Huacatay is used in the cuisines of several different South American countries but it is best known for its role in Peruvian dishes. It is a Peruvian staple, which means that it is your best option if you are cooking Peruvian food. This is one of those herbs where no substitute will capture the right flavor perfectly. If you have tried to find huacatay but your efforts have been in vain or you are dealing with an emergency shortage of it, consider the huacatay substitutes below.
Your best bet: Cilantro
Huacatay and cilantro have close enough flavor profiles that huacatay is often suggested as a cilantro substitute for those with an aversion to cilantro. It has many of the same flavor notes that make cilantro appealing but lacks the notes that some people detect as soapiness. Cilantro is known for having a distinctive bright herbaceousness with a touch of citrus, which is similar to what huacatay provides.
Both herbs are also used extensively in Latin American cuisine and tend to work well in the same kinds of dishes. Some popular dishes feature huacatay alongside cilantro. Cilantro has the benefit of being much easier to find. Huacatay is rare outside of South America and may even be difficult to find there outside of the right season. In comparison, cilantro is common and can be found in the produce section of most American grocery stores. It is widely available in some parts of Western Europe as well.
You can use cilantro as a 1:1 substitute for huacatay in virtually all of the same dishes.
A decent second choice: Muna
Like cilantro, muna is a herb used in Peruvian cooking. It is an Andean herb, just like huacatay and plays important roles both as a seasoning and as medicine. It shows up in Andean stews and sauces and is most closely connected to the Aymara community. The Aymara community lives on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Muna belongs to the mint family and provides a large amount of calcium. Muna often shows up in the seasoning for pachamanca, which also includes huacatay. The pachamanca dish is made by roasting meats using stones. In addition to being an herb for flavoring food, it is also a great tea herb just like huacatay. Muna also has many of the same health benefits as huacatay including the ability to aid digestion.
In a pinch: Epazote
When it comes to its use in cooking, epazote is a controversial herb just like cilantro. While some find its pungent fragrance unpleasant, many others see it as a great addition to dishes that feature legumes and corn due to its carminative benefits.
Note that the controversy is not new. This herb’s name is a Nahuatl word meaning skunk sweat. Among the flavor notes that you might detect in epazote’s flavor profile are turpentine and mustard greens. While it may not have a flavor that everyone finds agreeable, epazote does have many of the medicinal benefits that you might get from huacatay; however, it is important to note that this herb can be toxic when it is consumed in excess. Like huacatay, epazote can be hard to find. Most grocery stores will not have it in stock but you may be able to find it in stores that cater specifically to Latin American clientele.
Lemon verbena’s flavor profile revolves more around citrus notes than does the flavor profile of huacatay. Even with its lemony flavor, lemon verbena can still work in many of the same applications for which huacatay is normally used. If you do want something closer to huacatay’s minty properties, consider pairing lemon verbena with a little spearmint.