The word basil comes from the Greeks meaning “king”, and is considered the “king of herbs” by many culinary authors and chefs. There are a wide variety of basil, but all belong to the botanical species Ocimum basilicum. While there is a wide assortment of basil, only a few are used for culinary purposes. Look for fresh organic basil from the farmers market, because dried basil loses a lot of flavor and many valuable nutrients.
The following are some common varieties of basil that you might find at the farmer’s market.
- Sweet basil is the most popular variety throughout the United States and Europe, and it’s by far the most common used in cooking. It has a full-flavored sweet, mint-like taste, with a hint of clove and anise. The color is a brilliant green. More recently this basil has been hybridized into other varieties with subtle flavors reflected in their names such as cinnamon basil, anise basil and lemon basil.
- Thai basil, also called hairy basil or anise basil is similar in appearance to sweet basil except for its purplish stems and veins. Chefs may use this basil for a stronger anise like flavor and spiciness that is not found in sweet basil.
- Holy basil, also referred to as tulsi is grown in India where it’s considered a holy plant seldom used in the culinary preparations. It has a pungent clove like fragrance, is smaller than sweet basil with tinges of purple and has mauve or pinkness flowers when it goes to seed. Interestingly, while most varieties of basil are considered annuals, Holy basil is a perennial.
- East Indian basil is cultivated in many parts of the world, and is known for its culinary uses as well to keep mosquitoes away. It has a clove like fragrance.
- Tea-bush basil is grown and used in West Africa. It’s the least aromatic of all the edible basil.
- Purple basil comes in two varieties, purple ruffle and dark opal. It’s milder than sweet basil and is often used in salads for additional color.
- Some other varieties of basils include; lettuce leaf basil, globe basil (French dwarf basil), hoary basil, camphor basil, queen of Siam basil, and rubin basil.
Each year new varieties of basil are introduced for culinary and potential medicinal research and use. Be adventurous and explore your culinary abilities ~ basil makes a fabulous pesto, toss into soups, salads or even a stir fry. I often use fresh basil a garnish, the fragrance can be tantalizing!!! Oh YUMMY!!! or, is that OM NOM NOM???
Enjoy this lively recipe by Brenda Langton from the Mill City Farmer’s Market website.