How-To
11
min read

The Ultimate Guide to Herb and Spice Substitutions for Every Recipe

Learn how to use smart herb and spice substitutions to create delicious dishes with any ingredients you have. Discover how to swap fresh and dried herbs, make your own spice blends, and experiment with new flavors.
February 21, 2024

Herbs and spices are the magic ingredients that can turn any dish from bland to brilliant. They can infuse your food with flavor, aroma, and color, as well as boost your health with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and digestive aids. But what if you run out of the herb or spice that your recipe requires, or you want to explore new tastes? Don’t worry, you can still create delicious dishes with some clever substitutions that can imitate or enhance the original flavor.

How to Substitute Dried Herbs for Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs have a bright and vibrant flavor that can add freshness and complexity to your dishes. However, they are not always available, affordable, or convenient to use. Dried herbs, on the other hand, are more shelf-stable, economical, and easy to store and measure. But they also have a more concentrated and potent flavor than fresh herbs, so you need to use less of them.

A general rule of thumb is to use one-third of the amount of dried herbs as you would use fresh herbs. For example, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of fresh oregano, you can use one teaspoon of dried oregano instead. You can also use this conversion chart to help you with the measurements:

Another tip is to add dried herbs earlier in the cooking process than fresh herbs, as they need more time to release their flavor and aroma. Fresh herbs are best added at the end of cooking or as a garnish, as they can lose their flavor and color when exposed to high heat for too long.

How to Substitute Herbs and Spices for Each Other

Sometimes you may not have the specific herb or spice that your recipe calls for, or you may want to experiment with different flavors. In that case, you can try to substitute herbs and spices that have similar or complementary characteristics, such as aroma, flavor, color, or origin. However, keep in mind that the flavor will not be exactly the same as the original, and you may need to adjust the amount and taste as you go. Here are some of the most common herb and spice substitutions that you can make:

Basil: You can use fresh mint or fresh cilantro in place of fresh basil, but use slightly less as they have a stronger flavor. For dried basil, you can use oregano or thyme, which have a similar earthy and aromatic flavor.

Chervil: This delicate herb has a mild anise-like flavor that can be replaced by tarragon or parsley. Tarragon has a stronger anise flavor, so use less of it. Parsley has a milder flavor, so use more of it.

Chives: These onion-like herbs can be substituted by green onions (scallions), onion, or leek. Green onions have a similar flavor and appearance, but use less of them as they are stronger. Onion and leek have a more pungent flavor, so use less of them and chop them finely.

Cilantro: This herb has a distinctive and polarizing flavor that some people love and some people hate. If you are in the latter group, or you simply don’t have cilantro, you can use parsley instead. Parsley has a milder and grassier flavor that can work well in most dishes that call for cilantro.

Italian Seasoning: This is a blend of dried herbs that typically includes basil, oregano, rosemary, and ground red pepper. You can make your own by mixing these herbs together, or you can use any of them individually or in combination to suit your taste.

Marjoram: This herb has a sweet and floral flavor that can be replaced by basil, thyme, or savory. Basil has a similar flavor, but use less of it as it is stronger. Thyme and savory have a more pungent flavor, so use more of them.

Mint: This herb has a refreshing and cooling flavor that can be substituted by basil, marjoram, or rosemary. Basil and marjoram have a similar flavor, but use more of them as they are milder. Rosemary has a more woody and resinous flavor, so use less of it.

Oregano: This herb has a robust and earthy flavor that can be replaced by thyme or basil. Thyme has a similar flavor, but use less of it as it is stronger. Basil has a sweeter flavor, so use more of it.

Parsley: This herb has a mild and grassy flavor that can be substituted by chervil or cilantro. Chervil has a similar flavor, but use more of it as it is milder. Cilantro has a more distinctive and citrusy flavor, so use less of it.

Poultry Seasoning: This is a blend of dried herbs and spices that typically includes sage, thyme, marjoram, savory, black pepper, and rosemary. You can make your own by mixing these ingredients together, or you can use sage as the main flavor and add any of the others to your liking.

Red Pepper Flakes: These are dried and crushed red chili peppers that add heat and color to your dishes. You can substitute them with a dash of bottled hot pepper sauce or black pepper, but be careful not to add too much as they can be very spicy.

Rosemary: This herb has a woody and resinous flavor that can be replaced by thyme, tarragon, or savory. Thyme and savory have a similar flavor, but use more of them as they are milder. Tarragon has a more anise-like flavor, so use less of it.

Sage: This herb has a warm and earthy flavor that can be substituted by poultry seasoning, savory, marjoram, or rosemary. Poultry seasoning has a similar flavor, but use less of it as it is a blend of several herbs and spices. Savory and marjoram have a more pungent flavor, so use more of them. Rosemary has a more woody and resinous flavor, so use less of it.

Savory: This herb has a peppery and pungent flavor that can be replaced by thyme, marjoram, or sage. Thyme and marjoram have a similar flavor, but use less of them as they are stronger. Sage has a more earthy flavor, so use more of it.

Tarragon: This herb has a distinctive anise-like flavor that can be substituted by chervil, a dash of fennel seed, or a dash of aniseed. Chervil has a similar flavor, but use more of it as it is milder. Fennel seed and aniseed have a stronger flavor, so use less of them and crush them before adding.

Thyme: This herb has a pungent and aromatic flavor that can be replaced by basil, marjoram, oregano, or savory. Basil and marjoram have a similar flavor, but use more of them as they are milder. Oregano and savory have a more robust flavor, so use less of them.

How to Substitute Spices for Each Other

Spices are derived from various parts of plants, such as seeds, roots, bark, or flowers. They can add warmth, depth, and complexity to your dishes, as well as color and aroma. However, sometimes you may not have the specific spice that your recipe calls for, or you may want to experiment with different flavors. In that case, you can try to substitute spices that have similar or complementary characteristics, such as heat, sweetness, or origin. However, keep in mind that the flavor will not be exactly the same as the original, and you may need to adjust the amount and taste as you go. Here are some of the most common spice substitutions that you can make:

Allspice: This spice is made from dried berries that have a warm and sweet flavor that resembles a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. You can substitute it with equal parts of these spices, or use 6 whole allspice berries in place of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice.

Aniseed (Anise Seed): This spice is made from the seeds of a plant that have a licorice-like flavor. You can substitute it with fennel seeds in equal amounts, or use a dash of anise extract.

Cardamom: This spice is made from the seeds of a plant that have a warm and aromatic flavor that is often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. You can substitute it with a blend of cinnamon and nutmeg, or use ginger or cloves for a more pungent flavor.

Cayenne Pepper: This spice is made from dried and ground red chili peppers that add a lot of heat and color to your dishes. You can substitute it with red pepper flakes, chili powder, or paprika, but be careful not to add too much as they can be very spicy.

Chili Powder: This spice is a blend of dried and ground chili peppers and other spices that can vary in heat and flavor depending on the ingredients. You can substitute it with cumin, paprika, oregano, or cayenne pepper, or make your own by mixing these spices together.

Cinnamon: This spice is made from the bark of a tree that has a sweet and warm flavor that is often used in baking and desserts. You can substitute it with nutmeg, allspice, or cloves, but use less of them as they are stronger.

Cloves: This spice is made from the dried flower buds of a tree that have a pungent and sweet flavor that is often used in baking and savory dishes. You can substitute it with allspice, nutmeg, or cinnamon, but use less of them as they are milder.

Cumin: This spice is made from the seeds of a plant that have a nutty and earthy flavor that is often used in Mexican, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines. You can substitute it with chili powder, coriander, or caraway seeds, but use more of them as they are milder.

Curry Powder: This spice is a blend of various spices that can vary in flavor and color depending on the ingredients. It is often used in Indian and Asian cuisines. You can substitute it with a blend of turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and paprika, or use garam masala for a more complex flavor.

Fennel Seeds: This spice is made from the seeds of a plant that have a licorice-like flavor that is often used in Italian and Mediterranean cuisines. You can substitute it with aniseed, caraway seeds, or dill seeds, but use less of them as they are stronger.

Garam Masala: This spice is a blend of various spices that can vary in flavor and heat depending on the ingredients. It is often used in Indian and Asian cuisines. You can substitute it with curry powder, or make your own by mixing cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

Ginger: This spice is made from the root of a plant that has a spicy and zesty flavor that is often used in Asian and Indian cuisines. You can substitute it with allspice, nutmeg, or mace, but use less of them as they are sweeter.

Mace: This spice is made from the outer covering of the nutmeg seed that has a similar but milder flavor than nutmeg. You can substitute it with nutmeg, but use more of it as it is weaker.

Mustard: This spice is made from the seeds of a plant that have a sharp and tangy flavor that is often used in sauces and dressings. You can substitute it with dry mustard powder, or make your own by mixing vinegar, water, salt, and turmeric.

Nutmeg: This spice is made from the seed of a tree that has a sweet and warm flavor that is often used in baking and desserts. You can substitute it with cinnamon, allspice, or mace, but use less of them as they are stronger.

Paprika: This spice is made from dried and ground red peppers that can vary in flavor and color depending on the variety. It is often used in Hungarian and Spanish cuisines. You can substitute it with cayenne pepper, chili powder, or smoked paprika, but be careful not to add too much as they can be very spicy.

Saffron: This spice is made from the stigma of a flower that has a delicate and floral flavor that is often used in Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is also very expensive and rare. You can substitute it with turmeric, safflower, or annatto, but use more of them as they are milder and less aromatic.

Turmeric: This spice is made from the root of a plant that has a bright yellow color and a earthy and bitter flavor that is often used in Indian and Asian cuisines. You can substitute it with saffron, curry powder, or mustard, but use less of them as they are stronger and more flavorful.

Herbs and spices are wonderful ingredients that can transform your dishes with their flavor, aroma, and color. However, you don’t need to worry if you don’t have the exact herb or spice that your recipe calls for, or if you want to try something new. You can use some smart substitutions that can mimic or complement the original flavor, or create your own blends that suit your taste. Just remember to adjust the amount and taste as you go, and have fun experimenting with different herbs and spices!

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