August 22

7 Best Rosemary Substitutes – Which to Use and When to Use Them

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Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) has fascinated professional chefs and home cooks alike since at least 500 BCE. Its unique aromatic tapestry reads as both warming and cooling, bright but structural, and immediately identifiable. Without rosemary, a dish may seem dull and lacking in character.

With a few guidelines, you can spot other herbs in your kitchen or garden that mimic the spirit of rosemary. We encourage you to experiment, but as a good staring point, we've outlined our 7 favorite rosemary substitutes of all time. 

Enjoy!



Our On-the-Go Reference Table


For Meat

  • Thyme
  • Winter Savory
  • Mint


For Poultry

  • Sage
  • Tarragon


For Simmering

  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Bay


For Italian Dishes

  • Thyme
  • Winter Savory
  • The "Delicates" (Basil, Marjoram, Oregano)

How to Find the Right Substitute?

What are you looking for when cooking with rosemary?

You should look for those same attributes in a rosemary substitute. While no other herb will achieve the same flavor as rosemary, several other common kitchen herbs share these valuable qualities:

  • Assertive, resinous aroma
  • Flavor that does not diminish when cooked
  • Dries well (for autumn/winter use)

The substitutes listed here may not taste the same as rosemary, but they are similar in two respects. First, they will give a similar “feel" to the recipe in that they are intense, woodsy flavors that traditionally accompany the same sets of ingredients or the same kinds of dishes.

Secondly, they behave the same way that rosemary does. Because they are hardy herbs, which all dry well and retain their essential oils for many months, they are associated with “autumn” flavors. Also, like rosemary, these substitutes don’t suffer under heat.  

Rosemary is commonly used for roasting, simmering, and cooking applications, so the only appropriate alternatives are other sturdy leaves whose oils are not easily volatilized. For this reason, delicate herbs like parsley, mint, or cilantro would usually be poor alternatives, because in these herbs the volatile molecules quickly disappear when heating or drying. Look for herbs that can be substituted at the same point in a recipe.

7 Rosemary

Substitutes

1) Thyme


Like rosemary, thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.) is a hardy, woody-stemmed herb that stands up well to cooking. Strip its small leaves and toss them directly into salads or stews, or secure it in a pouch of cheesecloth and twine as part of a bouquet garni. If a recipe calls for a “sprig” of thyme, this refers to a whole stem with the leaves intact.

Similarities: Both are heavy in woody, earthy aromas

Suggested Conversion: A one-to-one ratio of either fresh or dried leaves 

Flavor Notes:  Piney, woody, floral 

Suggested Dishes: Meat, eggs, tomatoes, stews 

2) Sage 


It is usually unpleasant to consume sage (Salvia officinalis L.) raw because of the fine fuzz that covers each silvery leaf. Because of this, most cooks opt to use it finely minced when fresh, or dried and powdered. Like rosemary, sage has close ties to autumn and winter dishes.

Similarities: Combine well with meat and poultry; very intense flavors

Suggested Conversion: Start with half amount and add more to taste

Flavor Notes:  Cedar, cooling, menthol, resin 

Suggested Dishes: Poultry, seafood, lemon 

3) Winter Savory


While summer savory (Satureja hortensis L.) is peppery and biting, winter savory (Satureja montana L.) boasts more herbal tones reminiscent of sage and mint. Though it can be challenging to find, it works well in many of the same recipes that call for rosemary.

Similarities: Complex, medicinal flavor profiles that complement rich dishes

Suggested Conversion: Start with half amount and add more to taste

Flavor Notes:  Pungent, piney, medicinal, minty 

Suggested Dishes: Meat rub, beans, tomatoes

4) Tarragon


The recognizable perfume of tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) has been likened to anise or licorice, and it can quickly become overwhelming if abused. While its aroma and flavor are, in fact, entirely dissimilar to rosemary, the two herbs complement the same kinds of dishes, traditionally accompany the same ingredients, and are able to withstand the same types of cooking applications.

Similarities: Traditionally combined with the same flavors and dishes

Suggested Conversion: Start with half amount then add more to taste

Flavor Notes:  Anise, green, herbal

Suggested Dishes: Poultry, seafood, lemon, butter

5) Bay Leaf


The aromatic leaf of the laurel tree (Laurus nobilis L.), bay leaf has a much more subtle flavor than rosemary. Both herbs hold up well to heat, making them excellent for long-cooking applications. Unlike rosemary’s prominent, noticeable contribution, bay leaf provides more of a structural background note. Some cooks claim that it brings out the best in other spices, meaning that it is rarely used on its own.

Similarities: Excellent for long cooking times

Suggested Conversion: Add a couple of whole leaves to any simmering pot

Flavor Notes:  Subtle, sylvan, lemony

Suggested Dishes: Soups, stews, simmering, roasting


Honorable Mentions...

Some herbs deserve an honorable mention because, although they substitute well for rosemary with respect to flavor, they are very poor alternatives in terms of cooking application. The following herbs complement the same types of dishes, but they are delicate and do not hold up well to heat!

If you choose to substitute one of the following for rosemary, make sure to add it towards the end of the cooking process to ensure the integrity of its flavor.

6) Basil, Marjoram, and Oregano 


The memorable fragrance of basil (Ocimum basilicum L.), marjoram (Origanum majorana L), and oregano (Origanum vulgare L.) complement poultry, tomato, and bean dishes when rosemary is missing. They are featured prominently in French and Italian cooking and, like rosemary, are often combined with the other spices from the list above. 

Similarities: Associated with Mediterranean cuisine

Suggested Conversion: At least a one-to-one ratio, add more to taste; add at the end of the cooking process!

Flavor Notes:  Green, fresh, grassy, spicy

Suggested Dishes: Salads, fresh applications

7) Mint 


Lamb is a centerpiece often prepared in celebration, and many lamb recipes recommend rosemary as the ideal aromatic accompaniment. Rosemary is often rubbed onto the lamb before roasting, but mint is usually prepared as a sauce or jelly and spooned on afterwards.

Similarities: Strong, immediately recognizable aroma

Suggested Conversion: Approximately a one-to-one ratio

Flavor Notes:  Cooling, green, medicinal

Suggested Dishes: Lamb, Middle Eastern cuisine

In Conclusion


After taking a look at the guidelines above, we see some trends. Strongly aromatic, resinous herbs on a woody stem share somewhat similar flavor profiles and withstand heat well. Mild, leafy herbs quickly give up their flavor during the cooking process. It rarely makes sense to substitute a hardy, ligneous herb, like rosemary, for a delicate, floppy leaf such as basil.

To do so, it is necessary to make major adjustments to the ratio and timing of your herb additions. In short, while there is no direct substitute for the lemony pine-spice flavor of rosemary, use the recommendations above to create dishes tailored to the essence of your dish.

Cheers,

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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