What is a substitute for basil? | 10 expert guide

What is a substitute for basil? | 10 expert guide

While adding flavors to any kind of dish whether it’s dessert or savory, finding the best substitute for basil is a bit challenging task. Most of the time basil leaves are hard to find or unavailable. So, the question arises what is a substitute for basil? Well, you need not worry as this insight will provide you with the 10 best substitutes for basil offering you a similar kind of flavor for your dish. 

Basil leaf is contemplated as an essential ingredient in different Mediterranean cuisine. Whether you are preparing pasta sauce or putting in that decorative topping, this renowned herb will always play a remarkable role. Basil leaf in any dish initially tastes a bit peppery. After a while, you will be relinquished with sweet and mint flavors. Due to this difference, it is highly popular and in-demand throughout the world.

You can use fresh basil leaves if the recipe demands dried basil. The flavor is very similar to the dried basil and will fit in most of the recipes. You’ll require maximum substitutes for basil to obtain the same taste and flavor. If you require one tablespoon of dried basil, then you need to add three tablespoons of fresh basil. Sprinkle or garnish the leaves towards the end of the cooking process as they turn bitter or lose their flavor altogether when overcooked. 

Even if you don’t like the taste of basil, then spinach leaves, celery leaves, and most of the substitutes for basil that are mentioned below can provide you with great relief and also can act as excellent choices. Italian seasoning and oregano are better options if you’re preparing a luxurious Italian pasta sauce to maintain that same flavor and taste. 

Now, before we see that what is a substitute for basil let’s see what exactly a basil is?

What is Basil?

Basil is one of the most prominent culinary herbs in North America which is sold as a dried processed item and fresh basil. Extracts of this plant are utilized in traditional medicines, and studies have been revealed to contain biologically active constituents that are insecticidal, nematicidal, fungicidal, or antimicrobial. 

The perfume industries, pharmaceuticals, and food industries obtain aromatic essential oils, which are extracted from the leaves and flowers of basil. Several aromatic compounds are found in chemotypes of basil such as citral, eugenol, linalool, methyl chavicol, and methyl cinnamate and are retailed in the international essential oil market. The European type of basil often referred to as sweet basil, is considered to have the highest quality aroma, comprising linalool and methyl chavicol as its primary constituents.

Various uses of Basil

Basil is used as an edible ornamental herb 

This herb displayed a wide diversity in growth habit, flower, leaf and stem colors, and aromas. Most of the species evaluated belong to the “Sweet” basil group, with ‘Genovese’, ‘Italian large leaf’, ‘Mammoth’, ‘Napoletano’, and ‘Sweet’ dominating the American fresh and dry culinary herb markets. 

Many others like ‘Sweet Fine’ appear similar to ‘Sweet’ basil though its leaves tend to be smaller. The ‘Maenglak Thai Lemon’ basil, which differed in appearance from the other lemon basils and acts as an attractive ornamental herb. Among the purple basils, ‘Osmin Purple’ and ‘Red Rubin Purple Leaf’ were the most attractive and expertly preserved their purple leaf color. 

Anthocyanins present in purple basils are genetically unstable causing an undesirable random green sectoring and reversion over the growing season. Different basils with dwarf growth patterns were invented as ornamental border plants including ‘Bush’, ‘Green Globe’, ‘Dwarf Bush’, ‘Spicy Globe’, and ‘Purple Bush’. The category of ornamental basils was chosen and named for their distinct aroma including ‘Anise’ (methyl chavicol), ‘Cinnamon’ (methyl cinnamate), ‘Licorice’ (methyl chavicol), and ‘Spice’ (b-bisabolene). 

Basil is used as a Source of Essential Oils and Aroma compounds

Basil plants analyzed in a study contained a wide variety of oil-related compounds reflecting a diversity of available aromas and flavors. Many occurred as a mixture of linalool and methyl chavicol and 1,8-cineole, indicating the traditional sweet basil aroma. Whereas others had specific aromas. 

The most prominent aroma compound was eugenol (62%) in ‘East Indian’ and ‘Tree’ basil; camphor (61%) in ‘Camphor’ basil; thymol in ‘Green’ basil;  b-caryophyllene in ‘Holy’ and ‘Sacred’ basil; and methyl chavicol in ‘New Guinea’, and ‘Thai Richters’ basil.  Numerous purple basil (‘Holy Sacred Red’, ‘Opal’, and ‘Osmin Purple’) were rich in linalool (ca. 77%), green cultivar as ‘Sweet Fine’ (86%).  Citral was the prominent compound in all the lemon-scented basils.  However, limited cultivars could compete as industrial sources of these compounds. Surprisingly, ‘Camphor’ basil, a very active cultivar, was found to have a relatively high oil yield (>5% dry weight). 

Basil is used as a Source of Anthocyanins 

Deeply purple pigmented basils available as culinary ornamentals urged an examination of eight commercial cultivars as a potential new source of anthocyanins. The anthocyanins present in purple basils were analyzed with aid of high-performance liquid chromatography, spectral data, and plasma-desorption mass spectrometry (Phippen and Simon 1998).  Fourteen different anthocyanins were spotted.  Eleven of the pigments were cyanidin based with cyanidin-3-(di-p-coumarylglucoside)-5-glucoside as an important pigment. Three nominal pigments based on peonidin were identified.  Purple basils are a large source of acylated and glycosylated anthocyanins and deliver stable red pigments to the food industry.

What is a substitute for basil | best 10 substitutes

Spinach leaves

If you are preparing pesto and want to know what is a substitute for basil, then this could be your final stop. A bowl of spinach leaves act as an excellent option if you’re preparing pesto. Especially kids won’t like the overwhelming taste of basil, so you can substitute basil with spinach leaves. To maintain the vibrant green color, spinach leaves will be the best option. Using spinach leaves in stirfries or Thai cooking brings a tasty meal without too much overpowering flavor.


Oregano is a favorable substitute when it comes to Italian and Mediterranean cuisines. Although it delivers a stronger floral, peppery taste, this popular herb shares a similar flavor to that of basil. You can use this substitute for basil in pasta sauces, casseroles, or even as a topping on pizza or bruschetta. 


The flavor of thyme is considered warmer than basil, and it also has a characteristic citric and mint taste. It can go well in casseroles and sauces. Overdose of this herb will give an unpleasant flavor to your dish as it has its unique taste.

Celery Leaf

Celery leaf is another outstanding substitute for basil if you’re making pesto. Add the same quantity of these leaves to enhance the flavor while maintaining the green color. 


Cilantro also known as coriander, provides a definite taste of lemon, mint, and pepper all in one. It may not be the exact substitute for basil for some of you, neither it will emulate basil’s flavor. However, it offers vibrant green color to sauces and dressings. It will go well in Thai cooking, especially curries that are enriched by strong flavors.


What is a substitute for basil? Mint could be another answer. Mint is recognized as a cousin of basil, and they share the same “minty” profile. You cannot use mint on pizzas or casseroles. This flavor won’t work due to the icy taste of mint. However, you use mint for garnishing in dressings and sauces after the dish is ready. 

In case of dessert recipes where basil is involved, such as basil ice cream or cheesecake, mint acts as a perfect substitute. Mint goes perfectly well with the dessert.


Tarragon is another herb used to imitate the licorice notes in Thai basil. It is prominent in French cooking as a way to flavor poultry and fish and is one of the finest herbs. You need to add half the amount, your dish requires for Thai basil and add more if necessary.


Parsley is also considered to be the best for the basil. The subtle flavors of this herb will savor best in cold or raw dishes like green salad or pasta. Also, you can use this for garnishing as it will provide a wonderful look and mouthwatering.


Arugula is healthy and acts as a popular substitute for basil. The leaves are tender and combine perfectly with any dishes. It provides a peppery kick within the first bite.


Kale is a well-known vegetable tastes nice in many recipes and is the best substitute for basil. It can be used for preparing pesto along with the mixture of the pureed cheese, olive oil, and nuts. Altogether its taste will be different but it will taste delicious and won’t leave you dissatisfied.


Now, we have discussed what is a substitute for basil. It’s time to discuss some precautions that should not be ignore.

A proper dose of basil depends on various factors such as your age, health, and several other conditions. Intake of an exact dose of basil for kids and adults is important for your safety and to prevent other health-related issues.

  • Holy basil should not be consumed by people who are trying to conceive because preliminary studies carried out on animals revealed that holy basil may result in uterine contractions and negatively impact fertility.
  • An animal study also demonstrated that holy basil may hamper the rate of normal blood clotting, and it is recommended to avoid the consumption of this herb at least two weeks prior to scheduled surgery and two weeks later any type of surgery.


Hope you have got what is a substitute for basil and the substitute will be beneficial in cooking providing great flavors and enhancing the taste of your recipe. You can go for any of the 10 options from above and try out different recipes you want to.

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