Every home chef knows the feeling: You're already halfway through preparing a recipe when you realize a key ingredient is missing from your spice rack.
Thankfully, you won't need to rush to the grocery store to rescue your dinner recipes. Chances are, there's already a sage substitute or two on hand, tucked away in your pantry. No matter your cooking skills, there are still plenty of ways to season your way to a delicious dish.
But before we highlight the best sage substitutes, let's first examine what sage is and how it's used in the kitchen.
What is Sage, and How is it Used?
Sage is an herb with a strong herbaceous aroma and earthy flavor that lend well to savory cooking. In addition to its distinctive flavor, the ingredient offers numerous health benefits. The potent herb is packed with vitamin A, B, C, E, and K and calcium, iron, and magnesium, just to name a few.
Though used year-round for seasoning meats and seafood, it's most commonly known in the United States for its use during the holidays as an ingredient in the stuffing. The peppery herb adds depth to sauces, making it a popular seasoning in French, Italian, and Mediterranean cooking.
Flavor Profile of Sage
Sage is a member of the mint family and is closely related to basil, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. It has a strong savory flavor with subtle notes of citrus and pine.
Sage adds warmth to dishes and deepens flavors, so it's often used in pasta sauces, stuffing, meats, and poultry dishes like chicken or turkey. Its peppery taste pairs well with garlic, onion, and other herbs in a savory spice blend.
Types of Sage
The peppery herb comes in four forms: fresh, dried, ground, and rubbed.
Fresh sage comes in the form of thick leaves with a soft, downy texture. Though soft and easy to tear, they're often fried and served whole as a garnish on pasta dishes. Like most herbs, fresh sage offers the most potent flavor.
Whole Dried Sage Leaves
Whole dried sage leaves are slightly less potent than when they are fresh. Their crisp texture makes it easy to chop and measure the right amounts for your recipes.
Ground sage is a fine powder made from ground dried sage leaves. Like other ground herbs, it's stronger than its fresh alternative. One teaspoon of ground sage is equivalent to two tablespoons of fresh.
Rubbed sage is made by rubbing whole dried leaves in a light powder. Though rubbed sage has the lowest potency of peppery spice, it's a favorite among chefs.
What to Substitute for Sage:
The best substitutes for sage come from the mint family, as they share similar flavors. Most can be used both fresh or dried.
To ensure you add the proper equivalent of the sage replacement, be sure to check what forms are used in the cooking process. When a recipe calls for fresh sage, it's best to use fresh herbs as a replacement.
Thyme has a similar flavor to sage, only more woodsy and aromatic, so it's one of the best sage replacements on the menu. As members of the same family of plants, they share similar notes of mint and citrus.
When using thyme as a substitute for sage, use the same amount of thyme leaves as you would sage. To ensure the proper balance of seasonings, stick to the same forms. Use one teaspoon of dried thyme as a substitute for one teaspoon of dried sage, and use one tablespoon of fresh thyme for one of fresh sage.
Like thyme, marjoram falls into the same plant family as sage. While it has similar earthy undertones, its flavors are slightly more citrusy.
It's important to note that marjoram doesn't hold onto its flavor well over long cooking times. If you're using marjoram as a sage substitute, stick to recipes where it's added towards the end or used at a garnish.
Unlike other substitutes for sage, dried marjoram can be used as a replacement for fresh or dried sage. Use an equal amount as you would of the original spice, subbing tablespoon for tablespoon.
If you need a sage replacement for a meat or seafood recipe, poultry seasoning is the best substitute for sage. Typically, poultry seasoning is made from a savory spice mix containing sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley, marjoram, and onion powder. Because it contains sage, it'll add the exact flavor you're looking for. The other herbs in the spice blend will deepen the flavor of your dish even further.
To use poultry seasoning as a sage substitute, add the same amount of poultry seasoning as the recipe calls for sage. Try it on turkey, chicken, or beef, but use other options for pasta sauces and soups.
Rosemary is one of the most common spices, so chances are you probably have it on hand in your kitchen. While rosemary can be used as a sage substitute, it will give your dish a slightly different end flavor. Though the two spices are from the same family of plants, rosemary has stronger pine notes.
When using rosemary as a sage substitute, use one-third of the amount of fresh or dried sage called for in the recipe. Because of its strong flavor, the herb can easily overpower, so start small.
Oregano is another member of the mint family and a staple of the average home chef's spice rack. It's sharper and more pungent than sage, so it won't provide the same flavor experience when used as a substitute. But if you love the taste of sage and black pepper, it's one of the best options.
It's best to use oregano as a substitute in poultry recipes, pasta, and sauces. Oregano has the same potency so that you can substitute the ingredients, fresh or dried, in equal amounts.