I have to make an Indian curry which requires bay leaves. Apparently I don't have them at home. I read on google here that dried Basil leaves can be a good substitute for bay leaves. Now dried bay leaves, which we use in curries and soups have a strong flavor totally different from the minty flavour of Basil leaves. Can anyone advice me on this, if someone has used this substitution.

3 Answers 3


No, this would be a bad substitution. Instead use cinnamon, in a smaller quantity, and preferably whole. Or leave it out entirely and rely on the other spices in your dish.

In my opinion at least, dried basil leaves are mostly flavorless. They certainly lack the sweet, fresh, minty flavors of fresh basil. They might lend your dish some complexity or slight woodiness like a Mediterranean bay laurel leaf from the plant Laurus nobilis. But even in European dishes, this seems like a poor substitute.

But in any case, the "Indian bay leaf" or Cinnamomum tamala is a whole different species, and probably what your curry recipe is looking for. Unlike the subtle menthol and tea-like qualities of a bay laurel, this leaf has a mild cinnamon scent. Thus a better substitute is cinnamon or cassia.

More generally, both these leaves have quite subtle flavors. In a dish with many different flavorful components, it plays a relatively minor role. It can often be omitted without a huge loss in flavor.

  • 1
    That's very interesting - I had no idea about Cinnamomum Tamala, thanks! Totally agree on the flavourlessness of dried basil - it's one of those herbs that I think there's basically no need for. I once went to the trouble of slow-drying my own basil in optimum conditions to see if they could be better than shop-bought, but no: they still tasted like vaguely aniseedy nothing.
    – Beejamin
    Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 7:20
  • 1
    Although I don't think dried basil would work for this application, I respectfully disagree with it having little flavour. Obviously, fresh basil is much better, but I find dried basil to be reasonably effective in many situations (including soups and dishes with cheese). Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 0:11

I wouldn't use basil unless for a coconut-milk style Thai curry. But for Indian curry, there are also "Curry leaves" for sale in Indian food shops and markets which are delectable. Even their scent is intoxicating. They look like bay leaves but are larger.

  • 2
    Yes, right. I too use curry leaves especially in South Indian and gujarati recipes. But I am not sure about punjabi recipes. When you add dry spices, eg cloves, cardamom etc in Punjabi curries, i dont know how curry leaves will taste with them
    – Ojasvi
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 18:03

As another alternative, whole allspice berries have some of the savoury, earthy flavours of bay leaves (especially dry bay leaves). Having said that, dried bay leaf adds a pretty subtle flavour, so you could just omit them without any trouble: it's a nice flavour if they're present, but not going to wreck the dish if they're not.

  • 1
    I have neither used nor heard about allspice berries. I will now surely use it once
    – Ojasvi
    Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 9:43

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