Summer Savory Substitutes

Summer savory, a herb hailed for its peppery flavor with hints of thyme and mint, is a staple in many kitchens, particularly for seasoning beans and meats. It’s a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and its use is widespread in traditional European cuisine. Its fine texture and robust taste make it excellent for long cooking processes, and it’s often included in seasoning blends such as herbs de Provence.

Finding an appropriate substitute for summer savory can be essential when you’re in the middle of a recipe and realize this specific herb is missing from your pantry. The key is to choose an alternative that complements the other flavors in your dish without overpowering them. Thyme emerges as a front-runner, offering a similar flavor profile and also possessing the ability to withstand lengthy cooking times. Moreover, it’s widely available both fresh and dried, making it a convenient and accessible option.

Other herbs like oregano, sage, and marjoram not only echo certain aspects of summer savory’s flavor but also bring their own unique characteristics to the table. To maintain the balance of flavors when substituting, you may need to adjust the quantity used. This ensures that the substitute harmoniously melds with the other ingredients, creating a dish that is as close as possible to the intended taste.

Understanding Summer Savory

Summer savory is an aromatic herb that you might recognize as a staple in your spice rack. Belonging to the mint family, it is widely appreciated in Mediterranean cuisine for its peppery flavor with hints of marjoram, thyme, and mint. Its aroma is robust yet delicate enough not to overpower other flavors in a dish, making it a versatile addition to your culinary repertoire.

The flavor of summer savory is characterized by a warming pepperiness with subtle earthy undertones, complementing lighter foods well without overwhelming them. You’ll find it often used to season meats, beans, and a variety of vegetable dishes.

Here’s a quick glance at the properties of summer savory:

FamilyLamiaceae (mint family)
AromaEarthy, peppery with hints of pine
TastePeppery similar to thyme and mint
Culinary UsesMeats, beans, vegetables, stuffings, soups, and sauces
Harvest SeasonLate spring to early autumn

In your kitchen, this herb is your go-to for adding a complex savory element to dishes. Whether used fresh or dried, summer savory remains a cherished ingredient due to its ability to enhance the natural flavors of food without adding additional salt or fat.

Common Uses of Summer Savory

Summer savory is a versatile herb that enhances the flavor profile of various dishes. It is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine and is known for its peppery, thyme-like flavor which complements a wide range of ingredients.

In Meat Dishes

When preparing meat dishes, you’ll find that summer savory adds a depth of flavor, especially to poultry and grilled meats. It’s particularly beneficial in meat preparations because of its light spiciness which enhances without overpowering the natural taste of the meat. For example:

  • Chicken: Utilize finely chopped summer savory for seasoning chicken before roasting.
  • Lamb: Incorporate it into marinades or rubs to bring out a herby zest.

In Vegetable Preparations

Incorporating summer savory into your vegetable dishes brings a burst of flavor to the table. It pairs exceptionally well with green beans and lentils. Here’s how you can use it:

  • Beans & Lentils: Add it to pots of beans or lentil stews to impart a piquant taste.
  • Roasted Vegetables: Sprinkle over vegetables before roasting to enhance their natural sweetness.

In Soups and Stews

Summer savory makes an excellent addition to soups and stews. Its robust character stands up well to long cooking times and helps in building layers of flavor. Use it in:

  • Beef Stew: Incorporate at the start of cooking to meld with other flavors.
  • Vegetable Soup: Stir in near the end of cooking for a fresh, herbaceous note.

For Seasoning Blends

Not only does summer savory work well on its own, but it’s also a key component in a variety of seasoning blends, including Herbes de Provence. It elevates:

  • Salad Dressings: Blend with other herbs to create dynamic vinaigrettes.
  • Sauces: Use it in tomato sauces for added complexity without the need for salt.

Popular Summer Savory Substitutes

When your recipe calls for summer savory and you don’t have it on hand, several herbs can serve as effective substitutes, providing similar flavors to your dishes. Here’s a guide to popular alternatives and how to use them.

Thyme as a Substitute

Thyme is a versatile herb with a flavor close enough to summer savory that it can be used in equal amounts. Thyme’s subtle, dry aroma and slight minty flavor make it an excellent stand-in, particularly in meat dishes and stews.

Using Sage as an Alternative

Sage, with its earthy and slightly peppery taste, offers a flavor profile akin to summer savory. It’s best used sparingly, as it’s more potent. Sage is ideal for hearty recipes like stuffing and meat preparations.

Marjoram’s Similarities

Marjoram, a relative of oregano, is milder and sweeter. Its delicate fragrance and warm, woody taste can mimic summer savory in soups and sauces. Use it in a 1:1 ratio.

Oregano’s Robust Flavor

Oregano brings a robust, zesty flavor that can replace summer savory, especially in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. Because it’s stronger, start with half the amount and adjust to taste.

Basil’s Aromatic Touch

Basil provides a fresh, aromatic flavor with a hint of sweet-peppery punch. It works well in lighter dishes where the distinctive taste of summer savory isn’t the centerpiece. Use in a similar proportion to summer savory to maintain balance.

Mint’s Fresh Taste

Mint, belonging to the same family as summer savory, can offer a refreshing, cool twist to recipes. It’s an unconventional substitute but works in infusions and certain Mediterranean dishes. Employ mint with caution due to its distinctive flavor.

Winter Savory for a Stronger Profile

Winter savory has a more pungent taste than its summer counterpart and is apt for longer-cooked dishes where its bitterness can mellow out. It’s a direct substitute but start with less and taste as you go.

Italian Seasoning for Complexity

Italian seasoning, a blend that often includes summer savory, thyme, rosemary, and oregano, can bring depth and complexity. Because of the variety of herbs involved, it’s a flexible substitute but might alter the flavor profile slightly. Adjust according to your taste preferences.

Herbal Profiles and Flavors

Within the realm of culinary herbs, each offers a distinct flavor profile that can transform your dishes. Whether you’re out of summer savory or just experimenting with new tastes, it’s valuable to understand the characteristics of various herbs and their potential impact on your cooking.

Thyme’s Versatility

Thyme is a Mediterranean herb valued for its versatile flavor that pairs well with numerous dishes. It’s notable for its lemony and woodsy notes, which make it a great substitute for summer savory.

Sage’s Earthy Essence

Sage carries an earthy and slightly peppery taste, defining it as an aromatic herb that can stand up to rich meats and savory dishes. Its robust flavor ensures that it’s used sparingly to avoid overpowering a meal.

Characteristics of Marjoram

Marjoram, another Mediterranean herb, has a sweet, grassy, and slightly citrusy flavor. It’s often compared to oregano but with a more delicate and less spicy profile.

Oregano and Its Peppery Punch

Oregano is an aromatic herb with a peppery punch and a hint of mintiness, commonly used in Greek and Italian cuisines. Its intensity can bring a Mediterranean flair to dishes needing a robust, savory spice.

Basil’s Sweet Notes

Basil presents sweet and spicy undertones with a mild peppery flavor. This herb is most well-known for its role in Italian cuisine, particularly in pestos and as a complement to tomato-based dishes.

Mint’s Cool Vibrancy

Mint offers a cool and minty taste, adding a fresh, aromatic lift to both savory and sweet dishes. Its vibrant flavor can act as a refreshing counterpoint to heavier, savory recipes.

Rosemary’s Piney Accent

Rosemary is distinguished by its strong piney accent with a hint of lemony undertones, making it a bold, fragrant addition that pairs especially well with roasted meats and vegetables.

Italian Seasoning’s Melange

Italian seasoning is a blend of dried herbs, including oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary. Its balanced melange of flavors can provide a quick, all-in-one substitute for summer savory in many recipes.

Culinary Applications and Recipes

When cooking with summer savory or its substitutes, you are enhancing a variety of dishes due to its peppery and piney flavor profile. Your use of summer savory varies across meats, vegetables, and more, lending a Mediterranean essence to your culinary creations.

Meats: For meats like chicken, lamb, and beef, incorporate substitutes such as marjoram or thyme. A rub or marinade with these herbs adds depth to the natural flavors.

Vegetarian Dishes:

  • Beans and Lentils: Add oregano or sage when simmering to infuse a savory note.
  • Vegetables: Especially for cabbage and root vegetables, use a sprinkle of marjoram or thyme for roasting or sautéing.
  • Salad Dressing: Thyme or basil can impart a savory taste to vinaigrettes.

Soups and Stews: For a hearty soup or stew, integrat components like herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning early in cooking to build a rich flavor foundation.

Seafood: Delicate herbs like dill or tarragon substitute well without overpowering the seafood’s freshness.

Sauces and Pastries: For tomato-based sauces or flavoring pastries, thyme and oregano are excellent substitutes, maintaining the intended profile of savory.

Egg Dishes: Brighten up scrambled eggs or a frittata with a sprinkle of sage or marjoram for a savory twist.

Utilize these substitutes in your recipes to mirror the unique qualities of summer savory, whether crafting robust Mediterranean dishes or simply seasoning your daily meals.

Health Benefits and Nutritional Information

Your body benefits from summer savory’s nutritional components, which support various physiological functions. Here is a quick glance at its nutritional profile:

Nutritional Highlights of Summer Savory (per 100g):

  • Calories: Minimal, making it an excellent choice for low-calorie diets.
  • Antioxidants: Contains antioxidants that aid in protecting your cells from damage.
  • Iron: Essential for red blood cell formation, playing a vital role in transporting oxygen throughout your body.
  • Vitamin C: Involved in the repair of tissues and the enzymatic production of certain neurotransmitters.
  • Potassium: Helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

When considering the health benefits of summer savory, remember that it is:

  • An antioxidant-rich herb, which may help in reducing oxidative stress.
  • A source of iron, supporting the production of hemoglobin and prevention of anemia.
  • Rich in vitamin C, contributing to immune defense and maintaining the health of your skin and connective tissue.
  • High in potassium, which is key for maintaining electrolyte balance and proper muscular and cardiac function.

Including summer savory in your diet can contribute to these healthful aspects. However, it is crucial to integrate it as part of a balanced diet and not rely solely on one herb for overall nutrition.

Growing and Harvesting Your Own

When you decide to grow summer savory (Satureja hortensis) in your garden, you are choosing to cultivate a versatile and aromatic herb that enhances numerous dishes. This annual herb, ideally sown in zones 6-9, thrives in full sunlight and requires well-drained soil with a pH of 6.7 to 7.3.

To plant summer savory:

  • Select a sunny spot: The herb favors full sun but can tolerate partial shade.
  • Prepare the soil: Ensure it’s loose, well-drained, and has a neutral pH.
  • Sow the seeds: Either directly outdoors after the last frost or indoors before transferring the seedlings.

Care Tips:

  • Watering: Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
  • Pruning: Pinch off the tips to encourage bushier growth.

For harvesting:

  • Time: Harvest before the plant flowers when the oils are at their peak.
  • Method: Cut the stems in the morning after the dew has dried for the best flavor.

Storing your fresh herbs is simple:

  • Drying: Tie stems into small bunches and hang them in a well-ventilated, dry area.
  • Freezing: Chop the leaves and place them in an ice cube tray with water.

Growing your own summer savory ensures a fresh supply of the herb, letting you skip the search for substitutes and enjoy the authentic flavor in your culinary creations.

Selecting and Storing Herbs

When choosing summer savory or its substitutes, freshness and proper storage are crucial for maintaining flavor and longevity.

Preserving Fresh Summer Savory

To preserve the fresh summer savory:

  • Clean: Gently wash the herbs in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Dry: Allow them to air dry completely, as moisture can lead to spoilage.
  • Store: Wrap the clean, dry herbs in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag or in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
  • Life Span: Fresh summer savory typically lasts about a week when stored properly.

Maximizing the Potency of Dried Herbs

For dried herbs, consider the following tips:

  • Buy in Small Quantities: Only buy amounts of dried summer savory and its substitutes that you’ll use within six months to ensure potency.
  • Airtight Containers: Store your dried herbs in airtight containers away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
  • Labeling: Always label your containers with the purchase date to track freshness.
  • Grinding: Grind whole dried herbs just before use to maximize flavor.

Select herbs that look vibrant and aromatic, which are indicators of their quality. Also, store them correctly to maintain their essential oils and flavors, which are integral to your dishes.

Historical and Cultural Context

Summer savory, known scientifically as Satureja hortensis, originates from the Mediterranean region. This herb has played a significant role in both culinary and medicinal practices throughout history. Ancient uses of summer savory included adding it to love potions as it was believed to be a natural aphrodisiac. In medicinal terms, your ancestors might have used this herb to relieve coughs and aid in digestion.

In the culture of the Mediterranean, summer savory has been a staple herb in kitchen gardens, signifying its integral place in the region’s cuisine. It is attributed with a peppery flavor, which has made it a beloved addition to dishes, contributing to the evolution of Mediterranean cooking.

As trade expanded, summer savory made its way across the world, and it is now commonly found in Canadian cuisine as well. In Canada, the herb is celebrated for its contribution to the diverse tapestry of food culture, adding a touch of historical Mediterranean flavor to modern dishes.

When you consider its versatility and flavor profile, it’s clear why summer savory has maintained its status through the ages. Whether used for its purported health benefits or for culinary purposes, understanding its historical context enhances your appreciation for this timeless herb.

Alternatives Beyond Herbs

When seeking substitutes for summer savory that venture beyond traditional herbs, your options include a variety of spices and spice blends that can mimic the savory flavor you’re after. It’s important to remember that while these alternatives may not replicate the exact taste of summer savory, they can provide a complementary complexity to your dishes.

Spices and Blends for Savory Flavor:

  • Savory Spice Blends: These might already contain summer savory or its common alternatives, providing a balanced earthy flavor with a hint of heat.
  • Herbes de Provence: A French blend that includes a mix of dried herbs, often with a slightly sweet profile.
  • Italian Seasoning: This blend offers an herbaceous, slightly bitter edge, which is great for tomato-based recipes.

Specific Spices:

  • Coriander: With its citrus undertone, it offers a warm, earthy flavor.
  • Black Pepper: For that hot and peppery flavor, black pepper is a simple yet effective choice.
  • Cumin: Delivers a warm, earthy note with hints of citrus, adding depth to your preparations.

How to Use:

  • Start with a pinch and adjust to taste, as these spices can be powerful.
  • Toast spices gently to enhance their natural flavors before adding to your dishes, particularly beneficial for tomatoes and meat marinades.

Remember to consider the profile of your dish. While you won’t find a perfect match, these alternatives offer a new dimension to your cooking repertoire, capturing the essence of the full-bodied taste of summer savory.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best substitutes for summer savory? Your top options include thyme, marjoram, and oregano, all of which are easily accessible and impart a similar flavor profile to that of summer savory.

Can I use dried herbs in place of fresh summer savory? Absolutely. Dried herbs are more potent, so the general guideline is to use one-third of the amount called for when substituting dried for fresh herbs.

Fresh Summer SavoryDried Substitute
1 tablespoon1 teaspoon

Are there blend options for a savory substitute? Experimenting with herb combinations is an effective way to mimic summer savory’s unique taste. A blend of thyme and sage or thyme and mint can produce a similar effect.

What should I consider when choosing a savory substitute? Consider the flavor complexity of your dish. Summer savory is known for its minty, peppery notes. Select a substitute that aligns with the desired flavor profile of your recipe.

Are there any tips for using savory substitutes? When using substitutes, start with a conservative amount, taste, and adjust as needed. Each herb has a distinct flavor intensity, so it’s important to season to your personal preference.

Remember, when operating with substitutes, the key is to achieve a balance that complements your dish while maintaining the integrity of the intended flavor.


When you encounter a recipe that calls for summer savory and find yourself without any, there is no need for concern. You have several alternatives at your disposal that can aptly mimic its unique taste. Each substitute offers its own distinct flavor profile and can be used based on availability and your personal taste preference.

  • Thyme: A common herb with similar earthy notes.
  • Marjoram: Sweet with a hint of citrus, closely resembling summer savory.
  • Sage: A bit stronger, use it sparingly.

Remember to adjust the quantities accordingly. As a rule of thumb, use half the amount of the stronger herbs like sage and winter savory compared to the original summer savory amount required.

Your dishes will still burst with flavor. These substitutes not only save the day but can also introduce you to new flavor nuances that might just become a staple in your culinary adventures.

Frequently Asked Questions

When cooking, you might find yourself needing a substitute for summer savory. This section addresses your most common concerns with straightforward advice and clear alternatives.

What can I use as a replacement for summer savory in recipes?

If summer savory is unavailable, thyme is often recommended as a good substitute due to its similar flavor profile, especially in dishes that are heavy on beans or meats.

Are thyme and summer savory interchangeable in cooking?

While thyme can be used as a substitute for summer savory, the flavors are not identical. Thyme is a bit more pungent and minty but can still achieve a similar taste in recipes that call for summer savory.

Which herbs are considered the best alternatives to summer savory?

Herbs such as sage, marjoram, and basil can be used as alternatives. Oregano and winter savory also provide comparable flavors and can be suitable replacements in various dishes.

What is commonly included in a summer savory spice blend?

Common constituents of a spice blend that includes summer savory could be thyme, sage, and other complementary herbs like rosemary or marjoram to balance and enhance the overall flavor.

How does marjoram compare to summer savory in terms of flavor and use?

Marjoram is milder and slightly sweeter than summer savory, yet it’s still a good substitute. It can be used in similar quantities as summer savory in most recipes.

Can I find a substitute for summer savory among common kitchen spices?

Yes, common kitchen spices such as thyme, sage, and marjoram can be used as a substitute for summer savory in various dishes. You may have to adjust quantities depending on the spice’s potency compared to summer savory.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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