Barbara’s Substitute For Savory: Summer Cooking In Wintertime

Herbs, herbs, herbs – I can’t get enough of them!

How about you?

I am not talking about tea, no, I mean culinary herbs and spices. As an experienced cook, I can’t imagine living my life without these magical ingredients that can turn ANY meal from bland and boring to flavorful and unforgettable.

Now, one of my favorite herbs is summer savory, a Mediterranean seasonal herb which isn’t available (or is very hard to find) during the winter.

I somehow forgot this and invited friends over for dinner, in the middle of January, which cannot be realized without this herb. Boy, was I in trouble!

So, quickly, with the help of the internet, I set out on a quest to find the best substitute for savory. With a bit of research and experimentation, I managed to find a suitable replacement, and it’s safe to say that my recipe was a success.

This article is directed to folks who are facing the same problem, so please, learn from my mistake!

What is savory and how to use it?

Ok, before I go on, let me clarify what exactly summer savory is. When reading about this herb, it is easy to confuse it with the adjective savory (or savoury), which is used to describe food with a salty flavor.

Summer savory or Satureja hortensis is a herb that comes from the Mediterranean region, and it is most commonly used in meat or bean dishes. Its flavor is slightly piney, a bit peppery, and it goes very well with mild ingredients because it doesn’t overtake their aroma.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s used with meat, fish, and beans. The meal I usually use it for is roast chicken, where the savory is combined with a number of other ingredients to make a marinade.

Summer savory vs. winter savory

Those of you who've heard about summer savory before probably know about winter savory as well, so the question "Barbara, why don't we just use winter savory in the winter?" is a justifiable one.

Well, the reason for this is that winter savory has a distinctly different taste from its summer cousin, so the final result will not be what you wish. Its taste is much more bitter, and it isn't used in cooking that much, but rather in the making of liquors.

Best substitutes for summer savory

At the beginning of the article, I wrote that I did some research and experimentation in order to find a proper savory substitute. Here's how I did it:

I found the list of herbs that can do the job (thyme, sage, and marjoram) and tried each of them out on a separate piece of chicken, two days before the dinner was about to take place.

Each of these resulted in a very good tasting meal, but, there were some noticeable differences. I’ll give you a breakdown of my impressions of all three herbs.

1. Thyme


  • Thyme comes from the same region as savory, and the two are very similar regarding taste. As a matter of fact, if you finely chop them, it is very difficult to tell them apart. The benefit here is that thyme, fresh or dried, is easier to find during the winter. 
  • Now, another great thing when using thyme as a substitute for savory is that you don't have to worry about adjusting the amount because you can use exactly the same measure. Also, when preparing meals that require a long time under the heat, it is important that the spice is able to withstand the temperature and not burn. Thyme does a good job with this as well. 

2. Sage


  • Like thyme, sage also comes from the Mediterranean. No wonder that the cuisines of this part of the world are so amazing, they have so many aromatic herbs! The first thing that you'll notice is that it looks quite different than thyme or summer savory, as its leaves are much bigger and wider.
  • However, the piney flavor is very similar to the before mentioned, so it behaves pretty well as a substitute. In contrast to thyme and savory which can be used dried, sage should only be used fresh. As for the amount, use it in the same quantities as you would use summer savory, just chop it finely and you are good to go

3. Marjoram


  • If you’ve never heard of this spice, just think of oregano, because they come from the same family. Some have described its flavor as a combination of thyme and basil. It doesn’t have such a prominent piney tinge as the previous two substitutes, but its taste is still reminiscent of what I was looking for. 
  • The biggest downside to marjoram is that it cannot withstand a long cooking time, so I ended up burning it. My advice to you would be to add it midway through the cooking process or just before the end.

Verdict

Folks who are looking for something to replicate the flavor of savory should definitely go with thyme. That’s the one I ended up using for my dinner and nobody could even tell the difference!

Also, you won't have to worry about cooking time and amount because they're the same as when cooking with savory.

As for those who are open for a bit of experimentation, I highly recommend trying out both sage and marjoram. Trust me the outcome is amazing. They will be somewhat different than what you’re used to with savory, but excellent nevertheless.


Conclusion

So there you go, that would be all I've got for you concerning substitutes for savory, and I believe that 3 is more than enough.

Might I remind you again that the final result will not be identical to when using savory, but that's the best you'll be able to do.

However, my final piece of advice would be - save the Mediterranean inspired meals for the summer. They’ll taste better since all the ingredients will be in season, and I bet that they’ll be cheaper too.

For now, cook yourself a big pot of hearty stew and share it with someone you love! 🙂

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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