How to Substitute Herbs While You're Cooking

how to substitute herbs illustration

The Spruce / Grace Kim

Herbs have a long and storied history in various food cultures around the world. What would Italian cuisine be without basil and rosemary, or Mexican food without the grassy tang of cilantro? Each cuisine is profoundly impacted by the herbs common to the region.

There will come a time, however, when you simply have to find a substitute for an herb in a recipe. Whether you've run out or simply want to switch things up, you have a few options for the most common herbs.

Dried Herbs for Fresh

The easiest and most common substitution in the world of herbs is to simply use dried rather than fresh herbs. For instance, if you're out of the fresh basil your recipe calls for, just use dried basil in its place. It's simple enough, but there is an important rule to follow.

Dried herbs will always have a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs. Plan on using less, ideally at a ratio of 1 part dried herbs to 1 1/2 parts fresh herbs. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh oregano, use 1 tablespoon of dried oregano.

If you open a jar of dried herbs and don't smell its signature aroma, it's time to get a new batch. Also, keep in mind that when using dried herbs, it's best to incorporate them during cooking. This is different than fresh herbs, which really shine when added at the end of a dish.

Herb Substitutions

What if you're completely out of a specific herb? What if you simply don't care for that particular herb and are searching for a good substitute for basil, sage, or oregano? The good news is that you likely have a perfect substitute right there in your spice rack.

The chart will help you choose a substitution or alternative that should work with your recipe. Whenever substituting, keep in mind that the flavor will not be exactly the same as originally intended. The selected flavors should harmonize or at least hint at the original.

It is wise to begin your substitution with half the specified recipe amount and then adjust it to your personal tastes. You should always feel free to adjust and add to any recipe to suit yourself and your family, anyway.

Basil Oregano or thyme
Chervil Tarragon or parsley
Chives Green onions (scallions), onion, or leek
Cilantro Parsley
Italian Seasoning Blend any of these: basil, oregano, rosemary, and ground red pepper
Marjoram Basil, thyme, or savory
Mint Basil, marjoram, or rosemary
Oregano Thyme or basil
Parsley Chervil or cilantro
Poultry Seasoning Sage plus a blend of any of these: thyme, marjoram, savory, black pepper, or rosemary
Red Pepper Flakes Dash bottled hot pepper sauce or black pepper
Rosemary Thyme, tarragon, or savory
Sage Poultry seasoning, savory, marjoram, or rosemary
Savory Thyme, marjoram, or sage
Tarragon Chervil, dash fennel seed, or dash aniseed
Thyme Basil, marjoram, oregano, or savory