Rosemary and sage are both members of the mint family. As such, they have a lot in common, including some elements of their flavor profiles and fragrances. They also have some major differences that keep them from being perfectly interchangeable and that you will need to consider before you choose between them. Let’s compare them in the SPICEography Showdown below.
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How does rosemary differ from sage?
Rosemary and sage differ in how they look. The leaves of the rosemary bush are narrow and similar to pine needles. Typically, the herb is used in one of two forms: fresh or dried. Powdered rosemary exists but is not as widely used. The sage plant is bushy, and the leaves are soft and pointy with a wrinkled texture. They also typically have a covering of fine hairs that make them look velvety. You can get whole fresh or dried sage leaves, or you can purchase them ground to a fine powder or as rubbed sage. Rubbed sage has a fluffy texture as opposed to the powdery ground form, which is the most concentrated form.
Rosemary’s flavor is different from sage’s. Rosemary is the stronger of the two, with an aggressive flavor and aroma. Rosemary brings pine and lemon to mind, along with a touch of pepper. Sage is also known for having a particularly intense flavor profile. While sage’s flavor profile also contains notes of pine and citrus, it has a strong eucalyptus edge and a distinctive earthiness to go with them.
Can you use rosemary as a substitute for sage (and vice versa?)
Rosemary can work as a sage substitute, since both do have some of the same flavor and aromatic notes. However, you will need to use considerably less rosemary because of how much stronger than sage it is. Try to find fresh rosemary for a closer flavor match. If you do use dried rosemary, use a third as much of it when replacing rubbed sage. Powdered rosemary is more likely to be a 1:1 substitute for powdered sage.
Sage will add a similar richness and depth to recipes that require rosemary. Generally, you will want to use more of it when substituting it for rosemary, though how much more may vary based on whether you are using whole leaves, rubbed sage or ground sage. Start by adding the same amount that your recipe requires for rosemary, and increase to taste.
When should you use rosemary, and when should you use sage?
Rosemary is widely associated with strong-tasting and fatty meats including pork and lamb because of its ability to stand up to their taste. It is also a great addition to vegetable dishes including ones that revolve around the potato. Rosemary is sometimes used for fish because its piney quality and citrus notes can cut through the strong flavors of the oiliest fish. Rosemary is also great in herbed butters and as a flavoring for cheese.
Sage is at home in Italian dishes including pasta sauces, risotto, and cannellini beans. It is also a popular ingredient in sausages. In the US, sage is a traditional part of the poultry seasoning for Thanksgiving turkey, as well as for the stuffing that accompanies it. As a popular flavor of the fall season, sage goes well with other autumnal staples like winter squash. You can add it to cheese as well.