Basil is a culinary staple that is used in dishes around the world. Many gardeners are growing basil indoors just for that purpose, to use in their dishes. While basil is well known, what’s less known is the sheer amount of different basil varieties available.
Each of these varieties has its own flavor and use in the kitchen. Today, we’ll look at 5 of our favorite basil varieties that every aspiring chef should try. Knowing the different flavors and visual aspects of these varieties can help you make your next dish that much more flavorful and interesting.
Note that this article won’t go into too much detail about growing your own basil. For that info, checkout our article on growing basil indoors.
While we have a full article on basil, we wanted to provide a couple of quicks for growing your own basil here. For more info, check out that article.
Most basil varieties have roughly the same care, so these tips will be broadly applicable regardless of which type you decide to grow.
Basil is quite the easy herb to grow, and perfect for beginners. Most varieties will even grow in small containers on a kitchen windowsill so it doesn’t require a lot of space.
For sunlight, look to get 6+ hours of bright sunlight per day. For water, check the top inch of soil and water when it’s dry. You don’t want to water too much as overwatering can be harmful to the plant.
This was just a brief overview, check out our full article for a more in-depth guide. Now, onto the different varieties.
The classic example, sweet basil is the variety that most people are probably familiar with. This is the most popular variety of basil, and the one you’ll most likely find in your local grocery store.
This variety has that classic basil flavor, but not overpoweringly so. This makes sweet basil extremely versatile and usable in a plethora of dishes. If a dish calls for basil, then sweet basil is generally a good option. There might be other varieties that fit better, but sweet basil will never taste bad when substituted for another.
If you’re looking for the most versatility, sweet basil is a great starting point. It’s easy to grow, and fits in a lot of dishes.
Often confused with sweet basil, Genovese basil is similar but has a slightly strong flavor. Its leaves grow a bit bigger, and have a flatter, pointer shape than true sweet basil.
As its name might suggest, this type of basil is often used in pasta dishes and sauces. It has a strong, bold flavor, and is more aromatic than sweet basil. This makes it great for cooking with, but also adds a pleasant scent to the area it’s grown in.
Those who enjoy Italian cuisine or simply love that strong basil flavor will be well served growing Genovese basil.
For those that really love basil and want a constant supply the lettuce variety may be the perfect fit. Lettuce basil has distinctive leaves that are known for their size. Each one can grow up to 5 inches long making them significantly larger than most other varieties.
This means that a single lettuce basil plant can provide a lot of usable herb. The size of the leaves also gives you more options for preparation such as making a basil wrap or using them as part of a salad.
The only thing to keep in mind is that lettuce basil’s flavor is generally a bit less intense than the smaller varieties. This can be a plus or a minus depending on its use.
If you’re tired of green and want to add a splash of color to your garden try out purple basil. This basil plant has a striking purple/burgundy color that is a far cry from the other varieties we’ve looked at.
It also has its own unique flavor tasting more clove-like and less sweet than other varieties. This gives a unique use in cooking, and it works well in salads as well as preserved in oils or vinegars. It is however typically not used in dishes that use traditional basil.
Its color also adds a lot to the presentation of a dish. Throwing in some purple basil immediately adds some visual appeal. This can be part of the dish itself, or as a garnish on the side.
Lastly we have Thai basil aptly named for its use in a variety of asian dishes. This basil variety has a spicy, sweet, licorice-like flavor that pairs well with a wide variety of dishes.
You’ll find this basil variety in Pho, as well as many other dishes including chicken, beef, or pork. It can also add a lot of flavor to sauces as well as being used to make a delicious tea.
Thai basil also looks beautiful; its flowers have a striking purple color. This looks excellent in a herb garden, but can also add visual appeal when plating dishes.
The Wide World Of Basil
While the 5 options above are great there are literally dozens of other varieties each with their own flavor profile. Don’t limit yourself to just these 5, explore the wide world of basil and enjoy growing and cooking this delicious herb.