Ingredient Intelligence

The 4 Best Basil Substitutes for When You’re in a Pinch

published May 28, 2022
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basil leaves
Credit: Emma Christensen

When it comes to finding the best substitute for basil, application is everything. Are you slicing tomatoes to make an easy caprese salad and need something fragrant and leafy to finish the dish? Or are you firing up the food processor to make pesto?

Substitutes for basil abound, so consider your options carefully. First, think about the flavors and textures of the meal you’re creating. The best basil substitute for bruschetta is different from what you’ll use in herbed Greek yogurt dip. It all depends on what you’re cooking, and how.

Here are four ingredients to consider the next time you need to find the perfect substitute for basil — no matter what’s on the menu.

1. Oregano

If you’re preparing a dish with Mediterranean flavors, like this Italian-style panzanella or Greek paximadia bread salad, you can swap in equal parts fresh oregano for basil. Oregano and basil are both part of the Lamiaceae plant family, are similarly aromatic, and complement many of the same foods.

If the dish in question already involves fresh oregano, however, you’re better off omitting the fresh basil than doubling up on oregano. Otherwise, you risk overwhelming your recipe with the taste and scent of oregano.

2. Parsley

Fresh parsley is an easy, 1:1 swap for fresh basil in an array of recipes. Because parsley and basil have different flavor profiles, however, this substitution works best in recipes that call for a relatively small amount of fresh basil, such as this air-fryer chicken Parmesan, as opposed to dishes where basil plays a starring role, like creamy corn and basil orzotto.

3. Spinach

Spinach, particularly baby spinach, can be a great substitute for basil in dishes where the herb would be served raw, like pesto or Caprese salads. Spinach provides similar color and texture to fresh basil, although it lacks some of the herb’s aromatic nuance.

4. Dried Basil

If you’re out of fresh basil but blessed with a fully stocked spice cabinet, you can substitute dried basil for fresh. Keep in mind, dried spices lose their potency over time, so, before you sprinkle it on, sniff and taste your dried basil to make sure it’s still fragrant and flavorful. If so, go ahead and make the swap. 

With most dried herbs, you can substitute one part dried for three parts fresh. In other words, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of fresh basil, you can substitute one teaspoon of dried. Or, if you set out to make these savory tomato-basil morning muffins, you’ll use four tablespoons of dried basil in lieu of a half-cup, which equals approximately 8 tablespoons, of chopped fresh basil.

For tips on how to extend the lifespan of fresh basil moving forward, check out this guide to preserving basil to making homemade dried basil, freezing whole basil leaves, and more.