11 Best Bay Leaf Substitute Options For Cooking

You may think a bay leaf substitute is something relatively difficult to come by. Fortunately, you don’t need any special fresh herbs to get a close flavor match to bay leaves. You can achieve similar results with several other options.

bay leaves in glass jar on blue background

Is There an Adequate Bay Leaf Substitute?

The flavor and aroma of bay leaves are distinct. The flavor can be hard to describe. Some people describe it as minty with pine and pepper subtleties. With such a unique flavor, can you succeed with a bay leaf substitute? The answer is yes!

There are differences between every alternative option, but the flavors can come close to what you want. Consider what type of bay leaf the recipe calls for before determining the best substitution.

What are Bay Leaves?

Bay leaves, or sometimes called laurel leaves, are leaves that come from the sweet bay tree. They are typically used in soups and sauces to add a unique aroma and flavor. Most often, it is used whole and removed before serving. Bay leaves  are also sometimes ground, although this is far less common.

Before we dive into what to use as a bay leaf substitute, let’s review the different types of bay leaves that exist. 

Turkish (or Mediterranean) Bay Leaves

The Turkish variety is well-known as one of the “main” types of bay leaves. This kind of bay leaf offers subtle flavors and typically comes dried straight from Turkey.

This variety of bay leaf is most likely the type you’ll find in your grocery store, dried and bottled in the spice section.

California Bay Leaves

If you use fresh bay leaves in your dishes, you most likely use California bay leaves. These leaves provide a much stronger flavor than the other “main” bay leaf. While it can be used interchangeably with Turkish bay leaves, the California leaves can be more intense in flavor.

Indian Bay Leaf

The Indian bay leaf, called Tej Patta, provides a cinnamon taste. These are used in curries and spice mixes but are not necessarily a standard bay leaf substitute.

Indonesian Bay Leaf

The Indonesian bay leaf differs significantly from the Turkish and Californian bay leaf. The flavor is sour and more citrusy than other leaves and lacks much of an aroma. It is not a commonly used spice in western countries.

Is It Poisonous to Eat a Whole Bay Leaf?

Most recipes tell you to remove your bay leaf or bay leaves before eating whatever dish you’ve made. Apparently, this has led to some people thinking that eating a bay leaf is bad for you or even poisonous. This is in fact a myth. Bay leaves are not poisonous to humans. There are a few reasons this myth might have started.

Bay leaves look like other poisonous plants. Bay leaves look very similar to mountain laurel and cherry laurel leaves which are poisonous to humans.

A bay leaf could be a choking hazard. For the elderly and small children a thick woody leave could be a choking hazard.  

Let’s be honest, they’re also just not pleasant to chew. So when all is said and done, for the benefit of everyone, just remove them before serving.

collage of bay leave substitutes

Best Bay Leaf Substitutes

Finding a bay leaf substitute that works for you is easier than you think. You probably have a few in your pantry. Read on what options might be sitting right next to that old can of cream of mushroom soup (everyone has that can right?)

1. Basil

If you’re looking for a bay leaf substitute that is significantly similar, a basil leaf is a great option. Basil is sweet, has some bitterness, and is perfect for Italian dishes. Consider using it in a tomato-based soup or pasta dish.

How to Use

Sub out one for one with fresh basil. If you are using dried basil, opt for ¼ teaspoon per bay leaf.

2. Thyme

Thyme is another Italian herb suitable as a bay leaf substitute. Many consider thyme the best possible replacement – especially in soups and stews. The shared minty taste of the herbs makes it an ideal swap.

How to Use

3. Rosemary

Rosemary is similar to thyme, making it another great ingredient as a bay leaf substitute. While the flavor differs from bay leaves a bit, it is an alternative that can make your dish just as delicious. This is especially true in lamb, deer, pork, beef, and other meat dishes.

How to Use

How to Use

Using ¼ teaspoon of dried rosemary will achieve similar results to one bay leaf. Fresh rosemary can be used in the amount of ¼ of a sprig. Play with the amount to get the taste you want.

4. Oregano

Personally, I think Oregano is likely the closest bay leaf substitute when it comes to taste. Perhaps even better is the fact that most people keep oregano on their spice rack. It may be the best alternative for your recipe if you have oregano.

How to Use

Swap ¼ teaspoon of dried oregano per bay leaf.

5. Juniper Berries

Although juniper berries might not be frequently housed in home pantries, it is a fantastic option as a bay leaf substitute. Note that juniper berries should be avoided by young children and those who are pregnant.

How to Use

They are tiny but mighty. Use only two ground or whole berries for each bay leaf.

6. Boldo Leaf

A boldo leaf from the boldo plant is essentially the cousin to the bay leaf. It is important to note, however, that the flavor of the boldo leaf is far more robust than a bay leaf. So go easy when using it. 

How to Use

For each bay leaf in the recipe, substitute half a boldo leaf. If you want to play with the flavor a bit, slightly more or less can make a difference in your dish. Consider trying different measurements to get the perfect flavor for your taste.

7. Mexican Oregano

Mexican oregano is not the Italian-flavored spice used in your herb bread. Instead, it features a citrusy taste used in Latin or Mexican cuisine. You can use Mexican oregano in dishes from other cultures and ethnicities, but the flavor will differ from the original recipe.

How to Use

If the recipe calls for one bay leaf, use ¼ teaspoon of dried Mexican oregano.

8. Red Bay Leaf

While it’s called a red bay leaf, this bay leaf substitute is green. This leaf comes from an evergreen tree and is less common than other options, but it can be used as a bay leaf substitute.

How to Use

Substitute a red bay leaf 1:1. If the recipe calls for one bay leaf, use one red bay leaf.

9. Combined Thyme and Oregano

Thyme and oregano are each a close match for the bay leaf taste. By combining the two, you may be able to achieve an even closer flavor profile. You can achieve this with dried or fresh herbs.

How to Use

Use ½ thyme and ½ oregano to create a bay leaf flavor. To match the flavor of one fresh bay leaf, you would want ¼ teaspoon of dried spices in total. To create ¼ teaspoon of the mixed spices, use 1/8 teaspoon of dried thyme and 1/8 teaspoon of dried oregano.

10. Curry Leaf

Honestly, the curry leaf flavor is different from a bay leaf. In fact, this option is this far down the list for a reason. It isn’t going to provide you with a similar flavor. Instead, a curry leaf brings a citrus flavor to the dish.

Despite its difference in flavor, a curry leaf can bring great flavor to many dishes that call for a bay leaf.

How to Use

Because of the flavor change, start small with the curry leaf. Substitutions should not be based on size but on flavor. With the stronger flavor of a curry leaf, less is more.

11. Skip It!

Would you be disappointed to learn that you can skip the bay leaf altogether? Your soup or stew might miss some subtle flavors and scents, but the dish won’t be changed much. There is no need to add anything in place of a bay leaf. Skipping it entirely is acceptable in most dishes that call for a bay leaf (or two).

If you want, you can also add a pinch of another spice you’re a fan of if you want to experiment a bit. Or not. Remember, at the end of the day, cooking is about having fun and what tastes good to you—not what everyone else on the internet says.

Bay-Leaf-Substitutes-pinterest-pin

Recipes That Use a Bay Leaf (or its substitute)

Mexican Spaghetti

Mulligan Stew

Penne Pomodoro

Olive Garden Stuffed Shells

Have questions or suggestions? Leave them in the comments below. Until next time; Stay salty, and sweet 😉

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