Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | What Are The Differences?


If you love cooking, then you definitely know that herbs play a great role in flavoring your dishes. The two most commonly used herbs to add aroma and flavor to your dish are bay leaf and basil, and today we will debate bay leaf vs. basil thoroughly.

Basil is widely used in Italian cuisines. They belong to the same family as mint. On the other hand, bay leaves are used in French, Spanish, Thai, and Indian dishes. Both are aromatic herbs that enhance the overall flavor of the dish. Are they the same? Can we substitute them with each other? 

Bay leaf and basil are not the same. Bay leaf has a woodsy flavor with a hint of bitterness, whereas basil is sweet and minty in taste. The stages of adding these two herbs are also different. Bay leaves are usually added at the start of the cooking and removed before serving, whereas basil is majorly used to garnish the dishes.

They also differ in many other contexts, like appearance, origin, and nutrient contents. 

Today, we will clear all the ifs and buts related to bay leaf and basil used in the kitchen. I will take you through the significant differences between them, along with top recipes using these aromatic herbs. Before we start, let us have a look at the difference table between the two.

Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | Difference Table

Basis Of DifferenceBay LeafBasil
OriginSouth AsiaCentral Africa to Southeast Asia
FlavorWoodsy and slightly bitterSweet with a hint of pepper and anise
AromaHerbal and floral fragrance Minty and peppery aroma
ShapeElongated shape with a pointed endOvate shape with a slight downward curve and pointed end
ColorFresh leaves – Shiny dark green color
Dry – Matte olive green
Fresh leaves – glossy green
Dry – dark and intense 
Available InDried, fresh, or powder formDried or fresh form
Cooking UsageUsed in curries, soups, stewsUsed in tomato-based recipes or garnishing pizza, pasta, or soups. 
Shelf LifeFresh leaves- 1 to 2 weeks
Dries – Up to 3 months
Fresh leaves- 1 to 2 weeks
Dries – Up to 3 months
VarietiesMany varieties3-4 different varieties

What Is A Bay Leaf?

What Is A Bay Leaf?

Bay leaves are a fragrant leaf from the laurel tree used as an herb. Bay leaves are available whole—either fresh or dried—or ground into a powder. The leaves are added to slow-cooked recipes, such as soups, sauces, and stews, and are removed before serving the dish. They have a floral and herbal scent reminiscent of oregano and thyme and are used more often than any other herb.

Bay leaves come from the bay laurel plant, an evergreen shrub that grows slowly in warm climates. The plants are grown for ornamental use and dried and used in cooking. The thick and leathery leaves are elongated with pointy ends. Most often, recipes call for dried bay leaves, which have a slightly stronger scent than fresh.

What Is Basil?

What Is Basil?

Basil is an herb in the mint family that is essential in Italian cooking, although it is also used in a variety of other types of cuisines including Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese. It is known for being the main ingredient in traditional pesto and is also a favorite seasoning in tomato-based pasta sauces.

Basil is an annual herb that is most often green in color. It has a fragrant, sweet smell and peppery taste. Basil leaves are large, somewhat delicate, and have a smooth texture marked with a series of veins; they are the prime part of the plant used in cooking. It’s an easy herb to grow at home and a common addition to kitchen gardens.

Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | What Are The Similarities Between The Two?

bay leaves

1. Used As Seasoning

Bay leaf and basil are both used mainly as a seasoning in dishes. They add flavors and aromas to the dish. They can be either used in dried or fresh form. You can either crush them with your hand or finely chop them and add them to the recipe. 

2. Aromatic 

Whether it is a bay leaf or basil, they have an aromatic flavor in them. Their taste and smell may differ all over, but the primary purpose of adding a bay leaf or basil to any dish is to enhance and give an aromatic touch.

3. Dried And Fresh Form

Bay leaf and basil are found in fresh as well as in dried form. Both forms will differ a little bit in flavor. Fresh basil is usually added after finely chopping at the end of the recipe, whereas sometimes dried basil is sprinkled before the food is cooked. Similarly, bay leaves are used at the start of the recipe to give the aromatic and floral fragrance. 

4. Shelf Life

The storage of either type of leaf is quite similar and straightforward. They are available in dried and fresh forms. The dried version of either leaf can last for years if properly packed in an airtight container. It would be best to place the container in a cool, dry, dark place. 

When it comes to the fresh leaves of bay and basil, they can last up to 1-2 weeks if properly packed or sealed. You can even freeze these leaves and store them for about three months.

However, you should always check and not keep them for a longer time as they lose their fragrance and aroma if stored for a very long time.

Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | Major Differences

basil in a pot

Bay leaf and basil have many differences on the basis of their taste, flavor, uses in cooking, etc. They belong to different families and are used in many popular cuisines.

1. Origin

Bay leaves originated from South Asia and belong to the family Lauraceae and are related to cinnamon and sassafras. Basils are believed to be native to Central Africa and spread to South Asia. They belong to the family Lamiaceae and are connected to the mint. 

2. Appearance 

Bay leaf has an elongated shape and is thick in size. It also has a pointed end and rough texture. The size may differ as per the variety. The shade of the fresh bay leaf is green in color.

It has a shiny gloss on dark green color at the upper side, whereas the lower or under part has a pale green shade. Once dried, the dark glossy green color changes to matte olive green. 

When it comes to basil, it has an oval shape which has a downward curve. The ends of basil leaves are pointed. They have a grooved and rough texture. The color of basil leaves will differ as per the cultivars.

Sweet basil has a glossy green color, whereas some varieties of basil will have purple-shaded leaves. The size of basil is apparently more petite than the bay leaf. Once dried, the shade of the basil leaf gets darker and more intense.

3. Flavor 

If I need to tell the flavor of bay leaf and basil in very simple words, then I would say that bay leaf has a woodsy flavor with a hint of bitterness, whereas basil is sweet and minty in taste. 

Now let’s elaborate a little bit and get an unmistakable taste of both leaves.

Basil is considered to have a minty and peppery flavor. It also has a hint of clove and anise. Most of the time, basil is sweet and has a licorice-like flavor, giving the dish a unique and vibrant taste and aroma.

When it comes to bay leaf, it is a more earthy type of flavor similar to cinnamon. It also has bitterness, which can give the dish a bitter and unpleasant taste if overused.

4. Varieties

When it comes to the variety of basils, there are so many varieties available, whereas bay leaf also g=have few types but fewer than basil. Let us look into some of them.

Basil And Varieties

  • Sweet Basil Sweet basil is a very commonly used basil. As the name suggests, it has a sweet flavor with a hint of mint and pepper. The leaves of sweet basil have a vibrant green color. They are also known to repel mosquitos. You can easily find them in your local store.
  • Lemon Basil – Lemon basil is now getting popular because of the presence of lemony flavor. You can use them in fish and poultry dishes. Lemon basils are a very good option to make tea. Just crush some fresh leaves of lemon basil and enjoy the lemony scent, which can refresh your mood.
  • Purple Basil Purple Basil has a dark burgundy color which is very attractive. It has a strong aromatic flavor with a hint of clove but lacks a lot of sweetness. They are used to bring lively colors to your dishes or recipes. 
  • Thai Sweet Basil Thai sweet basil gives a spicy flavor. It has deep green colored leaves with dark purple flowers, which contrast the gardens beautifully. They are usually used in Asian dishes like Thai chicken. They are best known for their ability to hold their flavor even when cooked at high temperatures.
  • Genovese Basil Genovese basil has large-sized leaves with a dark green shade. It is best in any recipe for pesto or Italian dishes. Genovese basil has a more aromatic flavor as compared with sweet basil. However, they are interchangeably used in many recipes. 

Bay Leaf And Varieties

  • Mediterranean Bay Leaf Mediterranean bay leaves are the most well-known variety which belongs to the Mediterranean region. Like other bay leaves, they are used in similar ways. They may look identical to Indian bay leaves, but they are not a substitute for each other. The Leaves of the Mediterranean bay leaf are sharp, bitter, and pungent. However, the scent is more noticeable than the taste.
  • California Bay Leaf – California bay leaves are also known as Oregon myrtle. Their leaves might look similar to Mediterranean bay leaves but are very distinct in flavor, as California bay leaves have a more intense and saturated flavor. While using California bay leaf, caution should be taken as it can give an unpleasant bitter taste to your dish.
  • Indian Bay Leaf Indian bay leaves are widely used in Indian cuisines and neighboring regions. Their smell can easily differentiate them as they have a hint of cinnamon flavor. They are typically used in making highly aromatic gravies of meat and vegetables. They look similar to usual bay leaves and belong to the same family but have a different genus. That is why the way of using these leaves is a little different from the regular ones.
  • Indonesian Bay Leaf Indonesian bay leaves are primarily used in Indonesia and Malaysia. They are used to season Indonesian or Malaysian cuisines like meat and sometimes vegetables. Again the flavor of these types of leaves is different. They have a more faint taste when compared with the other varieties of bay leaves.

5. Nutritional Content 

The nutritional content of basil and bay leaf also differs as they belong to different families and have other structures. 

The primary thing to look into while comparing the nutritional value of both is that basil is more likely to be eaten, whereas bay leaf is only used for flavoring. However, their nutrient content differs a bit.

Like, bay leaf has more Vitamin C content as compared to basil, but basil leads its way in Vitamin A. They both are good sources of magnesium and phosphorus. Basil has Vitamin K, whereas bay leaf has higher amounts of calcium and potassium. 

They are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. Both herbs are packed with nutrients and can be a good addition with not flavors but health benefits as well.

6. Cooking Utilization

When it comes to the usage of these two herbs, they are poles apart. Firstly their timings, or the stage of adding these herbs, are different. Bay leaf is usually added at the start of the cooking as bay leaf takes a long time to steep the flavor. 

Basil can be added at the start of the cooking, which is mainly the marination process, or at the end of cooking, where basil is used as a garnishing ingredient. Basil is highly aromatic and pungent, and when used as a garnish, it enhances the dish’s overall flavor and brings freshness like mint.

Both forms of these herbs – dried and fresh are used in dishes. Bay leaves lose their color in drying, and basil gets darker and more intense. 

Basil is widely used in Italian cuisines and is the main ingredient in pesto sauce. It is also used in Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, and other Asian cuisines. Basil pairs well with tomato-based dishes and pasta sauces.

The dried basil goes well with vegetable-based dishes like zucchini and eggplant. Dried and fresh basil are both best to use for garnishing foods like – pizza, pasta, and salads. 

Now coming to bay leaves are a staple in many cuisines like French, Spanish, Filipino, Thai, and Indian. The aromatic flavor of bay leaf is best for curries, sauces, soups, stews, and meat dishes.

Bay leaves are added at the start of cooking, and most of the time, they are removed before serving. Many recipes call for crushed bay leaves as they give more enhanced flavor.

One thing to keep in mind while using bay leaf is not to overuse it, as it can leave a bitter flavor and spoil the dish.

Top Recipes With Bay Leaf

1. Slow-Cooked Beef Stew

Slow-cooked beef stew is an ancient-fashioned recipe. Simply in a bowl, take some flour, and add pepper & salt. Combine the seasoned flour with meat cubes. Add other ingredients like garlic cloves, carrot, onion, and bay leaf. Mix them well.

In a slow cooker, add the meat and cook it for 12 hours on low flame and 4-5 hours on high flame. You can add potatoes as well. Give a good stir before serving.

 2. Slow Cooked pickled pork

Slow-cooked pickled pork will take a few hours to be cooked and serve. In a large saucepan, place one onion on the base. Add the meat on the top and add malt vinegar, sugar, ginger, bay leaf, celery, and carrot. Mix them well.

Add water and bring the meat to a shimmer. After this, cook the meat for about 30 minutes and serve it hot.

3. Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a quick and easy recipe. Simply heat the oil in a pan. Add the chopped onions and salt. Cook the onions until translucent. Add garlic and cook it well. Now add some eggplant, bell pepper, tomatoes, and zucchini.

Stir to mix. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Simmer it on low heat. When vegetables are cooked, then remove them from the heat. You can now remove the thyme sprig. Season it with some salt and serve it hot.

4. Deep Fried Turkey Rub

Deep fried turkey rub is very flavorful, quick, and easy to make. Crush some bay leaves and add thyme, garlic powder, oregano, pepper, and creole seasoning. Combine them well. Now rub the mixture on the turkey.

You can deep fry the turkey after refrigerating it for around 24-48 hours. Serve it with other dishes.

5. Canned Corn Beef Stew

Canned corn beef stew is a quick recipe using corned beef in a can. Boil some potatoes in a pan. Heat oil in a skillet and add potato, corn, sofrito, and garlic. Cook them for a while. Add tomato sauce, oregano, and bay leaf.

Add water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir the corned beef until heated through for around 6-7 mins.

Top Recipes With Basil

1. Tomato Basil Pasta

Tomato basil pasta is a very flavorful pasta recipe. First, boil your pasta for about 7-8 minutes and keep it aside. Now, cook your tomatoes by adding oil to a pan and tossing it frequently. Drizzle some balsamic vinegar and add salt to taste.

Mince the garlic and cook it for a while. Add some pasta over it. Now add pasta and cooked tomato with basil and parmesan cheese. Toss all the ingredients and serve the yummy tomato basil pasta.

2. Basil pesto

Basil pesto is a very popular pesto made with basil. Toast some nuts and add them to a food processor or a grinder. In the same food processor, add garlic and cheese. Process it for a few seconds. Add basil, lemon juice, and salt.

Pour some olive oil and blend everything until a smooth and nice consistency is achieved. You can store this for a week and enjoy it with any snack or meal.

3. Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato basil soup is a warm and quick recipe. Chop some onions and bell pepper. Mince some garlic. In a pan, add oil and add onions with bell pepper. Saute them well. Add garlic and pour some white vinegar. Cook it until the white vinegar evaporates.

Add tomatoes, vegetable broth, and salt. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add basil and blend the mixture using a blender until a smooth consistency is achieved. Serve it and enjoy.

4. Tomato Basil Sauce

Tomato basil sauce is another recipe that goes well with many other main dishes. You can add this sauce to spaghetti as well. Simply add some garlic to a pan with heated oil. Pour the canned tomatoes and add kosher salt along with chopped basil.

Cook the tomatoes by covering the pan. You can even use a blender if you like a smooth consistency, or you can serve the sauce in a chunky and rustic flavor. 

5. Pesto Salmon

Pesto salmon, is a very flavorful recipe as pesto is an excellent pair for fish dishes. Prepare your salmon by putting it in a mixture of water and salt. Preheat the oven and then bake your salmon as usual.

When the salmon is well cooked, serve it by spreading pesto made using basil and sprinkling some nuts and some lemon zest. You can store the leftovers for up to 3-4 days.

Can we substitute basil with bay leaf and vice-versa? 

If you are out of basil and want to use bay leaf instead, then there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, in spite of the fact that they both are aromatic and used to enhance the flavor, bay leaf has an earthy and little bitter flavor, whereas basil is a little sweet with a hint of pepper and anise.  

Not switching them in the recipes is advised, as they have unique flavors and aromas. You can eliminate the herbs if not available or use the alternatives. Basil substitutes include fresh mint, thyme, parsley, tarragon, or oregano.

Bay leaf substitutes can be juniper berries or rosemary sprigs. However, they are both used in soups and stews, and with proper mindfulness, use either as per the availability. 

Can we use bay leaf and basil together?

This may come as a surprise, but many recipes call for both – bay leaf and basil. Like in pasta or pizza, you can make your sauce using bay leaf and sprinkle some basil at the end of the recipe.

Similarly, bouquet garni uses a bay leaf as one of the ingredients, and you can also add some basil for extra flavor. They might complement each other in some dishes but make a great pair in some recipes.

Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | Which Is healthy?

Bay leaf and basil both are herbs with many health benefits. They both are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. However, bay leaves have higher calcium, Vitamin C, and potassium count.

Basil is a good source of Vitamin A and K. We can conclude that bay leaves are more healthy as compared to basil.

Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | Which Is Tasty?

Bay leaf has a woodsy and earthy flavor, whereas most varieties of basil are sweet with a hint of pepper and anise. Basil is considered more tasteful as a bay leaf can also leave a bitter taste. They both are aromatic herbs.

Basil brings freshness and flavor to the dish. So, on a personal note, basil wins in the taste department.

Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | Which Is Versatile?

Basil has a number of varieties available, from lemon basil to purple basil. They differ a little bit in taste as well. When it comes to bay leaves, there are not so many varieties available.

Basil is used in many Italian cuisines and is an excellent option for garnishing any dishes, especially tomato-based recipes. Therefore, basil is more versatile than bay leaf.

Bay Leaf Vs. Basil | Which Is Better?

Clearly, basil is better when compared with bay leaf. Basil can be used in a wide variety of dishes, whereas bay leaves are used primarily in meat, curries, soups, and stews.

Basil has a better taste and aroma, whereas bay leaf has a woodsy, aromatic flavor with a hint of bitter flavor. So, after comparing basil and bay leaf on many levels and aspects, basil is better than bay leaf.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can we use bay leaves in pasta sauces?

Yes, bay leaf can be used while making pasta sauce. Bay leaf gives an aromatic flavor as the sauce is usually cooked for a good time; it allows the bay leaves to transfer the flavor and aroma to the sauce.

Can we substitute basil with a bay leaf?

It is suggested not to substitute either of them with each other. However, if you are adding basil in soups and stews, you can add bay leaf instead of garnishing it with basil. It may not give the same flavor as basil, but it will give your soup or stews a good aroma.

How much amount of dried bay leaf should be substituted in place of fresh bay leaf?

In many recipes, you can replace 1 fresh bay leaf with 2 dried bay leaves or ½ teaspoon of crushed bay leaves.


Finally, we are at the end of this aromatic discussion on bay leaf vs. basil, and I am sure that now you can call yourself a herb specialist because you just crossed a new level.

Jokes apart, now you and I both know how bay leaf and basil differ and when and how to use these aromatic herbs.

They both are aromatic yet so different from each other. I hope this discussion was helpful. Have a good time cooking and eating food and satisfying your bellies. I will be back with some more interesting conversations.

Until then, crush some lemon basil in your hand and feel the freshness and aroma.

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