Basil
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Basil (Ocinum basilicum) is a green-leafed herb with a sweet licorice or clove-like taste.  It is a staple of Mediterranean cooking and especially associated with Italian food—though it’s interesting to note that the Basil Pesto, usually thought of as Italian, was first created in Provence, along with its sister, "Pistou." Basil is one of the French Fine Herbes (pronounced "fin herbs" in French and the kitchen).

In America, Basil was almost unheard of until the 1970's. Craig Claiborne wrote about the great Italian chef Marcella Hazan and suddenly basil was everywhere! Crushed into the ubiquitous Pesto and tossed with pasta, its ribbons topping a caprese salad, flavoring an omelet, or roast Chicken. Basil is now one of the most popular Herbs in the United States.

Season

Basil thrives in warm seasons (especially Summer).

Availability

Basil is available year round.

Cultivation

Basil's likely origin is Africa, though it was first cultivated in India, from where many varieties spread throughout Europe and Asia. The Greeks and Romans both used Basil, the Greeks calling it "basilikon," meaning "kingly or royal."

Basil grows best outdoors, but can live happily indoors in a pot on a sunny windowsill. Pinch off the buds before they flower, and the plant will continue producing leaves for months. If allowed to flower, it will produce seedpods with black seeds that can be planted the next year. You can also grow a new plant by suspending a sprig in a glass of water. It should sprout new young roots in about 2 weeks. Many cooks keep a few fresh Basil plants around the kitchen or yard (especially in Summer), for the addition of the freshest Basil.

Production

Varieties

Sweet Basil or Italian Basil (also called large leaf basil) is the most common variety used in Europe and North America, while Thai Basil, Holy Basil and Lemon Basil are essential to many Indian and Asian dishes. Many other varieties have been developed, including Globe Basil, Cinnamon Basil, Purple Basil and African Blue Basil.

Purchasing

These days, fresh Basil is available year-round in the produce section of grocery stores and farmer’s markets. When buying, look for unwilted Basil leaves that are bright green, in color.

Storage

Unfortunately, Basil doesn’t last long at room temperature, staying fresh only 2 or 3 days. To help extend its life, refrigerate it wrapped loosely in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag or container. It will last 1-2 weeks refrigerated. Stand the Basil in the fridge in a glass of water, covered with a plastic bag (change the water every 2 days). Basil will last 3-4 weeks, this way.

Culinary Uses

Basil has the most flavor when raw, so it is often added at the very end of cooking or just before serving. You can cook it longer, for example in a soup or baked dish, for a more muted flavor. Use only the leaves and discard the stems and buds. If you want pieces, it’s best to tear the leaves with your hands, as a knife can easily bruise the Basil. 

Basil is perfect also for a Chiffonade Cut, where the leaves are stacked or rolled and sliced cross-wise. Dried Basil is a poor substitute for fresh, but can be used in a pinch (pun intended), if it still has a lot of scent. If the Basil smells like dried hay, it’ll add nothing to your dish.

Also, Basil has a special affinity for Tomatoes, but is also delicious with Chicken, Fish, Eggs and a wide variety of vegetables.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 t of Basil per recipe.

Pairings

Grilled Fish, Poached Fish, Pork, Mutton, Poultry, Beef, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, Oranges, Rice, Olive Oil, Pine Nuts, Onions, Oregano, Italian Cuisine, Asian Cuisine, Mediterranean Cuisine, Thai Cuisine, Vietnamese Cuisine, Cilantro, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Eggplant, Parmesan Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese, Pecorino Cheese, Ricotta Cheese, White Wine, Pizza, Salads, Salad Dressings, Shrimp, Scallops, Mussels, Clams, Crab, Lobster, Kosher Salt, Sea Salt, Mint, Garlic, Fresh Ginger, Olives, Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Tomatoes, Watermelon, Balsamic Vinegar, Sherry Vinegar, Curry, Coconut, Vanilla, Chicken

Substitutes

Oregano

Nutritional Value USDA
BASIL,FRESH
Amount Per 100g
Calories 23
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 4mg
6%
Potassium 295mg
0%
Total Carbohydrate 2g
4%
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 0g
Protein 3g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

In studies, Basil has been shown to have antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial qualities. It has been used for stress relief and to treat asthma and diabetes. Also, there is evidence it may be of use against arthritis.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes