Coming from the Mediterranean region, bay leaves or bay laurel is one of the known ancient spices. The leaves are picked from the bay laurel tree. These leaves are known for their distinct herby and floral fragrance, with a sharp, bitter, and pungent flavor. The leaves are used on dishes that require long hours of cooking, such as stews, broths, soups, and pasta sauces. And now, it is grown in different parts of the world.
It also comes in several kinds. There’s the West Indian, and Indian bay leaf, California bay leaf, Mexican bay leaf, and Indonesian laurel. The market forms of the bay leaf come either dried, ground, or whole. Putting too much bay laurel leaves in your dish might make it bitter.
Bay laurel is mainly used in rice dishes of Pakistan and Indian cuisines. In the Philippines, the dry bay laurel is added in dishes such as adobo, Menudo, humba, and other famous meat dishes. Bayleaf is also used as a flavor in European and American cuisines.
Bay leaf has its distinct fragrance and flavor. But when you need a bay leaf, and you happen to not have it for some reason, several herbs can do the job to replace it. Most likely, you might already have the substitutes in your pantry.
6 Best Substitutes for Bay Leaf
You might already have this herb in your kitchen!
Thyme belongs to the Lamiaceae family and genus Thymus. It’s a perennial herb that comes from the Mediterranean regions. Thyme leaves are known for their ability to lower blood pressure, and the essential oils are used as a cough remedy.
If you want the best substitute for bay laurel leaves, just simply use fresh or dried thyme. Though thyme and bay laurel leaves may not be similar in taste, flavor, and appearance, thyme leaves complement many meat dishes with a minty touch.
Fresh thyme leaves have more flavor compared to the dried ones. However, it will only last in less than a week if stored. Unlike fresh thyme leaves, dried thyme leaves can last up to a few months, and it can retain its strong flavor.
One bay laurel leaf is equal to ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme or simply use the same amount as required in the recipe. Add it to your marinated meat dishes.
For thousands of years, oregano or wild marjoram from the mint family, or Lamiaceae is an fragrant herb used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Its subtly sweet and earthy and minty flavor makes it a great substitute for bay laurel leaves. The use of oregano leaves is prominent is Mexican, Turkish, Greek, and Italian dishes.
The cultivation of oregano plants started in Eurasia and in the Mediterranean region. It is sometimes mistaken for marjoram. Though they both belong in the mint family with the same appearance and aroma, marjoram possesses a touch of lemony and sweet tasty while oregano leaves give off a savory flavor.
It contains components that can help strengthen your immunity and help detoxify your body.
The fresh oregano leaves are normally used for cough medicines, while the dried ones are commonly used in cooking. Although you can still use fresh oregano leaves, it will most likely overwhelm your dish’s flavor because it is concentratedly pungent with a slight bitterness.
If you choose either fresh or dried oregano leaves, it wouldn’t matter in terms of flavor. Unlike other dried herbs, dried oregano leaves can still retain its character. You will have to consider based on how you want to use it in your dish. You’ll just have to consider the appearance and the price of either dried or fresh oregano leaves.
Most culinarians prefer to use dried oregano leaves because it’s easier for them to control the flavor. The dried oreganos appear in brown, powdery flakes, and it’s a cheaper and common option than fresh oregano leaves. Fresh oregano is usually added at the end of cooking or as a garnish of a finished product.
Oregano is best used in tomato-based sauces, pasta sauces, vinaigrettes, meat marinades, and light salads.
3. Basil leaves
Don’t panic on your unfinished tomato dish yet because basil is here to the rescue!
Basil is a central ingredient in Italian cuisines, especially in pesto-making. This sweet minty herd is also used in other international cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. In traditional medicine, it helps prevent memory loss, stroke, depression, blood, and cancer.
You can see fresh and dried basil leaves in the market. However, most people prefer putting fresh basil leaves in their cooking because you can get more of its minty flavor than the dehydrated leaves.
Like thyme and bay laurel, basil also has a minty flavor. Its difference from many herbs is it gives the dish a sweet, peppery, and minty herbal fragrance. Basil is best used in cooking Italian tomato-based meals and beef dishes.
When cooking with basil, fresh leaves are usually added at the end of cooking. Cooking it for a longer period will only evaporate the volatile oils. On the other hand, dried basil leaves are added at the beginning of the cooking process to give time to soften and have its flavors be infused in the whole dish.
You might already have some basil in your kitchen or even in your herbs and spice garden if you have.
The quantity of basil leaves you are going to use is the same amount the recipe requires for bay leaf.
4. Juniper Berries
During ancient times, juniper berries are used for medicinal and culinary purposes in Egypt, Rome, Greece, India, and other Asian countries.
The small edible berry-like blue fleshy scale pinecones of the juniper shrub are called the juniper berries. They look like berries, but they don’t belong to the berry family. Note that not all kinds of juniper berries are edible. You must know which ones are safe to eat before picking the berries from the shrub.
If you’re familiar with the intense and resinous flavor of gin, blame the juniper berries. Generally, juniper berries have a piney flavor with a little punch of citrus.
Maybe you would want to take your dish on a different level! Juniper berries are a decent replacement for bay laurel leaves. An alternative to your missing bay laurel leaves, remember that a single bay leaf is equal to two or three pieces of crushed, chopped, or grounded juniper berries. Crushed juniper berries release more of its flavor. You can use the whole berries in your stews and soup dishes.
Furthermore, juniper berries the best complement with rosemary. Surely, it won’t hurt to give this alternative a try.
One more thing! As a precaution, avoid using juniper berries if you are cooking for young children and pregnant women.
5. Boldo leaves
The Boldo plant is an evergreen shrub of the Monimiaceae family that is native to Chile, South America. Boldo leaves are a common ingredient used in Chile and other Latin dishes, and it is also used in making liqueurs. You can even make tea out of boldo leaves.
These strong aromatic waxy leaves are sometimes unpleasantly pungent when crushed. It becomes palatable when it is dried and cooked. It gives a warm and spicy taste with a hint of bitterness.
Since boldo leaves are potentially strong, just use half the amount the recipe requires for bay leaf.
6. Redbay leaves
The red bay plant is an evergreen tree with green broad elongated leaves with pointed tips that look like bay laurel leaves. Yes, they’re not red.
Redbay leaf is used for flavoring savory foods. It is a common replacement for bay laurel leaves to most residents along the Atlantic coast of the southern USA.
Take Away from this substituting guide
Bay leaf is typically used to give a herby and floral fragrance, with a sharp, bitter, and pungent flavor in soups, broths, stews, and meat or vegetable dishes.
For whatever reasons you have for not being able to use bay leaves in your cooking, you can either choose thyme, oregano, basil, juniper berries, boldo leaves, or redbay leaf.
Though all suggested above alternatives cannot totally give you the exact flavor and aroma you expect to get from basil, they are still considered as decent replacements. Explore the difference in taste and smell of these bay leaf substitutes and choose whatever is available.
Plus, it might also be good to plant your herbs and spices garden if the weather in your area is suitable for such plants.