5 Easy Herb Upgrades to Make Your Healthy Meals Even More Flavorful

Photo: Getty Images / Claudia Totir
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You might love sprinkling basil leaves on your Caprese salad or garnishing an omelet with fresh chives, but there are plenty of other herbs out there to add to your repertoire. “Many people realize that leafy greens provide a ton of nutritional benefits to the diet, but they often overlook herbs,” says Natalie Rizzo, RD.

Teeming with nutrients like Vitamin A, C, K, folate, and fiber, herbs actually provide a ton of nutrition in a small package—and they certainly pack a flavor punch. “Not to mention that you don’t need a lot of them to add big flavor to a dish,” Rizzo says. You can save time and money at the grocery store, since a little goes a long way. “And my personal favorite thing about herbs is that you can grow them at home on your windowsill,” she adds.

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If you have the room or access to a balcony or garden at or near your home, you should definitely take the time to grow your own herbs from scratch—or at least give it a shot! Not only will you save money and have fresh herbs on hand when you need them, but gardening can be a great form of relaxation to help you unwind and fight stress. (It can be meditative, too—and is linked with longevity.)

That said, it's easy to gravitate towards the same two or three herb flavors, especially when you're feeling that pandemic cooking burnout. Here are a few great herb substitutions for cooking to try if want some inspiration, or to experiment with a few new bursts of flavor.

If you love basil, try... Thai basil

Italian basil has sweet notes, so that’s why you might use it in some sweeter dishes, like a salad with fresh blueberries or citrus, a watermelon dish with feta, or even in Italian ice or ice cream. “Thai basil is more savory, with notes of licorice and a little bit of spice,” says Rizzo.

Not surprisingly, Thai basil is often used in Thai and other Asian cuisines. Try using it in a noodle or ramen dish. Or you can use it in a spicy chicken salad or stir-fry with veggies.

If you love flat-leaf parsley, try... curly parsley (or vice-versa)

Originating from the Mediterranean, parsley is a staple in many dishes. “[Many] recipes call for flat-leaf parsley, which has a slightly bitter taste, but if you’re looking for something milder, try curly parsley,” she says. And if you're only ever used the curly kind, switch to the flat-leaf variety.

Parsley works well in pesto recipes, sauces, and dressings, and even as a garnish for pizzas and flatbreads. It complements cheese, tomatoes, and other delicious ingredients, like olives or truffle oil. Curly parsley will have a bit of a softer flavor, so it won’t overwhelm your dips and dishes.

If you love anise, try... tarragon

Although anise is technically a spice, tarragon makes an herby replacement for it in terms of flavor profile and use. “Tarragon is a French herb that tastes similar to licorice with a hint of pepper, and it’s great as a finisher to soups and stews or you can even throw some in a grain salad,” says Rizzo.

A tip? A little bit of tarragon goes a long way, as the flavor is incredibly potent, so proceed with caution, then taste. You can always add more.

If you like sage, try... marjoram

Although it looks similar to sage, marjoram is actually a member of the oregano family. “Like sage, it has a slightly sweet and floral taste that goes well with warm and comforting dishes,” says Rizzo. You can use it in a marinade for chicken or add it to roasted vegetable dishes, like cauliflower or broccoli. Add in some zest, like lemon or orange, and it’ll taste great!

If you like chives, try... dill

“Whereas chives give a slight oniony taste to dishes, dill adds a sweet, sour taste with a hint of citrus, and dill is a good source of calcium and iron,” she says. It adds a nice flavor to dips and salads, so you can use it with chicken, tofu, or fish like salmon or tuna.

It will also pair nicely with lox on a bagel or in an egg dish, like a frittata or omelet. “It’s traditionally used in tzatziki sauces or in pickle brines,” she says, so you can never go wrong with those, either!

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