There are essential differences when looking at how we grow and eat basil vs bay leaves. We need to look at each of these separately as a gardener than as a home cook though.
Both basil and bay leaves are essential to many Mediterranean dishes and can grow with a little care quite happily in the UK and colder climates. When cooking we need to be mindful to how we remove the sharp bay leaf, whereas basil will be palatable fresh as a garnish.
Both basil and bay leaves offer a lot in terms of health benefits and have a history entwinned with alternate medicines. So let’s look more closely at how we use them in modern times.
Basil Vs Bay Leaves In Cooking
We can cook with basil and bay leaves fresh or dried. The bay leaf will lose some of it’s vivid color in the drying process whereas basil will darken and intensify. When dried basil is crumbly whereas bay leaves can still hold their shape and be used in much the same way.
You will need less dried basil than fresh in a ratio of 1 teaspoon dried to 2 teaspoons of fresh, whereas with bay leaves you will need more dried than fresh. 1 fresh bay leaf = 2 dried bay leaves.
Bay leaves need a long time to steep, releasing their gentle bitter wood like flavor. Basil is from the mint family and is highly aromatic and full of pungent anise and peppery flavors. Slight variation occurs with the different varieties, but the intensity is always there.
TOP TIP – Bay leaves have an earthy flavor but will be more easily released if you snap the leaves. You can do this without breaking them and then fish them out before serving.
Bay leaves are used in French cuisine in a bouquet garni, which I have written more about here. The leaves are also commonly used with other strong herbs and spices in pickling and preserving.
Basil tends to be used in pesto’s and salsa verde type dishes. You can also use basil chopped finely and added to casseroles or stews, but as a garnish basil is a great final addition to many dishes. The tender leaves are wonderful in a herb salad as well.
Basil Vs Bay In The Garden
As far as growing conditions go there is little comparison between basil and bay.
Growing a bay tree in your garden can mean a large evergreen tree that can become part of the structure of a larger garden, or grown as ornamental trees in pots. Basil will provide ground cover and is a tender annual in most parts of the world, however it can be grown indoors all year round.
Bay is pretty much indestructible although there are issues with overwatering and hence an article I wrote covering the signs of too much care, available here. Basil can be the same for people keenly watering and the signs of overwatering look similar to when the plant is in need of watering.
Both basil and the bay tree like sun but not too much and are prone to damage from scorching. Free draining soil is the main condition for both of these Mediterranean herbs. When you think about the Italian hillsides you think about hazy sunshine but soil that is also a bit rocky and of a poorer quality.
There are many different varieties of basil to grow and if you are a keen kitchen gardener it can be a chance to branch out to Thai basil, Genovese Basil or any other variety you can think of.
Once cooked basil and bay leaves do offer similar taste profiles. This means you can substitute bay leaves with basil. Be wary of how you add them to cooking and make sure to remove bay leaves before serving! Woody, earthy and peppery in flavor they are both essentials to many Mediterranean dishes.
I wouldn’t be without either of them, but bay leaves are year round evergreen trees or large shrubs that can be harvested at any time. Whereas basil is much more difficult to overwinter, even inside your kitchen. Without an indoor growing light like the one we have set up you may struggle.
Basil Vs Bay Leaves Nutritional Content
The first thing I must say before we look too heavily into nutritional content is that basil will more likely be eaten whereas bay leaves are for flavor alone. The texture of fresh or dried bay leaves make them unpalatable, as opposed to bay leaves which can be used fresh as garnish or even in cooking and a little wilted. That said the process of steeping the leaves will impart some of the healthy value into the dish.
Nutritional content with thanks to Nutrition Data. Quantities are for a 2.5g tablespoon of fresh leaves of basil or crumbled bay leaves. we are adding in the Daily value % as well to give you a better idea as to how the addition of these herbs may benefit your overall health.
|Vitamin / Mineral||Amount In Basil||Amount In Bay Leaves|
|Vitamin A||139 IU 3%||108 IU 2%|
|Vitamin C||0.5mg 1%||0.8mg 1%|
|Vitamin K||10.4 mcg 13%||–|
As you can see from above the quantities that you would need to eat in order to receive a large enough percentage of your daily intake are unlikely to be achieved. However it can be seen that both of these herbs are nutritionally packed! So if you are able to get a good mix of these fresh herbs and other herbs into each meal you can make a difference to your overall intake of vitamins and minerals.
I have a fun article on ideas for getting more basil into your diet available here. Great for anyone who has been recommended to get more vitamin K into their diet. It was surprising for me to find what a great source of Iron bay leaves are, more reason to add them to your cooking as well!
Overall what was really surprising to me was the Omega 3 content of both basil and bay leaves. Basil has 7.9mg per tablespoon and bay leaves has an impressive 18.4mg. Although not enough to really state that these are high in fatty acids it was still not something I was expecting to find.
In conclusion both basil and bay leaves are a healthy addition to any cooking. By trying to increase the quantities of both we can get a wider range of vitamins and minerals into our cooking without really going to a lot more effort.
What Next & Further Reading
In conclusion bay leaves and basil do hold some of the same taste profiles but are used differently in cooking. With a little bit of tweaking basil is a suitable replacement for bay leaves and vice versa. In your garden there is a world of difference with a bay tree possibly providing a dramatic back drop to any mature garden. Basil however will grow happily on a kitchen windowsill.
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