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Basil Substitute (Help! What can I substitute for basil in my recipe?)

Basil is a popular herb, but if you don’t have any to hand and are looking for a great basil alternative, there are tons of other herbs that can be used in its place.

Basil and some other herbs that can be basil substitutes on a wooden board.

Choosing the right one will depend on what dish you are cooking, and which varieties of basil you want to substitute, so this article discusses some of the other culinary herbs you can substitute for basil in cooking and which is the best one to choose for your recipe.  

Substitute for Fresh Basil

Substitute dried basil for fresh

Perhaps the obvious answer, but if your recipe calls for fresh basil, then you can probably substitute dried basil just fine. You will need to convert the ratio to make sure you get the right amount – dried herbs are often more concentrated (smaller pieces) than fresh herbs, so you need less. 

To convert fresh basil to dried: reduce the amount in the recipe in half. e.g. 2 teaspoons fresh basil = 1 teaspoon dried basil. 

This ratio depends on how fresh your dried herbs are (as they lose potency over time). The good news is you can add more if you think you need it. 

Substitute for fresh basil leaves

However, you are not always going to be able to use dried basil in place of fresh basil, for example, if a salad calls for fresh basil leaves to be added, then dried basil is really not going to work for you! 

If your recipe requires fresh basil leaves, then dried basil probably isn’t going to cut it. However, there are several culinary herbs with a similar flavor profile to basil which make great¬†substitutes for basil. Try:

  • Oregano. This culinary herb has a flavor very similar to the flavor of basil, slightly spicy, slightly sweet flavor. This herb works as an excellent substitute for basil in many Italian dishes.
  • Tarragon. Very similar to basil, but with a milder flavor, tarragon is a versatile herb and very tasty in soups and chicken dishes.
  • Marjoram. Very close in taste to basil, marjoram can be a good substitute for fresh basil in French and Italian dishes.
A bunch of cut oregano on a wooden board with a knife.
Oregano makes an excellent substitute for basil.

Substitute for fresh basil in salad

Some salads call for fresh basil, such a caprese salad, a beautiful dish comprising fresh mozzarella, fresh sliced Italian tomatoes, and (of course) fresh basil leaves. So if you don’t have any fresh basil to hand then it is seriously going to affect your salad! 

A really good alternative to fresh basil in salads is fresh oregano. Oregano has a similar aroma to basil, though does not have such strong flavors. 

Another fresh herb with a similar flavor to basil is tarragon. Again, it is not as potent as basil, but will complement the other flavors in the salad in a similar way that fresh basil would. 

If you have neither of these herbs and you need leafy greens for your salad, then you could add some baby spinach leaves. The flavor of baby spinach is quite different to that of fresh basil, however it has a similar texture and look, and so should work in any salad requiring fresh basil.

Another option would be flat leaf parsley or celery leaves to add some greenery to a salad. 

If you have dried basil, then try adding some to the salad dressing to add the missing basil flavor back into your recipe. 

Substitute for Thai basil

Thai basil is a variety of basil often used in Thai dishes, but has quite a different flavor than regular Italian basil (sweet basil). It has a more peppery, almost licorice-like flavor, whereas sweet basil has a much sweeter flavor (hence the name). 

An easy and tasty substitute for Thai basil would be tulsi (or holy basil) if you have it. It a similar flavor profile to Thai basil, but with less spiciness. Tarragon has a similar licorice-type flavor, so could be substituted for Thai basil, though again it lacks the spiciness. 

If you have neither of these herbs you could also try using sweet basil, mint or cilantro/coriander in place of Thai basil to add flavor to the dish, but note that the flavor of the dish will be quite different from what the recipe intended. 

Substitute for basil in pesto

Traditional pesto may be made with Italian basil leaves, but these days when it comes to making pesto, the rule is if it tastes good to you, use it.  

If you are after a similar flavor to basil pesto, my top recommendation for what to substitute for fresh basil in pesto would be oregano. It makes a really delicious pesto that tastes quite similar to regular basil pesto.

However, almost any leafy herb can be used as the key ingredient in pesto. Parsley, tarragon and cilantro/coriander all make fine substitutes for fresh basil in pesto. And you can even make baby spinach pesto. 

Substitutes for basil in pesto
Pesto can be made with most leafy culinary herbs.

Dried basil substitute

Here are a few of the most commonly used herbs that can be used as a substitute for dried basil.

  • Oregano. The spicy, pungent taste of oregano is similar to basil, with less sweetness. This is a great dried herb to substitute in many pasta dishes or other Italian recipes.
  • Tarragon. This herb has a very similar flavor to basil. Tarragon is a tasty alternative to dried basil in soups and chicken dishes.
  • Marjoram. this herb has a very similar taste to basil, and is a good substitute for many Italian and French recipes.
  • Sage. Although the flavor is different from basil, this herb can be an acceptable substitute, especially for chicken dishes and soups.