TOP BASIL VARIETIES IN ASIAN CUISINE

Basil, also known as Saint Joseph’s Wort, is a highly versatile herb belonging to the mint family. It is a highly fragrant plant whose leaves are popularly used in Mediterranean cuisines and also as a seasoning herb in Asian cuisines such as Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese cooking. It was first native to India, Asia and Africa but due to its increasing popularity, basil is now cultivated worldwide.

There are more than 60 varieties of basil with flavours ranging from bold and spicy, to mild and sweet – each with the ability to impart a dish with its distinct flavour. Basil can be generally classified into three main categories: sweet, purple and bush.  

Also Known As

  • Saint Joseph’s Wort

Flavour Profiles

The sweet variation of basil features smooth bright green leaves and are one of the most commercially available types of basil in the market. It has a strong clove scent with a bright and pungent taste imparting its signature flavour in Italian sauces, soups and pesto sauce.

Thai basil (also known as Thai Sweet Basil or Ho-ra-pa), unlike the sweet basil, is an Asian variety which features deep maroon purple stems and blooms with green speckled leaves. Popularly used in Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese cooking, this basil is often added to stir-fries at the end to liven up the palate by imparting a distinct but pleasant spicy anise and clove like flavour with hints of licorice. The spicy character of the thai basil can be rather aggressive when eaten raw but mellows down pleasantly once cooked.

Holy basil (Tulsi in Hindi), another asian variety, is usually grown in India for religious and medicinal purposes. It is considered a sacred plant by the Hindus and feature furry stems with strongly scented green or purple leaves with jagged edges that are thin and more fragile when compared to the Thai sweet basil. While they are seldom used to cook in India, the holy basil is popularly featured in other Asian cuisines for its delicious combination of spicy, peppery bite with hints of mint coupled with a zesty fragrance. The flavour profile of this holy basil has it earning its name of “hot basil” in some Thai markets.

Nutritional Benefits

  • High level of Antioxidants
  • Aids in treating arthritis
  • Good source of vitamin A, K, C
  • Good source of magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium
  • Supports cardiovascular health

Other Benefits

  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Anti-fungal properties
  • Anti-bacterial properties
  • Anti-aging properties

Choosing and Using your Basil

When possible, fresh basil is preferred over the dried form as it is more intense and flavourful than the latter. Choose leaves that look vibrant and deep green in colour. Avoid those that appear yellow or feature dark spots.

Basil is best held in a glass of water at room temperature. However, if necessary, it is also possible to store it in the refrigerator but take care to wrap it in slightly damp kitchen paper and placed in a perforated bag – it will last an additional day or two. 

Alternatively, to prolong the shelf-life of basil, it may be frozen whole or chopped. For convenience, basil may be frozen in ice cube trays filled with water, stock or oil. When needed, they can be added when preparing soups, stews or pasta. As the oils in basil are highly heat-sensitive and their scents dissipate quickly, it is recommended to add the herb only near the end of the cooking process to retain its essence and flavour.

Basil picked for use in the kitchen is best held in a glass of water at room temperature.  Putting basil in the refrigerator results in discolored and unattractive leaves. Basil is easily dried for storing and future use.  It is used to flavor soups, stews, tomato dishes, meat, game, fish, egg dishes, herb butters and herb vinegars.

Consuming Basil

Make your own pesto sauce to top over pasta or bruschetta by pureeing fresh chopped basil with garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil. Alternatively, enhance your tomato-based pasta sauce by adding chopped basil toward the end of your cooking.

Incorporate basil into healthy stir-fries that feature ingredients such as eggplants, cabbage, capsicums, tofu, cashew nuts and chicken.

Use basil frozen in oil or butter by melting it over steaks, roast chicken or crush boiled potatoes.  

If you’re looking for locally grown basil and live in Singapore, you’re in luck! We cultivate both the Sweet Basil and the Thai Basil right here on our little organic farm. And you can get them delivered to your doorstep today! Click here to find out more: I want fresh organic veggies delivered to my doorstep!

Sources: BBCGoodFood, MedicalNewsToday, WHfoods, WebMD   | Image credit: Wizard Recipes

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