11 Bay Leaf Substitute Options

If you’re in the market for a bay leaf substitute (you swore you had them in the cupboard!), we’ve got you. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to find a good substitute to achieve similar a similar flavor profile in most recipes.

bay leaves in glass jar on blue background

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. When considering a substitute for bay leaf, take into account whether the recipe calls for a specific type and or the type of dish you’re making.

What are Bay Leaves?

Bay leaves, sometimes called laurel leaves, are leaves that come from the sweet bay tree or bay laurel 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.

Bay Leaves vs. Sage

Both bay leaf and sage are popular herbs used in a wide variety of dishes around the world. They are distinct in their flavor profiles, uses, and cultural origins. 

Bay Leaves

As we covered above, bay leaves come from the evergreen bay laurel tree, originating from the Mediterranean region, and are a staple in many European cuisines. 

Common bay leaf uses: 

  1. Soups and Stews: One of the most traditional uses for bay leaves is in soups and stews. They’re added at the beginning of the cooking process and allowed to simmer for a long time, infusing the broth with their distinctive aroma.
  2. Braising: When slow-cooking meats, poultry, or vegetables, bay leaves are often included in the braising liquid for added depth of flavor.
  3. Sauces: Bay leaves are a common ingredient in tomato-based sauces like Bolognese or marinara and in cream sauces and gravy.
  4. Beans and Lentils: Adding a bay leaf when cooking beans, lentils, or chickpeas can enhance the flavor of these legumes and make them more digestible.
  5. Rice Dishes: Bay leaves are often used in rice dishes such as pilaf or biryani to impart a subtle, savory note. After you make the rice, here are a few sauces for rice.
  6. Pickling: When making pickles, bay leaves can be added to the vinegar brine for an extra layer of flavor.
  7. Curing and Smoking: Bay leaves are sometimes used in the process of curing meats or in the smoke for BBQ to impart a distinctive flavor to the meat.
  8. Tea: Some people enjoy bay leaf tea for its unique flavor and potential health benefits.
  9. Infusing: Bay leaves can be added to olive oil or vinegar infusions for a delightful twist.
  10. Desserts: While less common, bay leaves have been known to be used in sweet applications such as custards, rice puddings, and even some baked goods for an unexpected flavor twist.
closeup of fresh sage leaves


On the other hand, Sage hails from the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. Sage leaves are soft, with an elongated, wrinkled appearance and a gray-green color. Fresh or dried, sage has a robust flavor that’s somewhat peppery with a hint of mint. Unlike bay leaves, sage can be eaten and is often finely chopped and added to dishes such as stuffing, sauces, and poultry dishes. Sage can also be fried and used as a garnish.

Common sage uses: 

  1. Roasts and Stews: Sage is a wonderful addition to hearty meat dishes such as roasts, stews, and casseroles. Its robust flavor pairs well with rich meats like pork and duck.
  2. Stuffing and Dressing: One of the most traditional uses of sage is in stuffing or dressing recipes, particularly for poultry. It’s a staple ingredient in many Thanksgiving stuffing recipes.
  3. Pasta and Risotto: In Italian cuisine, sage is often used in pasta sauces and risotto. It’s especially well known for its use in the classic “brown butter sage sauce” dish for pasta.
  4. Bread and Baked Goods: Sage can be added to bread dough, biscuits, and savory muffins for an herby twist.
  5. Sausages and Meatballs: Sage is often used in the preparation of sausages, meatballs, and other ground meat dishes.
  6. Tea and Infusions: Sage tea is a traditional remedy for sore throats and coughs. The leaves can also be infused in hot water to make a calming and soothing tea.
  7. Soups: Sage adds a depth of flavor to soups, particularly creamy soups, and chowders.
  8. Butter and Oil: Infusing butter or olive oil with sage creates a flavorful addition to dishes. Sage butter can be drizzled over steak or vegetables, while sage-infused oil makes a great base for salad dressings.
  9. Pizza and Flatbreads: Chopped fresh sage can be sprinkled over pizzas or flatbreads, particularly ones with autumnal toppings like butternut squash or caramelized onions.
  10. Roasted Vegetables: Roasting vegetables with a handful of sage leaves brings out a new depth of flavor. It works especially well with root vegetables.

Can you swap?

So, while bay leaves and sage are both herbs used to add flavor and depth to dishes, they have distinct taste profiles and uses. In terms of substitution, sage cannot directly replace bay leaf due to the difference in flavor. However, if a bay leaf substitute is needed, thyme, juniper, or even a pinch of oregano can be used to provide a somewhat similar taste.

Health Benefits of Bay Leaves

So since bay leaves aren’t poisonous, are they healthy? According to WebMD, bay leaves, like many herbs and spices, have several health benefits

Helps Boost Your Immune System

Bay leaves are rich in vitamins known to support your immune systems, such as vitamin B6, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

Supports as a Digestive Aid

If you ever have an upset tummy, bay leaves can help. The organic compounds of the bay leaf can help settle your upset stomach and even helps with the systems of irritable bowel syndrome.

Packed with Antioxidants

Though you’re never consuming a large amount of bay leaves at once, they are packed with antioxidants, substances that help to either prevent or delay damage to cells.

Nutritional Breakdown of bay Leaves

Per one tablespoon of bay leaf (crumbled):

Calories: 5.5 calories

Fat: 0.1 grams

Protein: 0.1 grams

Carbs: 1.3 grams

Bay leaves also include minimal amounts of the following:

  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Riboflavin
  • Zinc
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 or pregnant women.

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. The perfect use for this herb is Mexican spaghetti.

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 FAQs

What tastes similar to bay leaves?

People often say that bay leaves, in terms of flavor, are a cross between spearmint and menthol with a minty flavor. It also has a hint of pepper. Though there are no herbs that are going to match precisely the bay leaf, any of the above options would work. It really depends on your recipe and the desired flavor profile.

Can I substitute basil for bay leaves?

As mentioned above, you can absolutely substitute basil for bay leaf. Basil works well in almost any Italian dish and has a delicious yet not strong aroma.

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 some people to think that eating a bay leaf is terrible 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 leaf 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.

Does a bay leaf really make a difference?

Unless you have an incredible palate, you’re probably not going to notice the lack of a singular bay leaf or two. But with that said, they do add a subtle flavor, and sometimes a subtle flavor makes a huge difference.

Can I use Ground bay leaves?

Sometimes the best substitute for bay leaves is bay leaf itself. So yes, ground bay leaves can be used as a substitute for whole bay leaves in a recipe, though the flavor may be slightly more intense since the grinding process releases more of the leaf’s aromatic oils. The general rule of thumb is that 1/4 teaspoon of ground bay leaves is equivalent to one whole bay leaf.

bay leaves in glass jar on blue background
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Bay Leaf Substitutes

Bay leaf substitute options are easier to find than you might think. From Oregano to Rosemary, here are 11 you may already have!
Prep Time1 min
Course: substitutes
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern
Keyword: bay leaf substitute, substitute for bay leaf, substitute for bay leaves
Servings: 1 serving
Calories: 0.02kcal


Bay Leaf Substitutes

  • 1 tsp Basil
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Juniper Berries
  • Boldo Leaf
  • Mexican Oregano
  • Red Bay Leaf
  • Combined Thyme and Oregano
  • Curry Leaf
  • Skip It!


  • Choose your substitution from above.
  • Follow substitution instructions above.
  • Enjoy!


Calories: 0.02kcal | Potassium: 0.3mg | Vitamin A: 5IU | Vitamin C: 0.02mg | Calcium: 0.2mg

Recipes That Use Bay Leaves

Have questions or suggestions about any of these bay leaf substitutes? Leave them in the comments below.


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