Best Herbs to Use On a Pizza – From Ordinary to Extraordinary

As a home cook and pizza enjoyer, I’ve always been fascinated by the transformative power of herbs in culinary creations, especially when it comes to pizza. Over the years, I’ve learned that the secret to a truly memorable pizza often lies in the careful selection and use of herbs.

These aromatic wonders do more than just add flavor. They bring a pizza to life, infusing each bite with depth and character.

The options you can use are practically endless. Today, I will talk about the following:

  • How herbs significantly enhance the flavor of pizzas, infusing them with depth and character.
  • The essential herbs for traditional pizza flavors include oregano, basil, and garlic.
  • Use different types of chili peppers, such as cayenne, Aleppo, Calabrian, ancho, and chipotle for a spicy kick.

So, you will need to experiment until you find the one that serves your preferences the best. Today, I want to share with you the best herbs that I’ve found to elevate a simple pizza into a gourmet experience.

Essential Herbs for Classic Pizza Flavors

Pizza cannot be imagined without some classic herbs, like oregano, basil, and garlic.

Oregano

Oregano Spice in Wooden Spoon

Oregano’s presence on a pizza is like a signature, an unmistakable mark of authenticity. The herb’s earthy and slightly bitter taste is a perfect complement to the tangy acidity of a rich tomato sauce, striking a delightful balance that elevates the pizza’s overall flavor profile.

This harmony of flavors is what makes oregano a staple in pizza kitchens around the world. The robustness of oregano’s flavor is particularly noteworthy.

Unlike some herbs that might lose their character under high heat, oregano retains its aromatic potency throughout the baking process. This resilience allows its warm, somewhat peppery aroma to infuse the pizza, enriching every bite.

The herb’s versatility is another of its strengths. Oregano’s appeal isn’t just in its taste but also in its ability to blend with other herbs and spices.

It works harmoniously with ingredients like garlic, basil, and thyme, creating a symphony of flavors that is both complex and satisfying.

Basil

Basil Leaves

Basil, especially the sweet basil variety, is a fundamental herb in the world of traditional pizza making. Its role is most famously highlighted in the classic Margherita pizza, where basil not only contributes its distinctive flavor but also serves as a visual delight with its bright green leaves, symbolizing the Italian flag when paired with red tomato sauce and white mozzarella cheese.

The application of basil in pizza is a delicate art. Unlike oregano, which is often added during the cooking process, basil is typically used fresh and added just before serving. The addition of fresh basil leaves at the end of cooking ensures that their vibrant flavor and aroma remain intact, offering a burst of freshness with each bite.

Its fresh, herbaceous notes create a delightful counterpoint to the creamy richness of melted cheese and the acidic sweetness of tomato sauce. This balance of flavors is what makes basil a perennial favorite among pizza enjoyers.

It’s not just a flavor enhancer but a component that brings a harmonious complexity to the dish.

Garlic

Garlic

Garlic is a true chameleon, adapting its form and flavor to enhance every aspect of the beloved dish. Its multifaceted role in pizza preparation is a testament to its versatility and powerful flavor profile.

When added to pizza sauce, garlic imparts a depth and complexity that elevates the sauce from a mere tomato base to a rich, flavorful component. Its pungent and spicy characteristics infuse the sauce, laying a flavorful foundation for the toppings that follow.

The intensity of garlic in the sauce can be adjusted according to personal preference, from a subtle hint to a more pronounced presence, making it a flexible ingredient for various palates. As a topping, garlic takes on a more direct role.

Roasted garlic, with its sweet and caramelized notes, adds a layer of sophistication to the pizza. It complements a wide range of toppings, from earthy mushrooms to robust meats, and even balances well with milder ingredients like spinach or ricotta.

The roasting process mellows the sharpness of raw garlic, transforming it into something rich and mellow, yet deeply flavorful.

Herbs for Adding Heat and Spice

For those looking for a spicy flavor, adding certain herbs will do the trick, even without considering toppings.

Crushed Red Pepper

Crushed Red Peppers

Variety Heat Level (Scoville Scale) Flavor Profile Best Paired With
Cayenne Pepper 30,000 – 50,000 Sharp, distinct heat Meat-heavy pizzas, like pepperoni or sausage
Aleppo Pepper 10,000 – 20,000 Moderately hot, fruity Margherita, vegetable pizzas
Calabrian Chili 25,000 – 40,000 Warm, smoky heat Pizzas with robust flavors like anchovy or capers
Ancho Chili 1,000 – 2,000 Mild, sweet with a hint of smokiness Chicken, BBQ pizzas
Chipotle Pepper 5,000 – 10,000 Medium heat, smoky Pizzas with a Tex-Mex twist, like taco pizza

Crushed red pepper, often a staple at the pizza table, is the go-to ingredient for those who relish a bit of fire in their pizza. When sprinkled over pizza, either before baking to infuse the entire dish with heat or after baking as a finishing touch, they introduce a spicy kick that can elevate the pizza experience to new heights.

The magic of crushed red pepper lies in its ability to complement a wide array of toppings. From the classic pepperoni to a vegetable-laden pizza, the addition of these spicy flakes adds a layer of complexity to the flavor profile.

The heat from the red pepper flakes is particularly effective in cutting through the richness of cheeses and meats, balancing out their heaviness with a sharp, piquant edge. This contrast not only enhances the overall taste but also adds an element of surprise to each bite.

In American-style pizzas, where bold flavors are often utilized, crushed red pepper holds a place of prominence. Its ability to add a little extra spice without overwhelming the other ingredients makes it a popular choice among those who prefer their pizzas with a kick. The level of heat can be easily adjusted to suit individual preferences, making it a versatile addition to any pizza.

Chili Flakes

Chili Flakes

Chili flakes offer an exciting spectrum of heat that can be tailored to individual tastes. Unlike the uniform heat of crushed red pepper, chili flakes derive from a variety of chili peppers, each with its unique heat intensity and flavor profile.

This range, from the mildly spicy to the intensely hot, provides an opportunity for pizza makers to customize the spice level of their creations, catering to a wide array of palates. The beauty of chili flakes lies in their adaptability.

They can be sprinkled on top of the pizza as a finishing touch, where they add a visible and textural element to the dish. Their use goes far beyond just being a topping. For those who enjoy a consistent heat in every bite, mixing chili flakes into the dough is an innovative approach.

This method distributes the spice evenly throughout the pizza, ensuring a consistent flavor experience from crust to center. In my own kitchen experiments, I’ve found that the type of chili flake used can significantly alter the character of the pizza.

For instance, using flakes from a milder chili-like ancho can add a subtle warmth that doesn’t overpower other flavors, making it suitable for those who prefer a gentler heat. On the other hand, flakes from a hotter chili like habanero can transform a pizza into a fiery delight, ideal for those who crave an intense, spicy kick.

Herbs for Contemporary and Gourmet Pizzas

If you are looking for something that is not as common, you should look towards rosemary and thyme.

Rosemary

RosemaryHerb

Rosemary is a herb that can transform a standard pizza into a gourmet experience. Its needle-like leaves, rich in aromatic oils, release a burst of flavor when cooked, infusing the pizza with a rustic, Mediterranean essence.

This robust herb, known for its strong and somewhat piney flavor, is a staple in contemporary and gourmet pizza recipes, offering a taste that is as memorable as it is unique. It pairs exceptionally well with ingredients that complement its bold flavor.

For instance, rosemary and thinly sliced potatoes on a pizza create a harmonious blend of textures and tastes, reminiscent of traditional Italian countryside cuisine.  The herb’s aromatic profile also works beautifully with the sweetness of caramelized onions, adding depth and complexity to the pizza.

Additionally, rosemary’s affinity with various cheeses, especially those with a creamy or nutty flavor, like mozzarella or goat cheese, can elevate a simple cheese pizza to a dish with a sophisticated flair. The key to unlocking rosemary’s full potential in pizza-making lies in its judicious use.

Due to its potent flavor, it is often used sparingly to avoid overpowering the other ingredients. A light sprinkling of finely chopped rosemary leaves can impart a delightful aroma and flavor without dominating the pizza. This subtle approach allows the herb to complement rather than overwhelm the overall taste profile.

Thyme

Thyme Herb

Thyme is a versatile herb that beautifully complements a wide string of toppings. Its earthy essence, coupled with hints of lemon and mint, provides a nuanced flavor that is less overpowering than some other herbs like rosemary.

This makes thyme an excellent choice for pizzas that feature milder toppings, where it can add depth without dominating the overall taste.

Pizza Variety Key Ingredients Role of Thyme
Mushroom Delight Mushrooms, Mozzarella, Garlic Thyme complements the earthy tones of mushrooms and adds depth.
Chicken Alfredo Grilled Chicken, Alfredo Sauce, Spinach Thyme pairs well with chicken, enhancing the creamy Alfredo sauce.
Goat Cheese Special Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Arugula Thyme’s subtle flavor balances the tanginess of goat cheese.
Margherita Twist Fresh Tomatoes, Basil, Mozzarella Thyme adds a unique twist to this classic, complementing basil.
Mediterranean Veggie Artichokes, Olives, Feta Cheese Thyme’s earthy notes enhance the Mediterranean flavors.
White Pizza Ricotta, Garlic, Parmesan Thyme adds complexity to the blend of cheeses.
BBQ Chicken BBQ Sauce, Chicken, Red Onions Thyme complements the smoky BBQ flavor with its earthy undertones.
Pesto Perfection Pesto Sauce, Pine Nuts, Cherry Tomatoes Thyme adds an aromatic depth to the pesto base.
Four Cheese Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Feta Thyme balances the richness of the cheeses.
Prosciutto and Fig Prosciutto, Fig, Balsamic Glaze Thyme enhances the sweet and savory combination.

One of the charms of thyme is its compatibility with a variety of ingredients. It pairs exceptionally well with earthy mushrooms, enhancing their natural flavors with its subtle, woody notes.

When combined with the creamy tanginess of goat cheese, thyme adds an aromatic complexity that elevates the pizza to a gourmet level. Additionally, its affinity with chicken is notable; it complements the meat’s mild flavor without overwhelming it, making for a harmonious and delicious topping combination.

Herbal Blends for a Complex Flavor Palette

Considering a blend of herbs can be quite the option if you look to add a complex taste palette.

Italian Seasoning

Easy Homemade Italian Seasoning

Italian seasoning is a popular and versatile herb blend that captures the essence of traditional Italian cooking. This seasoning typically includes a combination of classic pizza herbs such as oregano, basil, and rosemary.

These primary ingredients are often complemented by the addition of garlic powder, thyme, and a hint of chili flakes, creating a harmonious and robust flavor profile. Originating from the culinary traditions of Italy, this blend is particularly noted for its convenience and effectiveness in delivering authentic Italian tastes.

It simplifies the cooking process by eliminating the need to measure and mix multiple individual herbs, making it an ideal choice for both experienced chefs and cooking enthusiasts who are short on time. Italian seasoning is particularly celebrated for its versatility in the kitchen.

It can be used in various stages of pizza preparation. When added to the pizza sauce, it infuses the base with a depth of flavor.  As a topping, it adds an aromatic touch to the finished pizza, enhancing the overall taste experience.

Additionally, incorporating Italian seasoning directly into the pizza dough can elevate the flavor of the crust itself, making every bite more enjoyable.

Creating Custom Herb Mixes

Homemade Spice

Creating custom herb mixes is a culinary adventure that opens up a world of flavor possibilities, especially in the realm of pizza making. By selecting and combining various herbs, you can craft a seasoning that is uniquely tailored to your taste preferences and culinary style.

Commonly chosen herbs such as basil, oregano, and thyme serve as a foundational trio, offering a balance of sweet, earthy, and slightly minty flavors. These herbs, deeply rooted in Italian cuisine, provide a classic backdrop to any pizza creation. To add complexity and depth to your herb mix, consider incorporating additional elements.

A pinch of chili flakes can introduce a spicy dimension, awakening the palate with a gentle or fiery heat, depending on your preference. Garlic powder, on the other hand, can impart a savory and aromatic quality, enhancing the overall umami of the pizza. Experimentation is key in developing custom herb mixes.

Each herb has its own distinct flavor profile, and understanding how these flavors complement or contrast with each other is part of the creative process. For instance, rosemary can add a piney, almost lemony note, while marjoram might contribute a sweeter, more delicate flavor.

Sage, with its slightly peppery taste, can offer an interesting contrast to the sweeter herbs.

Fresh vs. Dried Herbs

Dried Herbs on Table

The decision to use fresh or dried herbs in pizza making is significant, as each type brings its own characteristics and impacts the overall flavor profile of the dish. Fresh herbs are known for their bright, vibrant flavors and are often more aromatic than their dried counterparts.

They tend to have a lighter, more delicate taste, which can be overshadowed if added too early in the cooking process. Therefore, fresh herbs are ideally used towards the end of cooking or as a garnish.

This approach preserves their freshness and ensures that their flavors remain pronounced and distinct.

Aspect Fresh Herbs Dried Herbs
Flavor Profile Bright, vibrant, and aromatic Concentrated and intense
Best Added Towards the end or as a garnish During the cooking process
Suitability Best for quick-cooking or raw dishes Ideal for dishes with longer cooking
Flavor Intensity More delicate and subtle Stronger and more pronounced
Preservation Best used soon after purchase Long shelf life
Quantity Required Generally more than dried herbs Less, due to concentrated flavor

Dried herbs, in contrast, offer a more concentrated and intense flavor. The drying process removes moisture, leaving behind a potent essence of the herb.

Due to their stronger flavor profile, dried herbs are best added during the cooking process. This allows ample time for their flavors to infuse into the dish, creating a more harmonious blend with the other ingredients.

Dried herbs are particularly suitable for longer cooking times, as they withstand heat well and release their flavors gradually.

FAQs

Clam Parsley Garlic Pizza

Is oregano or parsley good on pizza?

Yes, both oregano and parsley are good on pizza. Oregano is a classic pizza herb known for its robust, earthy flavor, often used in Italian-style pizzas. Parsley, with its fresh and slightly peppery taste, can be used as a garnish to add a burst of color and a light, herby flavor.

What are the 7 types of Italian pizza?

The seven popular types of Italian pizza include Pizza Margherita, Pizza Marinara, Pizza Quattro Stagioni, Pizza Capricciosa, Pizza Quattro Formaggio, Pizza Diavola, and Pizza Napoletana.

Why not mix onion and garlic?

Onion and garlic can be mixed, but it’s often a matter of personal preference and recipe requirements. Some people prefer to avoid mixing them due to the potential for overpowering flavors. In certain dishes, the distinct flavors of onion and garlic are appreciated separately for their unique contributions.

Do Italians put eggs on pizza?

Yes, in Italy, putting eggs on pizza is not uncommon. The egg can be either cracked raw onto the pizza before baking, so it cooks with the pizza, or hard-boiled and sliced as a topping. It’s particularly popular in the Pizza Carbonara, which includes ingredients like pancetta, mozzarella, eggs, and black pepper.

Summary

Whether we’re talking about the classic charm of basil and oregano or the adventurous flair of thyme and dill, the right herbs can transform a basic pizza into a masterpiece of taste. I encourage you, fellow pizza lovers, to dive into your own herb experiments.

Mix, match, and explore the vast array of flavors. After all, the best pizza is the one that resonates with your own unique palate and culinary imagination.