Basil is a herb in the mint family that is essential in Italian cooking, although it is also used in a variety of other types of cuisines including Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese. It is known for being the main ingredient in traditional pesto and is also a favorite seasoning in tomato-based pasta sauces. Basil is an annual herb that is most often green in colour. It has a fragrant, sweet smell and peppery taste. Basil leaves are large, somewhat delicate, and have a smooth texture marked with a series of veins; they are the prime part of the plant used in cooking. It’s an easy herb to grow at home and common addition to kitchen gardens.
Varieties of Basil
There are over 60 varieties of basil, some of which are red or purple, and each has its own distinct flavour. Sweet basil is the most popular and common variety, and there are several types of sweet basil available. Thai basil is also called for in many recipes because of its anise-like flavour. It is distinguishable from sweet basil by its purple stems and sturdy leaves. Other varieties are named for the way they smell or taste, such as lemon basil, cinnamon basil, and spicy bush basil.
Fresh vs. Dried
Basil is sold fresh and dried but fresh basil is typically preferred for cooking. Although dried is more concentrated than fresh, dried basil does not have the same taste; the dehydrating process draws out more of the mint flavour and less of the anise. The general rule is to use one-third the amount of dried basil when substituting it for fresh. For example, one tablespoon of fresh chopped basil equals 1 teaspoon dried.