Getting to Know Basil is part of FBC's The Spice Box series, where we aim to help you build a well stocked herb and spice cabinet that takes your cooking to the next level! What do you know about basil? Read on to find out more!
Latin Name of Basil: Ocimum Basilicum
When summer hits and fresh, ripe tomatoes start to take over our gardens and produce stands, our thoughts naturally turn to the classic accompaniment to them, the beautifully aromatic basil leaf.
What is Basil Used For?
Basil is native to Asia and Africa, and is widely cultivated in Europe and North America as a culinary herb that is used in many cuisines. It's a herb that's mainly used fresh as cooking it for any length of time can cause the flavour to deteriorate quickly.
Indian Hindus will usually have a small ‘holy basil’ or ‘tulsi’ plant in their houses, as it’s considered sacred. Tulsi, is drier and less lush than sweet basil, and is used more for medicinal purposes, rather than culinary ones.
It's also used in many Orthodox religions relating to the prep and use of holy water and many cultures have rituals for the dead or dying that revolve around basil helping to ensure they reach God or the afterlife.
Flavour Profile of Basil:
There are several different varieties of basil, with the most common being sweet basil, with its characteristic bushy deep green leaves. All of them have different flavour profiles:
- Sweet basil starts off with a slight peppery note, and finishes with its distinctive sweet anise essence.
- Thai basil is extremely characteristic with its anise notes. It's sometimes called Pepper basil
- Purple basil has a more savoury flavour profile
- Lemon basil has citrus notes in it and is one of the harder varieties to find
How To Store Basil:
Basil is best used fresh off the plant. If you can't bring your plants indoors, you can harvest basil by pinching off large bunches of leaves, washing and drying them quickly and freezing them. This helps preserve them for the best flavour.
If you won't be using your basil straight away but don't want to freeze it, store it in the fridge wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a plastic bag. Or, if the stems are still attached you can store the leaves in a glass or jar of water for a few days. Some people like to cover the jar with a plastic bag as well. Both of these methods will give you and extra 3 or 4 days of freshness.
You can also dry the leaves completely (you can even dehydrate them) and store them in airtight jars but they do lose their flavour quickly. Fresh is always best if you have the option!
How to Use Basil In Your Kitchen
Basil is very popular in Italian and Mediterranean cuisines with one of the most popular basil dishes being pesto. Fresh basil leaves are blended with pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses and then served with pasta. Pesto can also be used to top meat dishes or as a dip or spread.
In Genovese cooking, pasta, new potatoes and crisp green beans are boiled together and served with fresh basil pesto. There are also several other dishes starring basil, including the famous Margherita pizza.
Basil is often found paired with tomatoes in sauces and soups as it helps temper the acidity of the tomatoes.
Basil is also very popular in several South East Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian.
Other Uses of Basil
Along with it’s culinary uses, basil is also widely used in traditional medicine, including Ayurveda, where it is used as a remedy for colds and fevers.
Basil tea is also used to relieve chest congestion, and it is used as a home freshener in many countries. Basil oils are also used in perfumeries, and in the cosmetic industry for skin care supplements..
Growing Your Own Basil:
Basil is a finicky herb to grow and needs a lot of sun. Plant your seeds indoors and transfer them outdoors once it is hot enough and no chance of frost.
Harvest leaves regularly to encourage growth, pinching off the centre stems to prevent flowering. You can also grow your basil indoors. Check out our FBC tutorial on growing herbs inside your house for more information
And finally, did you know that basil seeds are also edible? They are used as coolers in many countries, and expand and go fuzzy when soaked in cold water and drinks, especially in the Indian classic, falooda.
Looking for more spices and herbs to jazz up your kitchen creations? Check out these Spice Box profiles:
- Getting to Know Cassia Bark
- Getting to Know Star Anise
- Getting to Know Lemongrass
- Getting to Know Fenugreek