Thai basil is widely preferred as a topping for many recipes. Due to its slightly spicy and unique herbal fragrance, you can use Thai basil to add flavor to food.
Suppose that you want to use Thai basil for the next meal, but you realize that there is no more in your kitchen. You may wonder, “What can I use in place of basil, then?”
Don’t worry; we have listed the top 10 candidates for the substitute for Thai basil below!
The Best Substitutes For Thai Basil
First, we need to answer: What does Thai basil taste like? What is the special aroma that we mentioned above?
Originally, Thai basil is a variant of basil. Like its “brother” tree – sweet basil, Thai basil has a special herbal aroma and spicy taste complementing other ingredients well in most Thai recipes.
You can find it in many household meals in Thailand, such as stir-fry chicken with chili (pad kra pow gai), red curry pork, noodles with tofu, spicy Thai omelet, etc.
If you want to cook any Thai recipes in specific or spicy dishes with an herbal aroma in general, it is impossible to ignore the Thai basil in the ingredients list.
That’s enough information about the Thai basil. Now, let’s dive deep into each basil replacement and select the best one for you.
1. Italian Basil
The most recommended option on this list is Italian basil. In terms of flavor, the Italian basil shares an extremely similar taste to the Thai basil – mild spicy with a strong herbal fragrance. Sometimes, you can also find the mint smell in the Italian basil.
With such similarities, you can use Thai and Italian basil interchangeably.
However, there is one point to consider about the Italian basil. Some people wonder, “Is Italian basil sweet?”. Well, in fact, there are two variants of Italian basil: sweet basil and Genovese basil.
The sweet basil is a bit sweeter than the Thai basil but not significant. Meanwhile, the Genovese is more spicy and peppery.
But most of the time, if you mention “Italian basil” in the market, people will get the sweet one. And the difference in taste is not different.
That being said, you don’t need to consider the gap in taste between the Italian and Thai basil, though.
2. Holy Basil
Many people are surprised when first hearing about this variant of the basil family. “Holy” – does that mean this plant is used in sacred dishes for religious events?
Well, it is sacred for Indians. However, in Thailand, it is just a normal herb.
Typically, holy basil is widely sold at Asian traditional markets at an affordable price.
If there is no Thai basil in your kitchen, you should go and take them as a substitute. Besides the “holy basil,” this plant is also known as “hot basil.”
With the name “hot,” you can imagine how this food tastes, right? It is spicier and more peppery than the Thai basil. With just a small amount of holy green, you can feel the spice raised from the mouth to the ear!
In our opinion, this holy spice works best in spicy recipes. But if you have already had the spicy basil while you plan to cook a not-so-spicy dish, mix the holy basil with Italian ones, and the spiciness will slowly drop.
3. Mint Sprigs
Compared to other spices, the mint provides a milder spicy flavor. However, in terms of smell, its unique aroma is top-notch.
In Thai cuisine, mint is widely used for its distinctive smell. People can top up the food to raise the smell, squeeze it to extract the oil, or crush it into pieces and mix with other ingredients.
The mint sprigs can be used as a Thai basil leaves substitute for their mild spiciness and unique fragrance.
You may wonder, “How many mint sprigs are enough for a gram of basil?’ Well, the taste of mint sprigs is quite mild, so you can use the same amount for mint sprigs as you used for Thai basil.
Tarragon is a French representative on this list. French recipes require mild, fine herbal, and spicy seasonings, but not too strong.
Besides, that seasoning should complement well with poultry and fish. And that is what tarragon works best for.
Given that fact, the tarragon provides a mild spiciness with a not so distinctive smell. Many people said that it smells like star anise and licorice, though.
You can use the tarragon as a basil leaf substitute with the same amount since tarragon’s taste is not so dominant or hard to adjust if overused.
5. Lemon Basil
With the “lemon” term in name, you can kinda guess the distinctive point of this herb. Apart from other basil, lemon basil has a strong citrusy scent that makes you unforgettable for a long time.
We all know that lemon basil smells so good, but then, how does it taste? Well, it provides a mild tangy flavor to the dish.
Compared to other basils like holy or Italian basil, it is not as spicy and peppery. However, its scent overshadows others.
Thus, if you want to find a Thai basil substitute that provides a strong citrusy fragrance, choose lemon basil.
6. Star Anise
Star anise has a similar smell to tarragon because both herbs share licorice notes. Compared to that French seasoning, the star anise is more pungent.
Originated from a native evergreen plant of Vietnam and China, star anise is a common herb used by the local residents.
When mentioning Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, what could you think about? Is their food spicy? Pungent? Yes, right? So you have had the answer for the taste of star anise – it is strongly peppery and spicy.
Therefore, you should only use a small tablespoon of star anise ground to the food, slowly increasing after tasting.
You may never think that cilantro works well as a basil alternative. In fact, they can. In this recommendation list, cilantro and lemon basil are the rare herbs with a unique aroma: citrus aroma.
Cilantro has a stronger citrusy scent than lemon basil. How about its flavor? Well, cilantro is not famous for its flavor, though.
The spiciness of this plant is average, rated five on the scale to 10. If we can compare it to a vegetable, we must say it tastes like parsley.
Before choosing cilantro, you must check whether you can endure the smell of this exotic plant or not because, for some people, cilantro tastes like soap.
Oregano is another herb coming from Mediterranean countries. In Meditenaran cuisine, oregano is widely used whenever people want to add a spicy taste to the dish.
Let’s put Thai basil and oregano on the scale to compare the taste. Based on our experience, the oregano is spicier and more peppery than the Thai basil, but not much more remarkable.
If the Thai basil gets band six on the ten scales of spice, then oregano may lay on band 8. We think that the bitter and pungent taste is the most signature flavor of this food.
What about the oregano’s smell? Well, this is what makes the oregano stand out from others. It is the only option on this list with the earthy, hay, and minty aroma.
It seems weird, but the fresh, bland spinach is a good option as a sweet basil substitute in cooking. As spinach is used in daily meals, there is no need to talk about its taste anymore, right?
Generally, spinach is watery, fresh, healthful, and easy to eat since it has no distinctive taste except juiciness.
Compared to other ingredients on the list, spinach is the mildest. There is no alienated smell from it, either.
So, how much spinach should you use to replace a gram of basil? Well, you can use 2 to 3 grams of greens. The taste of spinach is so mild, so it won’t taste irritating no matter how much you use it.
Finally, thyme can be used as a Thai basil replacement. Let’s compare it to basil or oregano because we just mentioned them.
Regarding the taste, thyme is less spicy than these two. However, when chewing, the thyme leaves a much longer impression in terms of earthy and warm feeling.
What about the second most important criterion – smell? Well, thyme does not have any distinctive smell, but it does smell herbal and minty. Its extract is even used as an essential oil, though.
In short, you can use thyme as a replacement for basil, especially for soup making. It will leave a mild minty smell and a warm feeling in the stomach!
We’ve examined the 10 most common alternatives to Thai basil, and Italian basil seems to be the most similar.
Other options on the list, like the lemon basil, star anise, or thyme, are also worth trying. Just give them a chance, and you may love the taste and fragrance!