Basil is a tender culinary herb used in cuisins worldwide.
Origin Season Taste Types
Things to know about basil
Basil is an ancient—old world—herb, and it is a challenge to pin down a single origin. Some sources attribute its origin to central Africa, Southeast Asia , and Central and South America , while others trace its origin to East-India und Iran . But…
We know for sure, based on ancient manuscript, the Romans, the Greeks, and the Egyptians used basil. In ancient Greece, basil (vassilikos) was valued for its health benefits , and referred to as royal herb.
Depending on zone and variety, basil grows outdoors from early summer to early fall. It is also cultivated in greenhouses, making the culinary herb available year-round.
Tip: the herb makes a great potted plant. Hence, plant some basil indoors and enjoy the bright and sweet aroma year-round.
Taste of Basil
Depending on the type, it can taste from Sweet, peppery, and bright to pungent, spicy, zesty, and sweet.
Types of Basil
There is a Basil for Everyone!
Around the world there are between 50 to 150 species of the ‘royal’. Culinary basils are cultivars of Ocimum basilicum, or sweet basil. Some are cultivars of other basil species, and some are hybrids. Because of this, each type has its own unique look and aroma. For example, Basil’s color can range from red to purple, light green to dark green. Leaves can be small or large and wrinkled or smooth. As for aroma, basil can be classified as either sweet or non-sweet . Some cultivars/hybrids will remind you of anis, while other of licorice.
Popular cultivars/hybrids of sweet basil include :
Dwarf Greek: this smaller ancient herb (over 4,000 years old) has light-green leaves that develop into a compact, spherical-shaped bushes. The leaves give off a peppery and sweet aroma.
Thai: this ancient herb (over 5,000 years) develops deep-purple stems that blend into glossy dark-green leaves. The leaves remind you of licorice, with a slightly sweet and minty aroma.
Italian Large Leave: this type of basil is fragrant and flavorful—with a sweet anise flavor, growing extra-large leaves that are a staple ingredient of the culinary world. Great for indoors and outdoors. It is also ideal for freezing and drying.
Mammoth: this type is a lettuce leaf basil, and considered the granddaddy of basil. With its large leaves—as long as a hand, it is a chefs dream. Use it for pesto, on sandwiches, in soups and salads. Grows well on a windowsill.
For more about basil types visit True Leaf Market
Nutrition Profile of Basil
According to the US Department of Agriculture, Basil has the following nutrition values per 1/4 cup (6 g) of whole leaves:
All values are rounded to the nearest digit. %DV <2 not included in table.
Buying and Cooking Tips
For fresh basil, look in your grocery stores produce section. Many stores offer fresh basil, in 0.5 to 0.75 oz. packages. Some stores may also sell the herb in small pots wrapped in cellophane as seasonal items.
Can’t find fresh basil? You will always find it dry—crushed or in powdered form—in your grocer’s spice section.
For the more adventurous one, check out your local farmer’s market for other types of basil. While you are there, invest in some fresh produce. Short from raising herbs and vegetables yourself, the produce at the farmer’s market will always out-do the grocery store’s quality, freshness, and taste.
If you buy packaged basil leaves, follow the instructions on the label on how to keep it fresh. Generally: gently rinse the leaves, allow to dry on a paper towel, and store in a zip lock bag in your refrigerator’s produce drawer.
For bunched basil—stems and leaves—proceed as you would with cut flowers. Trim the stems and place them in a small jar, or vase, filled with water. Cover the leaves with a produce bag and pop your ‘basil bouquet’ into the fridge.
Potted plants love light and sun. To keep the plant happy, place it on a window seal where it can get plenty of natural light and sun exposure. During the warm summer months, set it out on the balcony or patio.
They also need moisture. Place the plant in a small plant tray, or saucer, filled with water, so they can bottom feed. If the plant looks a little droopy, water as you would other houseplants. Outdoor plants should be checked daily as they may need more water, compared to indoors, due heat and moisture loss.
For most recipes, use the whole leaves. If you have a potted plant, and only need a small amount of basil, just remove a few leaves. For larger amounts, cut back the whole stems about ¼ of an inch above a lower node—the area leaves grow. Unless you want to harvest the whole plant, leave a few lower nodes on each stem. This encourages the basil to grow and makes your plant last longer.
Need cut or chopped basil? Just before serving, cut or chop the herb with a very sharp knife and add to the food. This helps retain the most aroma and plant properties. Tip: Most basil leaves are relatively small, hence, cutting is not necessary. For larger leaves, gently tearing them into halves is all that is needed. Just remember, the more cut or torn, the more flavor the basil looses before it ends up on your plate.
Lastly, when substituting fresh for dry basil, or vice versa, check your recipe if the basil is used as seasoning or main ingredient.
If it is used as a seasoning, to enhance the flavor of a dish, like in soups, sauces, and stews, it is ok to substitute. Under this scenario, you would use 1 teaspoon of dry for 2 teaspoons of fresh basil. The ratio for basil is 2:1(fresh to dry). But, because dry basil is more concentrated, I recommend using a small amount at a time until you have the desired flavor.
If basil is a main ingredient, think pesto, garnishes, and salad dressings, it is best to use what the recipe calls for—fresh basil.
Recipes With Basil
1. Homemade Pesto