Sage is a culinary herb that shines brightest in poultry dishes like turkey or chicken. This highly aromatic herb is a member of the mint family with eucalyptus and citrus notes. Sage can easily overpower a dish and should be used sparingly in both fresh and dried forms.
Sage is common in northern Italian dishes like pasta, bread, and stuffed meats. But if sage isn’t a staple in your spice rack, several sage alternatives can save your dish in a pinch.
Many of the Mediterranean herbs from the mint family that are common in Italian and Mediterranean dishes are choices for a sage alternative.
What Can I Use Instead of Sage?
Dried herbs is more potent than the fresh variety so adjust your measurements to use less dried herbs. One teaspoon of dried herbs is typically equivalent to two teaspoons of minced fresh herbs.
When substituting other culinary herbs in place of sage, keep in mind that the choices will complement your dish, but each leaves a unique touch on the taste.
Choose your favorite substitute based on what dish you are cooking. Rosemary is good for soups and stews, savory for sausages, poultry seasoning for birds, and thyme for vegetables.
The Best Substitutes For Sage:
Another member of the mint family, rosemary, has similar citrus notes and a strong aromatic profile. Rosemary is another herb common in Italian dishes and can easily stand in for sage.
Rosemary works best in soups, stews, and poultry dishes flavored with wine. Like sage, rosemary can easily overpower a dish. Aim to use one-half to three-quarters less rosemary than your recipe calls for when substituting for sage.
Savory is yet another branch of the mint family. It is strongly aromatic like other herbs in the mint family and has a peppery taste similar to sage. This herb comes in two varieties, summer and winter savory. Both varieties of savory are native to the Mediterranean.
Summer savory has a bold, peppery flavor. Winter savory is more muted and more earthy than the summer variety. Savory works best in meat dishes like sausages. Use savory as a one-to-one substitute for sage.
3. Poultry Seasoning
If you are not a seasoning snob, the catch-all varieties like poultry seasoning contain a blend of spices that often contain sage and similar herbs that pair well with sage.
Most poultry seasoning blends are made with thyme, sage, and rosemary. These herbs are all savory flavors that go well with traditional holiday dishes like roasted turkey, chicken, and stuffing.
Use equal amounts of poultry seasoning in place of dried sage equivalents in your recipe. Since this is a seasoning blend, look for other herbs in the poultry seasoning to avoid doubling up on those flavors. For chicken and turkey, these herbs work best when rubbed in with an oil.
Marjoram has similar citrusy notes and most closely matches sage’s distinct aroma. Marjoram tends to be milder and does not retain potency well during cooking. Marjoram has a distinct pine and citrus flavor.
Use marjoram, dried or fresh, at a one-to-one ratio in place of sage in any recipe. Marjoram is very similar to oregano but has a mildly sweet flavor, while oregano is peppery. Marjoram is best in meat dishes but can also add a highly aromatic seasoning to vegetables.
Thyme has similar earthy and peppery flavors and can easily sub in for sage in a one-to-one ratio. It is an excellent choice for pork dishes and earthy vegetables like potatoes. You can use either fresh or dried variations of thyme, just be sure to match what the recipe calls for. If your recipe calls for fresh sage, opt for fresh thyme as your substitute.
Fresh thyme is a good choice for soups and stews. It is potent enough to add the entire sprig to your stock and cook for maximum flavor duration. Dried thyme is also potent and can be added at the beginning of any recipe.
The right variety of basil can serve as a seamless substitute for sage. With its peppery, mildly sweet flavor and lemony notes, basil is common in Mediterranean and Italian cooking. Nearly any culinary herb from the mint family seems to make a great audition as a substitute for sage, and basil is no exception.
Basil is a good garden-variety substitute for everyday dishes like salads and sandwiches. Use dried basil as a direct substitute for dried sage, or cut the recipe in half if using dried basil in place of fresh sage.
7. Italian Seasoning Blend
You may have noticed that all of the sage alternatives seem to be common in favorite Italian dishes like spaghetti, stuffed sausages, and rich bread.
Italian cooking is heavily influenced by the herbs and spices that are native to the Mediterranean region. This includes sage, oregano, basil, and thyme.
If you enjoy these flavors but want to keep a limited spice rack, an Italian seasoning blend is a good sage alternative. Italian seasoning often contains sage, complemented with oregano, basil, and red pepper.
You will get the same aromatic florals with a peppery flavor and citrus notes by using an Italian seasoning blend. Use the seasoning blend one-for-one for dried sage substitutes and one-half-to-one for fresh sage substitutes.
When to Avoid Using a Sage Alternative
The herb has distinct nutty pine and citrus flavors that go well with the rich flavoring in fatty meat. Sage has also been touted as a digestive aid, so it may help your body break down these fat-rich foods as well.
Sage is common in recipes that cook for a long time, like soups and stews. Some of the alternatives, like marjoram, do not have the potency to withstand long cooking times. If you are making a soup or stew, consider opting for highly potent options or wait to add the herb until the end of cooking.
What to Remember About Sage Replacement
Many of these herbs have earthy or peppery flavors with hints of citrus or pine. These similarities allow these herbs to stand in for one another in a pinch. You can also use common seasoning blends that contain sage like poultry seasoning or Italian seasoning.
Sage and many of its minty, floral cousins are highly aromatic herbs. That means that a little bit goes a long way in any dish. One mistake you should be careful to avoid is overseasoning your dishes.
Aromatic herbs can quickly make a meal unpalatable. If you are accustomed to cooking with sage or other savory herbs, these substitutions for sage leaves work in similar ways.