Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Genovese Basil

Flavor

Fresh Genovese basil has an initial subtle peppery taste that evolves into a slightly sweet anise flavor. When cooking with basil, it should be added at the end of cooking since heat removes the flavor and if cooked for too long, basil can result in a bit of bitterness. 

Aroma

Basil has a strong, pungent, sweet and somewhat menthol aroma. 

Pairing

 Sweet basil is an essential ingredient in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. Basil pairs exquisitely well with lemon, tomato and garlic. Sweet basil marries beautifully with olive oil, oregano, thyme, garlic, onions, tomatoes, chili, chicken, pasta, eggs, zucchini, capsicum, bell peppers, pizza and green leafy salads.

Thai Basil 

Flavor

Thai basil is often referred to as licorice basil because of the strong anise flavor it offers. It's more robust than sweet basil and can be cooked for longer periods of time without losing flavor. This makes thai basil perfect for soups, stir-fries and curries. 

Aroma

Slightly cinnamon scented, similarly in scent to cloves. Thai basil's scent is not as pungent as sweet basil. 

Pairing

The oil from thai basil compliments the taste of pork quite well. It is very popular in many Asian dishes and adds the essential flavor to Thai curries and stir-fries that is hard to replicate with any other herb.

Growing

The flavor of the basil is directly affected by its growing conditions. You can propagate basil by seeds and by cuttings (best taken during spring and winter). To encourage bushiness of the plant, flowers should continually removed. 

Minimum temperature for growing basil should be above 13 degrees celsius for germination. Basil prefers a warm temperature with sun exposure, so a potted plant on the kitchen window sill is a great option. It's important to ensure the location of your basil plant yields 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. After the first 6, the leaves begin to prune above the second set of the leaves, encouraging growth. When using single basil leaves for cooking, it's best to remove them as you plan to use them. 

 In a warmer climate, basil may grow in winter and can become a biennial plant. 

In gardens, basil is a good companion to other plants and repels white fly and aphids. It has a particular affinity to tomatoes in pots and also...on the plate!

History

Basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. Traditional folklore was that if you wanted to grow fragrant, strong basil, than you should shout and swear when sowing your seeds. It was also said that if a man gave a sprig of basil to a woman, she was sure to fall for him. In Haiti, shopkeepers will sprinkle basil around their shops to ward off evil. Europeans claimed that the basil would wilt if anyone with an impure heart touched it. 

Medicinal

Herbal uses for basil include easing the pain in childbirth as well as easing a variety of ailments including headaches, indigestion, bad breath, joint pain and fatigue. If you have a cold or flu, try having a strong basil tea with some lemon juice, a little honey and a pinch of cinnamon and cloves. For those prone to headaches, get some basil and rub it into your temples for temporary relief.

Consuming fresh basil (which has high amount of vitamins A and C) can be considered a cancer fighter. Various cultures consider basil to help as a natural resistant to stress and disease and also to strengthen the immune system. Basil can be used as a hair conditioning rinse and scalp tonic by rinsing basil tea through your hair after shampooing. 

Facts About Basil

When basil leaves are brushed against or rubbed, they let off a strong clove or anise aroma. 

Fresh basil should not be refrigerated as it can cause the leaves to develop brown spots.

Common Questions 

What to do if Thai or Sweet basil is not available? 

While both thai and sweet basil do have their own flavor, they can be easily interchanged during cooking. While the flavor will change slightly in the dish, their flavors are quite complementary and rarely imbalance a dish. 

Can I still use my basil once it turns brown? 

You can still use slightly browned basil as long as it still holds its fragrance and isn’t slimy or feels like mildew. You’ll find that putting fresh basil in the fridge will cause it to easily become brown. 

What should I do when my basil plant starts to flower? 

When flowers start appearing on your plant, pluck them off as soon as you see them. This will promote further growth. 

How long should my basil plant last? 

Basil is generally an annual plant, meaning that a new one should be planted every season. In warmer and more tropical climates, it can become a biennial plant so it will last through winter and into the next year. 

How to keep basil fresh? 

It is best to keep basil in a glass of water in a cool, dry and dark spot, though not in the refrigerator.