Savory is a culinary herb that belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which is also the mint family. There are about 30 known savory varieties, but only two are commonly used: summer savory and winter savory. The two kinds of savory are related and have a lot in common — like the fact that you will usually use them in their dried and ground form rather than fresh — but they are also distinct from each other. In this SPICEography Showdown, we will investigate their differences and find out if you can use summer savory and winter savory interchangeably.
Table of Contents
- How does summer savory differ from winter savory?
- If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
- When should you use summer savory? And when should you use winter savory?
How does summer savory differ from winter savory?
Summer savory is a culinary herb that grows as an annual; winter savory is a perennial, so once established it grows for multiple years.
Summer savory and winter savory have different appearances. Summer savory leaves are small and can have a bronze-ish undertone to its green color. Winter savory leaves are dark green, glossy, and pointed.
Summer and winter savories have different flavor profiles. The flavor of summer savory leaves is sometimes described as a mix of pine and thyme. It is pungent and mildly peppery, but sweet compared to winter savory. Winter savory’s flavor is more intensely resinous and bitter than summer savory’s, though it does fade if you cook it for a long time. The pine note is present in summer and winter savory but is stronger in the winter variety. In winter savory, the pine and thyme flavor is accompanied by a hint of sage.
While neither herb is particularly easy to find, summer savory is generally more widely available than winter savory. If a container is simply labeled savory with no reference to the type, it will almost always be summer savory.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Summer savory is an excellent substitute for winter savory, and most cooks regard it as the more versatile of the two herbs. You can use it in most recipes that require winter savory. If the dish needs winter savory’s stronger flavor, simply use more of the summer savory.
Winter savory has a stronger taste, but it is similar enough that it will work as a summer savory substitute as long as you compensate for its intensity. To avoid overpowering dishes that require summer savory, you will have to use less winter savory than the recipe states or cook it for longer. Start with half as much winter savory and increase to taste if necessary.
When should you use summer savory? And when should you use winter savory?
Summer savory is a popular seasoning for poultry, including turkey and chicken. You can use summer savory on more delicate-tasting dishes like eggs and vegetables. Savory — including summer savory — is believed to provide relief from the flatulence that sometimes comes from eating beans, which is why its nickname is the bean herb. Summer savory is combined with other herbs in the herbes de Provence blend. You will also see summer savory heavily used in dishes from Eastern Europe, particularly those from Bulgaria and Romania. Bulgarians serve summer savory mixed with salt and paprika as a table condiment called sharena sol.
Winter savory is sometimes used as a flavoring for liqueurs. Because of its more intense flavor, winter savory is preferred for stronger-tasting meats like lamb and goose. It is a popular seasoning for hearty wintertime stews.