Sorrel is one of those hard to obtain herbs. We love to grow our own and have a year round supply, however we are asked what can be used instead of sorrel enough times to justify an answer!
You can use arugula, spinach, rhubarb stalks, lovage, dill fronds or sumac to replace the distinctive look and flavor of sorrel. It is never quite the same but using rice wine vinegar to substitute the acidic, tart kick of sorrel will help. In salads a heavy dressing can also help to replicate the flavor.
Let me show you how.
What Does Sorrel Taste Like & Look Like
Sorrel can be green leaved or red veined. Leaves of around 6 inches in length, taper towards the end in a soft arrow shape. The leaves snap when you bend them but are not quite as fibrous as say a bay leaf. Sorrel provides excellent ground cover and will happily grow with other herbs like fennel or angelica.
Sorrel has the flavor of tartness. A sharper version of lemon. It shares with rhubarb leaves the strange flavor that comes from its oxalic acid content. This can be dangerous when consumed in high levels. However you are not going to be eating a lot of leaves in one go. I would say as an ingredient for salads you will only need a handful of leaves cut into strips and used as a garnish on your leaves.
A winter hardy perennial, sorrel will be a crop for all year. When purchased in the supermarket it comes in bunches and will need correct storage in the fridge in a glass of water. Take out of the plastic wrap immediately and rinse under a cold tap. Dry off completely and trim the ends of each leaf. Pop them into a small amount of water. Best to eat within a few days of purchase.
What To Replace Taste For Instead Of Sorrel.
- Arugula is a popular option to use instead of sorrel. This is because it has the robustness of flavor that sorrel has, however it has a heavy undertone of pepper. Sorrel does not have this, you will also need to add an acid to your dish. Some people go for lemon juice, but this isn’t quite right. We have found that when cooking arugula you can add a dash of rice wine vinegar to the end of cooking. This works really well when you are doing stir fried spring vegetables. It gives an authentic sharp tartness that sorrel would give.
- Rhubarb stalks are used in soups as a substitute for sorrel. Use it sparingly as it does contain those oxalic acids in high levels. Especially important to note is that you should not be using the rhubarb leaves as they are too strong for those who already suffer from kidney stones or other health conditions. You will not need to add the stalks whole, but instead thinly slice them to resemble spring greens. They work well when added 50:50 to kale. So if a recipe asks for 1 cup of sorrel replace it with 1/2 cup rhubarb stalks thinly sliced and 1/2 cup kale shredded. Not advised in raw form though, from experience sorrel has a much more friendly flavor profile when shredded raw, but kale and rhubarb don’t seem to go down as well.
- Lovage is a good substitute in a salad with a strong vinegar based dressing. The leaves are salty like celery but they don’t quite have the shooting sharpness that you get when you bite into a sorrel leaf. The texture isn’t quite robust enough either. So if you mix it with other herb leaves as well, dill fronds, fennel, tarragon, chervil etc then it kind of hides amongst it all.
- Dill fronds have been suggested as a replacement to use instead of sorrel, however I am not convinced. Dill fronds will still not offer the strength of flavor and they wilt when heated. Sorrel can take a little bit of light cooking and still hold it’s shape, dill just won’t. Also dill has more of a close associated for using instead of fennel for example, rather than instead of sorrel.
- Spinach is a popular choice when used in salads. We actually reverse this and when a recipe calls for 1 cup of spinach we may add 2/3 of spinach and 1/3 of sorrel. This just adds a freshness and sharpness to counter an otherwise monotone dish.
- Sumac is a handy spice to add to a dish at the start. Use when you are adding your other spices and cook down in the same way. This adds a sharp tartness and should be used sparingly. It will not add any of the greenery that you find with sorrel, however for flavor it is pretty close. You can use sumac with spinach or lovage to give an overall experience that is similar to sorrel. Not all stores wills tock Sumac, so you can find sumac via this link and it will last for around a year in a cool, dark cupboard or larder.
Grow Your Own Sorrel
It is important to note that sorrel is still hard to come by in green grocers or supermarkets. So growing your own is the best option as it is a winter hardy perennial in the UK and you will have no problems with growing from seed. We have a full guide here.
As a hardy perennial there is very little in terms of overwintering and you will have a crop year round. Suitable for sunny to partial shady spots in the UK and Northern America through USDA zones 6-9.
Trial out a few of our options and let us know. We find that sorrel is an acquired taste and not all of our friends like it, so actually having a few of these tricks up your sleeve is helpful.