Herb & Spice Substitutions

Herb & Spice Substitutions

We’ve all been there. You’re ready to make that recipe you’ve been looking forward to all week. You gather the ingredients and realize that something’s missing. You don’t have one of the spices the recipe calls for. Whether you forgot to add it to your shopping list or the spice is hard to find, you need it and you need it now. Or maybe there’s a recipe that sounds really good to you, but there’s one ingredient that you don’t especially like. And sometimes you just want to change it up a little. So what do you do?

Picking the right spice substitute can be challenging. Many spices have unique character and flavor profiles that are difficult to match. Lucky for you, there are some good substitutes that will get you close to the general taste of a dish. Although the flavor will be similar to the original, it will not be exactly the same.

what are some common spice substitions?

Here’s a list of some common herb and spice substitutions to get you through your cook successfully. Be sure to add that ingredient to your shopping list for next time.

HOT TIP: When experimenting with your substitute, start with about 1/3 of the amount specified in the recipe. Continue to adjust and taste until it is just right.

spice substitutions a-z

We'll answer your spice substitution questions like "Can any other spice be substituted for allspice?" Or "What spices can substitute for pumpkin pie spice?" Top questions also include 
"What is a substitute for the spice savory?" and "What spice can be substituted for thyme?" You'll find the answers to those most-searched substitutions and more.

Allspice: If you have them, you can use six whole allspice berries for every 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice or blend together equal parts ground cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg and cloves or mace.

Aniseed (Anise Seed): Swap with fennel seeds in equal amounts. You can also use a dash of anise extract or star anise.

Apple Pie Spice: For every teaspoon of apple pie spice, substitute with a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon of cardamom and 1/8 teaspoon of ground allspice.

Basil: You can use fresh mint (slightly less than called for) or fresh cilantro, oregano or thyme in place of fresh basil.

Bread Crumbs: Use the same amount of crushed cracker or cereal crumbs, cornflakes or croutons.

Balsamic Vinegar: Sherry or cider vinegar are good substitutes for balsamic vinegar.

Brown Sugar: Add a tablespoon of light molasses to a cup of sugar.

Cajun Spice: Substitute equal parts white pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne and onion powder.

Cardamom: Swap in dried ginger.

Chervil: Use tarragon or parsley.

Chives: Substitute half the amount of chives called for with finely chopped onions, scallions or leeks that have been soaked in ice water for an hour.

Chili Powder: For each teaspoon of chili powder, combine 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon of dried cumin and a dash of hot sauce.

Cilantro: Use fresh flat-leaf parsley in place of fresh cilantro.

Cinnamon: Use nutmeg or allspice, but only 1/4 the amount of cinnamon listed in the recipe.

Cloves: Allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg are all good substitutions.

Coriander: Substitute ground caraway seed or cumin.

Cumin: Swap in chili powder.

Fennel Seeds: Use a slightly lesser amount of anise seed, along with a pinch of finely-chopped celery, cumin seeds, caraway seeds or dill.

Garlic: Only garlic can replace garlic. One clove of garlic can be replaced by 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon garlic flakes or 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt. Since garlic salt adds 3/8 teaspoon of salt, you’ll need to reduce the salt by 3/8 teaspoons to compensate for the added salt.

Garlic Powder: If you’re out of garlic powder, but happen to have some fresh garlic, a single garlic clove is equivalent to approximately 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder. You could substitute about twice as much garlic salt for garlic powder, adjusting accordingly to compensate for the added salt.

Ginger: In a pinch, dried ginger can be replaced with allspice, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg.

Italian Seasoning: Blend together a combination of equal parts basil, oregano and rosemary; then add a pinch of ground red pepper.

Kosher Salt: Use fine table salt, substituting 1/2 to 3/4 of the amount called for.

Mace: Use allspice, cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg instead.

Marjoram: Basil, thyme or savory will work.

Mint: Try a bit of basil, marjoram or rosemary instead.

Nutmeg: Swap in cinnamon, ginger or mace. If it's a sweet recipe, you can also try allspice.

Oregano: Thyme or basil should do the trick.

Paprika: Your best bet is ancho chili powder, but cayenne powder will also work. Cayenne is a lot spicier than paprika, so start with a small amount and taste as you go.

Parsley: Chervil or cilantro can serve as adequate replacements.

Poultry Seasoning: For one teaspoon of poultry seasoning, substitute 3/4 teaspoon sage plus 1/4 teaspoon of either marjoram, thyme, black pepper, rosemary or savory.

Pumpkin Pie Spice: To make 6 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice, mix 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon, 4 teaspoons of ground ginger, 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of ground cloves and 1 teaspoon of ground allspice.

Red Pepper: Add a dash of bottled hot pepper sauce or black pepper to your dish.

Rosemary: Thyme, tarragon or savory can work in place of fresh or dried rosemary.

Saffron: A dash turmeric or annatto powder will add this hint of color.

Tarragon: Chervil works, as would a dash fennel seed or aniseed.

Thyme: Basil, oregano, marjoram or savory are your go-to’s when you're out of thyme.

Turmeric: Substitute a dash of saffron for color plus ground mustard powder or annatto powder using a 1:1 ratio.

Vanilla: Substitute maple syrup combined with vanilla-almond or soy milk and seeds from half of a vanilla bean (1 teaspoon extract) or half the amount of almond extract.

fresh to dry conversion for herbs

If a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you don’t have any fresh herbs or yours are wilted, you can use the dried version. Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs. This means the ratio of fresh herbs to dried is 1 tablespoon to 1 teaspoon or 1/3 the amount listed in the recipe. When to Add & Remove: As a general rule; add fresh herbs near the end of the cooking time because heat can diminish flavor and aroma. For uncooked foods, add spices and herbs several hours before serving to allow time for the flavors to meld. Remove whole spices and bay leaves when finished cooking and before serving.

HOT TIP: Put your herbs in a tea ball to release their flavor and make it easy to remove them when finished.

how to you store herbs and spices

As a general rule, dried herbs and ground spices keep for 1 year and whole spices for about 2 years. To extend the life and flavor of your spices, proper storage is critical. Here are some tips to help you keep your herbs and spices fresh. 

  • Freshness Test: If it smells strong and flavorful, it’s probably still potent. To test whole spices, such as peppercorns and cinnamon sticks, crush or break them to release their aroma.

  • Buy Smaller Quantities: For herbs and spices you only use occasionally or don’t yet know how quickly you will go through them, buy smaller quantities to keep them fresh until you can use them up.

  • Storage: Store in a tightly-covered container in a cupboard or drawer away from moisture. This means you shouldn’t store them near a dishwasher or sink. In addition, herbs, chilis and spices lose flavor more quickly when they’re exposed to heat because the oils dry out. Keeping them near or especially over the stove is probably the most common place to store your herbs and spices because that’s where you most often use them. However, heat and water vapors rise from the stovetop and can seep into and adversely affect the integrity of your spices if your containers aren't air tight.

  • Usage: Take care to prevent liquids from entering the container while using and the lid is open. Always use a dry spoon to remove from container and don’t sprinkle directly into a steaming pot to prevent steam from entering the container. Refrigerate paprika, chili powder and red pepper for best color retention, especially in summer or hotter climates. When using them, measure right out of the refrigerator and return immediately. Herbs and spices can get wet if condensation forms when a cold container from your refrigerator or freezer is left open in a humid kitchen.

HOT TIP: Write the date of purchase on your spice containers with a permanent marker to keep track of their shelf life.

Herbs and spices add aroma, color and flavor to your food. They have been around for thousands of years and early on, before there were recipes, people had to take a chance and experiment to make wonderful tasting foods. If they can do it, you can too.

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