Basil (Ocimum basilicum), also called great basil or Saint-Joseph’s-wort, is a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae (mints). It is also called the “king of herbs” and the “royal herb”. The name “basil” comes from Greek (basilikón phutón), “royal/kingly plant”.
It is possibly native to India, and has been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. It is a hardy annual plant, best known as a culinary herb prominently featured in Italian cuisine, and also plays a major role in Southeast Asian cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Taiwan. Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell.
There are many varieties of Ocimum basilicum, as well as several related species or species hybrids also called basil. The type used in Italian food is typically called sweet basil (or Genovese), as opposed to Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon basil (O. X citriodorum), and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), which are used in Asia. While most common varieties of basil are treated as annuals, some are perennial in warm, tropical climates, including holy basil and a cultivar known as “African blue”.
This herb is most commonly used fresh in cooked recipes. In general, it is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. The dried herb also loses most of its flavor, and what little flavor remains tastes very different, with a weak coumarin flavor, like hay.
It is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce. At Keres Spices, we provide both fresh and dried basil. Our fresh basil is currently only available locally.