Behind the Seasoning: Basil
Even if you’re not a spice fanatic, you probably know basil goes hand in hand with Italian food. While that is perhaps the most popular pairing for this familiar herb, there is so much more you can do with basil. Keep reading to learn more about this herb's history and what to do with basil - beyond Italian cooking.
What is Basil?
Believe it or not, basil is actually part of the mint family. The herb, formally known as Ocimum basilicum, is believed to have originated in India and has been cultivated for over 5,000 years. Fresh basil typically has vibrant, shiny leaves that are small to medium in size. Like its prolific minty cousin, mentha, there isn’t just one type of basil. Different types of basil easily cross-pollinate and there are over 150 different varieties of basil! However, in the culinary world, there are two main varieties: Thai basil and sweet basil. Thai basil, as you might guess, is commonly found in Asian cuisines. You’ve probably seen it if you’ve ever enjoyed a brothy bowl of pho. Sweet basil is found in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. We carry two different types of sweet basil.
What is the difference between European Basil and California Basil?
European Basil and California Basil among the different types of basil. While both varieties are sweet, green basil varieties, they have different flavor profiles. California basil is stronger with warmer anise-tasting notes and a sweeter flavor profile. European basil is more mild and minty in flavor and can have a slightly astringent quality. They can be used interchangeably or together to create a richer basil flavor.
What is dried basil & what does dried basil look like?
Dried basil is basically exactly what it sounds like. Fresh basil leaves are picked from the plant and dried, resulting in a leaf that is crumbly and flakey. Our California Basil is considered some of the best dried basil around. An advanced dehydration process is used to dry this basil when it is at peak freshness. Commercial drying processes have perfected the art of preserving the flavor and color. But if you’ve ever decided to grow a basil plant or two, you may know that they can be quick growers - leaving you with a bounty of basil.
There are several ways to dry basil at home to turn it into an herb that is shelf stable. The basil can be dried using heat with the lowest setting on your oven, a dehydrator, or air drying method (though this isn’t recommended if you’re in a humid climate), or by leaving it in the sun for several days. When dried, the leaves are dark in color and crumble very easily to create leafy pieces. If your dried leaves don’t crumble easily and form a ball when rubbed between your fingers, they still need more time to dry!
How to store dried basil & how long does dried basil last?
When stored properly, dried basil can last up to three years on the shelf. Once the basil is dehydrated and ready for storage, place the basil in an airtight container or a glass spice jar. It is best to store the basil in a cool, dark place. While basil dried at home may not smell as strong as store-bought, you can still rely on the fact that smell = flavor. If your jar of dried basil smells dusty or doesn’t smell at all, even when you rub it between your fingers, it’s time for a refresh!
What Does Basil Taste Like?
Because there are so many different varieties of basil, the flavor profile of the herb can differ. In some cases, the name of the variety will give you a hint about the flavor. For example, lemon basil will have citrus notes and a bright, fresh, flavor. Thai basil has a slight licorice flavor and bittersweet notes, while sweet basil is, well, sweet. Sweet basil can also have notes of pepper and may have a little minty flavor. Most varieties of basil have notes of anise or mint.
What Other Spice, Seasoning, and Flavors Pair Well with Basil?
Basil is a great tool to have in the kitchen. Because of its simple flavor profile, it pairs well with lots of other herbs and spices. Chives, garlic, mint, and thyme are great pairings with European basil, while cilantro, marjoram, parsley, and oregano are a strong match for California basil.
The herb is also an excellent addition to spice blends. Since it has a versatile flavor profile, it is great for mixing and matching with other spices. Our Mt. Evans Butcher’s Rub has the bold flavor of California basil, while our Cantanzaro Herbs blend highlights the minty notes of European Basil.
The two types of basil also complement each other and can be used together for a richer and more complex basil flavor. Our Italian Herbs, Pizza & Pasta Sprinkle and Parmesan Pesto Sprinkle all have both types of basil. They are basil-forward blends and using both varieties creates depth and complexity in the finished dish.
Are There Health Benefits of Basil?
Basil has a rich history that goes way beyond cooking. The popular herb was used in ancient Egypt as an embalming practice and as a symbol of morning in Greece. Jewish culture believes the herb helps with fasting, while in Portugal, the herb is often included in gifts to lovers on certain holidays. People in India embraced the herb as part of their traditional medical system known as Ayurveda.
In fact, basil does a lot more than just make your food taste good. The herb is also an excellent addition to your health. It contains many different vitamins and minerals, is full of antioxidants, can help reduce blood sugar and inflammation, and can help prevent infections. The essential oils in the plant can also help reduce inflammatory conditions, aid in treatment of gastrointestinal issues, and help fight respiratory infections.
Where & How to Buy California Basil & European Basil
Our stores carry both California Basil and European Basil in different sizes to cover all of your basil needs. If you’d rather see the differences for yourself, our store locator will help you find a store near you so you can check everything out in person.
If you feel like skipping the dried stuff and want to cook with the fresh product, you should have no trouble finding fresh basil in your local market. Head to the herb section and look for basil. There is a chance it will be located near the tomatoes since they make a classic pairing. Look for leaves that are bright green in color and full in size. Leaves that are droopy and extremely pale or noticeably dark (especially around the edges) are a sign that the basil has been sitting out too long.
What Is Basil Used For?
Basil is a staple when it comes to Italian cooking. It is great sprinkled on pizza, cooked into sauce, and is an essential for Caprese. While we love those dishes, this herb goes way beyond just one type of cuisine. Basil is great for seasoning fish, meats, vegetables, and even omelets. Show off the flavor of fresh basil by making a batch of Basil Mayo or a Strawberry-Basil Spinach Salad.
How much dried basil equals fresh basil
Dried basil isn’t an exact substitute for fresh, particularly in dishes that feature the whole leave. But if you find yourself with dried basil and need fresh or the situation is reversed, the herb can be swapped for one another in a pinch. About one-third of the amount of the dried herb should be substituted for the fresh herb needed in the recipe.
How to make pesto with dried basil
No fresh basil for pesto? Not a problem. Dried basil can, in fact, be used to make pesto. Although it won’t be the exact same as fresh pesto. Don’t be alarmed if pesto made with dried basil doesn’t have that signature bright green color. The dried herbs will cause the pesto to be darker in color and may also cause it to have a more bitter flavor.
If you still want to try it out, combine the regular ingredients needed to make pesto, and instead of fresh basil, swap out for the dried herb. (Start with less though, because the flavor is concentrated.) And while you can make pesto with dried basil, it probably won’t taste as good as the real thing. Try and use the fresh ingredients when you can to make a classic, traditional pesto.
What Can Be Substituted For Basil?
Since basil is a member of the mint family, substitutes for the herb are rather easy to come by. Herbs like oregano, marjoram, mint, spinach, or tarragon are swaps that will work in a pinch. Remember that basil is a key ingredient in a few different herb blends so those also make great substitutions for basil. Our blend of Italian Herbs features a lot of basil and is great to swap into many recipes that call for dried basil.
Using basil when cooking is always guaranteed to take your food up a notch. Here are some of our favorite recipes that feature our blends for you to try out.
European Basil recipes and California Basil recipes
You can’t go wrong when it comes to adding basil to your recipes. As we’ve mentioned, basil is a key ingredient in a lot of Italian and Mediterranean dishes, so we’ve looked for more unconventional uses of the herb. When you are looking for a mild flavor that is more ubiquitous, go with the European blend. For all other recipes that have a strong basil flavor, California basil will be a great choice.
- Paris Cheese Sprinkle Spice Blend - The next time you’re craving a cheesy, herby flavor, try this unique DIY seasoning. The combination of flavors is great for popcorn, veggies, or making into a dip.
- Mexican Style Vinaigrette -This zesty and tangy sauce is great for dressing your Southwestern salad or drizzling over street tacos.
- Franklin’s Award Winning Chili - Basil isn’t the first ingredient you typically think of when it comes to chili. However, its addition lends a sweet flavor that balances the other flavors in the dish.
- Triple Rice Salad with Herbs, Fruit, and Nuts - Sweet and savory flavors make up this salad that is the perfect side dish for any meat or fish dish.
- Green Peach Ginger Smoothie - A sprinkle of California basil will add a punch of flavor to your green smoothie. The sweet and sharp flavors will wake you up first thing in the morning.
Recipes using basil seasoning
As you’ve probably already gathered by now, basil is a great ingredient for mixing with other spices and herbs. Here are a few recipes featuring our favorite blends that have a sweet basil flavor.
- Parmesan Artichoke Dip - You’ll forget all about classic spinach artichoke dip after one bite of this parmesan artichoke dip. The tangy spread will have you considering double-dipping.
- Pasta Chips - If you’ve never heard of pasta chips, get ready to fall in love. The crunchy bite is the perfect vehicle to show off any of your favorite spices.
- Pesto Spaghetti Carbonara - Pesto meets carbonara in this mashup of a recipe. It’s the perfect dish for when you can’t decide between the two classic pasta dishes.
- Pumpkin Fettuccine Alfredo - Bookmark this recipe fall. Sweet Pumpkin Pie Spice and herby Pizza & Pasta Sprinkle are the combination you never knew you needed.
- Spicy Margherita Flatbread - Add a bite of heat to your classic Margherita pizza with this recipe. The addition of basil cuts down on the spice to make an excellent bite.
For more herby inspiration, browse our Herbs collection or Herbal Flavors. Go Behind the Seasoning to learn more about Oregano and Thyme. Share your favorite uses below or tag us on Instagram (@savoryspiceshop).