Rosemary Vs. Lavender: SPICEography Showdown

Rosemary and lavender are two herbs that can be similar enough in appearance that you could easily mistake them for each other. If you want to use one or the other, you should understand what makes each special. Let’s break down their similarities and differences in another SPICEography Showdown. 

How do rosemary and lavender differ from each other?

One key difference between rosemary and lavender has to do with the main flavors of each herb. Rosemary has a flavor that has elements of pine resin and of tea. Lavender has a softer flavor with less intensity. Its flavor is mainly a floral one accompanied by notes that are simultaneously fruity and woody. Lavender’s lack of intensity is what sets it apart from rosemary since it is the better-suited herb for playing a background role. These differences affect when in the cooking time you should add each herb.

The ease of finding these herbs is another important difference between them. You can find rosemary easily in the spice aisles of most grocery stores; lavender much less so. Lavender has always been a rarely used herb that is difficult to find outside of herbes de Provence blends.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Both herbs have some major differences as noted above, but they are similar enough that you can use each in place of the other in some cases. Consider the fact that they are both highly aromatic members of the mint family, which gives them certain biological factors in common. The resinous, piney aroma of rosemary can be interchanged with the floral notes of lavender in many dishes but not in all.

The heavier pine and tea notes of rosemary may not be a great fit for the desserts in which lavender is often used. You will also want to avoid using fresh rosemary as a lavender substitute in any dish that would require you to use the herb raw. Fresh rosemary is far too pungent to be used in an uncooked dish. The relatively subtle flavor of lavender means that it cannot be used in exactly the same way that you would use rosemary. You will have to add it later in the cooking process and even then it will most likely blend in with any other strong flavors in the dish rather than move to the forefront the way that rosemary will.

When should you use rosemary and when should you use lavender?

Reserve rosemary for pork and other fatty meats where it can help to cut through the fat. It is also great for taming game meats and other flavorful proteins. Because the flavor of rosemary is so assertive and because this herb can stand up to long cooking times, you would be better off using it in dishes that contain liquid and that will cook for a long time.

Lavender is a much milder herb and is thus more appropriate for dishes with ingredients that are not as flavorful. Lavender can be used to flavor chicken and other savory ingredients that have light flavors. Lavender works best when you use it in a dish that will not cook for very long or if you add it near the end of the cooking time. Use lavender to flavor desserts like cookies and scones or in a simple syrup to flavor beverages, ice cream, and other sweets.