Understanding the difference between bay leaves and basil can transform your cooking, making it more flavorful and aromatic.
Here’s how to tell them apart:
- Bay leaves are long and flat, suitable for soups and stews.
- Basil leaves are bright green with a rounded shape, perfect for fresh use in dishes like pesto.
- Bay leaves are from the laurel family and have a woodsy fragrance.
- Basil is a member of the mint family with a spicy mint flavor.
- Bay leaves are generally used dried, while basil is often used fresh.
In a world full of aromatic herbs, it’s difficult to tell the difference when comparing bay leaves vs basil. Because bay leaves and basil seem the same at first glance, it’s challenging to tell them apart or determine the difference between the herbs. Despite this, critical differences between these plants determine how we use them in meals and outside the kitchen.
Although basil and bay leaves look similar, bay leaves are the larger of the leaves. Bay leaves are flat and long, reaching up to three inches in length. Leaves from basil plants are a brighter green color with a rounded middle.
Basil and bay leaves are unrelated to each other. Basil is part of the mint family, making it closer to sage. Bay leaves come from various plants in the laurel family. The bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis), or one of its multiple varieties, is where you find bay leaves. “In my experience, bay leaves are like a background singer, adding depth to the melody of a dish without taking center stage,” suggests Julia Hodges, a seasoned authority in plants, gardening, and growing food.
What is the Difference Between Basil and the Bay Leaf?
Despite these plants producing aromatic leaves that are popular for cooking, there are significant differences in how these leaves are used. Bay leaves and basil bring different flavors to meals, and the leaves have different uses, even around the home.
Bay Leaves vs Basil
Italian and Thai restaurants use holy basil or basil leaves when cooking to take advantage of their flavoring and smell. Indian cuisine uses these leaves as curry leaves to add fragrance to the dish instead of flavor.
One major difference between basil and bay leaves is that recipes typically use bay leaves for their fragrance. Bay leaves are a common ingredient in soups, stews, and braises.
The leaves pulled from bay laurel trees have a mild flavor and develop their full flavor after laurel leaves dry. When found in the grocery store, dried bay leaves come in glass jars as whole leaves.
Basil adds flavor to various cuisines, from fresh herbs being the main ingredient in pesto to dried herbs in Chinese cuisine. Regular basil has a slightly minty flavor and is a close substitute for oregano. Most recipes use fresh basil leaves at the end of the recipe to avoid overcooking and losing the flavor. Store basil after picking in a jar of water in the fridge.
Differences Between These Herbs
Among the different plants that bay leaves come from, the Indian bay leaf has a different flavor from the leaves of the tree that originated in the Mediterranean. Laurel leaves have a bitter taste comparable to juniper berries. The Indian leaves are larger and taste closer to cinnamon bark, allspice, or anise.
Some bay leaves are poisonous to humans; however, these varieties aren’t available for purchase as food products. Despite this, many consider bay leaves toxic and recommend removing them from your food before eating. The leaves are not toxic to humans; however, they remain stiff during the cooking process and could be harmful if swallowed.
Basil is a plant native to parts of Africa and Asia, but it’s referred to as sweet basil in the West. Typically, basil grows as an annual plant or a perennial herb in warmer parts of the world.
Chemically, menthol forms naturally in the oil of basil plants and other mint plants. Besides being used in dishes, basil is beneficial to humans as an insecticide when targeting pests like cockroaches, nematodes, and thrips.
Oil pressed from basil leaves also works against various bacteria species. Whether you have holy basil vs thai basil, the herb contains eugenol, which is harmful to insects. However, when humans consume basil, it has the health benefits of helping lower blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.
Is Basil a Good Substitute?
Are basil and bay leaves the same in the kitchen? If you are not familiar with basil vs bay leaves in terms of their flavor profile, it might seem simple to use basil as a substitute for bay leaves.
After all, both plants are aromatic herbs, and swapping ingredients is common, even if a recipe specifically calls for one seasoning. Herbs that work well as a replacement for basil include tarragon and chervil, oregano and marjoram, chives, and green onions.
Bay leaves are known for their woodsy flavor and strong fragrance that lends itself well to slow-cooked meals. On the other hand, basil has a spicy mint flavor that substitutes well for cilantro or coriander.
Because the flavor difference between basil and bay leaves is so distinct, the two herbs don’t make great substitutes for each other. The basil spice lends itself well to tomato-based dishes, and matching the woody taste of bay leaves is best done using cinnamon.
Add water and bay leaves to a pot. Bring the water to a rolling boil for three minutes. Remove the pot from the stove and let the leaves steep for four minutes. Strain the leaves and add the tea to a cup, sweetening or adding milk as desired.
Despite basil and bay leaves not being the same herb or even tasting similar, they are both great additions to their respective dishes. Learning to appreciate each herb for its unique taste allows you to use them to their fullest and try new dishes with them.
We hope our smart guide helped you understand the bay leaves vs basil differences and that you’ll share our advice on using basil as a substitute for bay leaves with your friends on Facebook and Pinterest.