There have been countless times that I wanted to cook something that required fresh rosemary but I didn’t have it. I’m not exactly the best in keeping plants alive so the remnant of my rosemary shrub is out in the garden, somewhere. I purchase my herbs on a regular basis rather than growing them. There’s no shame in that if you’re on the same boat with me.
Rosemary is an integral part of some dishes that the presence of it or at least something similar cannot be compromised. Here, we have the 10 best substitutes for rosemary and where to use them. But before that, let me tell you why rosemary is so good that we have to look for alternatives particular for it.
The rosemary herb is a shrubby, aromatic herb with needle-like leaves. Its aroma and powerful flavor makes it versatile in cooking and it’s also used for medicinal purposes.
As a medicinal plant, rosemary has a wide array of benefits. The herb contains substances that are useful for improving digestion and increasing circulation. Rosemary essential oil can help with hair growth and stimulates our brains to foster better memory.
As an herb for cooking, Rosemary’s aroma and taste are sought after. Rosemary has a wide range of notes like lavender, sage, pine and pepper. It is perfect for poultry, vegetables, breads, and deep flavored meats. That being said, let’s move on to the substitutes!
1. Dried Rosemary
Let’s start with the most basic, shall we? If you don’t have fresh rosemary, use dried rosemary. These are widely available in grocery stores and the best part is that they last a very long time. Dried rosemary usually comes in the form of just the leaves. The stem is left out in the packaging so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of removing the leaves from the steam and the whole mess.
Rosemary alone has a pungent flavor and aroma to it. It’s not the same as mild herbs in the sense that when you cook it longer, the more the flavors will come out. Dried rosemary is not an exception to that rule. In fact, the longer you cook dried rosemary, the stronger the aroma and flavor gets. If you don’t want the rosemary to overpower your dish, don’t put the herb in too early and don’t let the herb cook in the dish for too long.
Dried rosemary could be used in the dishes that fresh rosemary is integrated into like beef stew, roasted potatoes, focaccia bread, roast chicken and so on.
I would say that the closest herb to fulfilling the empty seat of rosemary in a dish would be sage. Sage is beautiful. Sage is perfect. Sage is equally, if not more, powerful than rosemary. Both herbs have a strong pine-like taste and aroma that go equally well with roasts, breads and other starchy dishes.
Sage goes well with deep-flavored meats because its flavors are able to complement that of the meat’s and other flavors don’t water it down. It’s one that would stand out yet be in harmony with everything else. Use sage in prime rib roast, roasted chicken, butter sauces and blend it into breads.
Sage is not only used for food but also for aromatherapy just like rosemary!
Oregano is an herb that has created a name for itself. It’s used specifically used in some dishes and it has its own health benefits. Can you use it as a rosemary substitute? You absolutely can!
Oregano is usually added into red sauces for pasta and pizza. It’s a familiar aroma and taste because it hits so close to our comfort food. Earlier, I mentioned not having fresh rosemary for cooking. Almost all the time, I’m about to cook Bolognese which is meat sauce in tomato slush. I usually throw in two sprigs of rosemary for the meat. Rosemary’s presence in a red meat sauce is comforting and elegant. If you don’t have rosemary, oregano would be the first choice of substitute I would recommend.
Basil is the perfect ingredient to substitute for fresh rosemary if you don’t have the fresh or dried version. If you’re looking for the freshness factor, basil is 100% onboard. Basil has a more subtle and sweet flavor compared to rosemary.
Basil and rosemary are the two most used herbs in Italian cuisine. If one is lacking, the other can definitely make up for the other. To use basil as a substitute, you may use it in dishes where you would use fresh rosemary such as sauces and garnish.
Basil, however, wouldn’t be a good rosemary substitute if you’re going to use on roasts. The subtle flavor of basil will get lost in the flavor of the meat. If it doesn’t get lost, it will get bitter and won’t have a pleasant taste in your mouth.
Savory is the doppelganger of rosemary. Although not exactly the same in flavor, these two herbs could be sisters. Compared to rosemary, savory has a softer stem. Its leaves almost look like that of the rosemary and it is equally aromatic.
Savory’s flavor is peppery, close to Rosemary. You can use it as a rub into meats as a replacement for rosemary. A savory rub can be used on beef, lamb, veal or even venison roasts. Savory could also go well with roasted potatoes.
Most times a substitute is not enough to fill in the missing gaps of the real thing. In the case of tarragon as a substitute for rosemary, it is usually the best supporting actress for the main substitute.
Tarragon has a sweet taste like that of licorice. It is usually eaten fresh or drank as a tea. It is perfect for poultry or rabbit. Tarragon is usually blended in with savory and thyme to achieve a robust flavor.
Use the tarragon as a rub with the savory and the thyme on deep-flavored meats for roasts. You may also use tarragon in meat and poultry stews that originally require rosemary.
My Italian mentor taught me to use thyme for fish and rosemary with thyme for poultry and meat. Thyme has a similar vibe to rosemary. It is a lot milder in dishes wherein rosemary is involved; thyme can easily swoop in and create the same vibe as rosemary.
You may use thyme as a substitute for fresh rosemary on bruschetta or garnish. Thyme can also be used as a rub for chicken and beef. If you’re feeling a little daring with your thyme, you may mix it with dried savory and sage for pork roast with mustard. You will end up having an aromatic and sapid dish!
Marjoram is not that common but if you have it, use it!
Marjoram like savory, has similar flavors to rosemary – peppery. Marjoram isn’t typically available fresh but if you do, use it in dressings, butters and lamb stew in particular. Marjoram has a peppery flavor and augments the flavor of lamb. Use marjoram in a stew, like you would with rosemary in a stew. Other than stew, marjoram is great in red sauces with oregano and basil.
9. Bay Leaf
Bay leaf is famous for its strong aroma that has notes of mint and eucalyptus. It is a good rosemary substitute when making sauces, stocks and stews. Bay leaf has a strong flavor and aroma just like rosemary which is best for dishes that require steeping. Use the bay leaf when making stew with lamb or beef. You may also use bay leaves to stick into chicken for roasting.
Parsley is an herb commonly used as a garnish. It is also used to freshen up western dishes such as pasta and roasts. Parsley’s subtle flavor could be used as a substitute for fresh rosemary used as a garnish. If could be used to top on toasts and salad.
Parsley wouldn’t be a good substitute if you use it as a rub on roasts or to roast, period. The subtle flavor will just turn bitter and it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience. Best to keep it fresh!