chopped, minced, or sprinkled?

The size, texture, and form of the herb substitute may be best matched with a similar herb.

Sprinkled herbs from your spice rack may be a little more forgiving than fresh herbs you pull from your garden, demanding freshness and quality.

Look for a substitute that fits the form and function of the herb your recipe requests.

What cuisine calls for this herb?

Recognizing that you’re looking for an Italian herb for a pasta dish or a Mexican herb for salsa can make all the difference in choosing an alternative.

If you are unfamiliar with herb substitutes, you can research a particular cuisine and its most popular herbs to gain some inspiration.

Italian Oregano - Choosing herb substitutes by cuisine

Does the herb substitute withstand a long cooking time?

Some herbs like thyme withstand longer cooking times than other herbs, like basil, for example.

Keep in mind the cooking time and what you want the herbs to do during the cooking process.

You may be able to add the herb substitute later if cooking the entire duration would negatively impact the flavor or quality.  

Will the flavor be missed by anyone besides you as the chef?

Many of us are perfectionists in the kitchen. If this describes you—like me—then take a moment to truly think about whether anyone else will miss this herb in the dish as much as you.

Perhaps leaving it out will fly under the radar.

Perhaps not?

It’s your call to make. Just take a moment to weigh out the scenario.

What similar flavors can get the job done?

Give some thought to which herbs boast similar flavors. You may be able to swap a missing herb with a substitute easier than you think.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to run out of an ingredient, especially if you’re expecting company.

When dinner guests will be joining you, just take a moment to decide if you can survive with herb substitutes or if you truly need to get the real deal.

Herb Substitutes - Purple Basil

Tips for Substituting Herbs

Making a switch for an empty herb jar is easier than you might expect. Check out these tips to help you along.

  • Try switching dry vs fresh or vice versa if you have it. In a pinch, you can save a recipe with dried or fresh herbs even if the recipe calls for the opposite kind.
  • Rely on your senses. Taste and smell the food, if possible, while you’re cooking it.
  • Focus on flavor. When all herbs are not created equal, take some time to truly assess the flavor you want to match. Create a dish that tastes great no matter what you do about the missing herb.
  • Don’t forget about appearance. Choose an herb replacement that makes sense for the purpose and flavor as well as the appearance. For bonus points, add a creative garnish!
Daughter posing as a plant at Lowes
This one didn’t want to miss the moment!

Choosing Herb Substitutes

So many wonderful herbs await use in your cooking. Many easy enough to grow in the home garden, you can create your own culinary spice garden.

In the event you run out of some herbs on the same day you need them for your recipes, you can look into helpful and tasty herb substitutes.

You are certainly not alone! In fact, some of the most common herb substitution requests include:

Surely, many chefs and gardeners alike will advise that some herbs offer flavors so unique that you simply can’t substitute.

I feel this is true to a point, especially with rosemary.

But, I also beg to differ.

Food is Expression.

Cooking is a form of art that manifests its greatest moments often surrounded by those you love.

So, make your herb substitutes on an as-needed basis and be sure to add LOTS of the secret ingredient… Love!

02.10.22 – Edited to add link to coriander. Added section on herb garnishes. Replaced featured image and added new image to top of post. Added section for spices for chicken, pork, and beef.

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