Different Types of Basil

A third of a cup of basil, is a third of a cup of basil, is a third of a cup of basil.  Or is it?

Cookbooks and supermarkets would have you believing that all basil is the same.  But you’re an herb gardener, right? You have actual taste buds, and by golly you know from experience that this is a myth.  A third of a cup of cinnamon basil, is not a third of a cup of lettuce leaf basil, is not a third of a cup of sweet basil.

A third of a cup of cinnamon basil scattered across a margarita pizza would be to put a knot in just about anyone’s stomach.  Toss that same third of a cup of cinnamon basil into a vegetable risotto though, and you’ve created something remarkable.

And here’s the kicker: there are over sixty different types of basil.

Sixty.

Ok – deep breath – I am not suggesting that you grow all sixty different varieties of basil, nor am I saying that doing so would be a terrible idea.   However, if you are going to grow sixty varieties of basil be sure to pick up some Neosporin and some Band-aids; your blisters are going to get blisters from all the digging.

So instead of that, let me recommend you think about growing two or three types of basil.  That is: one scented variety, one sweet variety, and maybe one exotic variety.  You’ll figure out how to use each of them at some point during the summer.

Scented Types of Basil

These include Lemon Basil, Lime basil, Blue Spiced Basil (which has a hint of vanilla) and Licorice Basil (guess what flavor and scent that one has).  Each of these basils can work wonders when it matches the flavor profile of a dish you’re preparing.  For example, if you’re making a dish that calls for lemon zest, use Lemon or Lime Basil to complement the flavor.

Licorice Basil is the best for mixing cocktails…

Hello – Gin Basil Blast!  Juice from one half lemon, a small handful of fresh Licorice Basil leaves, 2/3 of an ounce of simple syrup, and three ounces of gin.

But you can also add the leaves as a garnish for savory desserts.

Lemon Basil makes a great addition to poultry and seafood dishes.

 Broiled Lemon Basil Trout anyone?  One cup Lemon Basil leaves, one quarter cup parsley, four tablespoons olive oil, one large garlic clove, and a dash of lemon juice.  Puree all in a food processor, brush on trout and broil as normal. 

How about some Candied Blue Spiced Basil over ice cream?  Select the largest, fullest grown Blue Spiced Basil leaves, and drag each one through a warm bowl of simple syrup, covering it completely.  Next dip the leaves in a small bowl of sugar, dip each side and set aside to cool on a rack.  Once they have hardened, place on top of vanilla ice cream.

Sweet Types of Basil

Sweet Genovese, Sweet Broadleaf, Green Bouquet, Italiano Classico, Napolitano and Medinette.  With names like those, are you wondering if sweet basil works best in Italian dishes?  It does!  You can use sweet basil for just about any Italian recipe.  The best Italian dishes are the ones that are the simplest.  Rather than measuring a million different ingredients, spend the time to pick out the best of only a few ingredients.

Take for example:

Caprese salad.  All you need is olive oil, Italiano Classico Basil, and tomatoes.  Maybe add a dash of salt and pepper to taste.

Or…

Classic Pesto: Olive oil, salt and pepper, Sweet Genovese Basil, pine nuts, garlic and grated Romano cheese.

Clean, simple flavors that let the ingredients speak for themselves.

Sweet basil is the most common type of basil carried by large retailers, so if you know basil at all, it’s probably through your experience with sweet basil.

Exotic Basils

These basil varieties really run the gamut.  They range from those having bright purple ruffled leaves, to those that will flower in unexpected colors.  There are short dwarf varieties, as well as tall spindly ones.  There is basil with tiny, tiny little leaves like Goddess Basil…basil with spiritual connections to Asia like Holy Basil…and basil with leaves big enough to eat instead of lettuce in a salad.  Good luck trying to find the elusive Chocolate Basil.  But if you do…let me know how it goes!

growing basil

This variety of basil comes from the Horn of Africa

Any one of them would be worth trying in your home garden.  Get adventurous!  You’ll find each type of basil will shine in a different type of recipe.

So whether you prefer sweet or savory…packed with gusto or subtle as a summer breeze, there’s a basil out there for you.  Variety is the spice of life.  And basil is the spice of variety.

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