ingredient secrets: basil

by erin thursby
Basil is one of the most versatile herbs in the culinary arsenal. It can be found in a variety of cuisines, most notably in Thai and Italian cooking.
The basil most people use is Ocimum basilicum, or Sweet Basil, but there are a dizzying number of different types of basil. There are over 60 varieties, with more being developed by herb growers. Lemon Basil, popular in Indonesia, can be used in salads and specialty ethnic preparations. As the name indicates, it has a lemon smell and flavor, mainly because of natural chemical called citral that can also be found in lemongrass and lemon verbena. Thai cooking uses several types of basil, including Thai Basil, a variety with purple stems and a stronger licorice characteristic than the common sweet basil.
While you’ll find most basil in savory dishes, it’s become popular in desserts. In Asia, certain types of basil have seed that become gelatinous when soaked. These are made into sherbets or thick drinks. Opal basil leaves are sometimes mixed into sorbets at fine restaurants. Basil can also be incorporated into fruit compotes. Most of the varieties used for this purpose aren’t the common Sweet Basil, but more uncommon ones that have more of licorice flavor profile.
Many basils have medicinal properties. Most are soothing to the digestive tract. Basil oil has showed promise in killing bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics. It’s also heart healthy. Holy Thai Basil (a different plant than Thai Basil) has been shown to have an effect on treating pain in some studies, as well as helping to keep blood glucose levels steady in diabetics.
Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow from seed, although it must be watched for insect attacks and diseases. One way to help with the insects is to plant close with peppers and marigolds. Here in Florida they do well. Like most herbs they need plenty of light and like well-drained soil. They will wilt if they don’t have enough water but they like the heat.


april, 2022