Popular Herbs for Italian Cooking
Fresh herbs are used almost exclusively in Italian cooking. Why? They taste better than dried herbs. Fresh herbs have all their aromatic oils. The intensity of herbs vary, so when substituting, try to pick something with a similar punch, or be prepared to adjust the amount of herb. This chart lists the most important herbs used in Italian cooking:
|Basil||Basilico||Italy’s best known herb, basil has a strong anise flavor. A
must in pesto, basil is a natural with tomatoes. (Basil’s sweetness
works nicely with the acidity in the tomatoes.) Tarragon, which
isn’t widely used in Italy, has a similar anise flavor, and you can
use it as a substitute. You can also use parsley in most recipes
calling for basil.
|Bay leaf||Alloro||Once sold only dried, this herb is increasingly available fresh
as well. Dried leaves are often dropped into a pot of simmering
beans or soup to impart their gentle aroma. You can use fresh
leaves, which tend to be longer and thinner, in the same
|Marjoram||Maggiorana||This herb is similar to oregano but milder in flavor. Popular
in the Riviera, marjoram is good with meats and seafood.
|Mint||Menta||You can find hundreds of kinds of mint. Some are mild and
sweet; others spicy and hot. Mint is used more in southern Italy
and has an intensity and freshness similar to basil, which is
perhaps the best substitute.
|Oregano||Origano||This herb has a potent aroma and flavor that predominates in
much southern Italian cooking and is used commonly with
|Parsley||Prezzemolo||This herb is the unheralded star of Italian cooking. Basil may
get all the attention, but parsley is more widely used. Flat-leaf
varieties have a stronger flavor than curly-leaf varieties. You can
cook parsley with garlic and onions in olive oil to form the flavor
base for many dishes.
|Rosemary||Rosmarino||With rosemary’s strong resinous (or pine) aroma and flavor, you
must use it sparingly. The tough needles need time to soften, and
you shouldn’t add it to dishes that you don’t cook. Rosemary is a
natural with potatoes, chicken, lamb, and beef.
|Sage||Salvia||Sage is especially popular in Tuscany and other parts of
central and northern Italy. Sage is pungent with a musty mint taste
and has an affinity for butter sauces, as well as pork and
|Thyme||Timo||Diminutive thyme leaves pack a surprising punch. Many varieties
have a lemony flavor. Thyme isn’t as widely used in Italy as other