What Are the Best Tips for Cooking with Basil?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2019
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Depending on the flavor desired in the prepared dish and the cooking method, cooking with basil is all about using the appropriate variety. Either fresh or dried basil may be appropriate. When cooking with fresh basil, storing and handling the herb correctly prior to cooking will ensure the best flavor. When using dried basil in place of fresh, pay attention to measurements.

There are several different types of this herb, the most common being sweet, lemon, clove, and cinnamon. Sweet basil, for example, is most often used in the kitchen and has the flavor that most associate with this herb. It is typically incorporated into Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Lemon basil has a citrus flavor and is commonly used in Indonesian cooking. When cooking with basil, it is important to use the proper type depending on the dish. For those creating a recipe, it may be helpful to smell or taste several different varieties to determine the best one.


Fresh is typically preferred when cooking with basil. While some recipes may call for steeping the herb in a liquid, basil is usually added to a dish at the end. Cooking basil for too long can alter its flavor and potentially causing it to become bitter. If the dish requires long cooking or the basil is to be used as a rub for meat, dried basil is usually preferred. While dried basil has a vastly different flavor than fresh basil, it can stand up well to longer cooking times or high heat.

When cooking with basil that is fresh, select high quality leaves. The basil should be bright green without any bruising or spots. It is usually best to use fresh picked basil the same day or, if purchasing the herb from a store, to buy the product the same day it will be used. If this is not possible, basil should be stored with its stems in water and covered with plastic wrap on the top shelf of the refrigerator; it can last for three to four days in this way.

The manner in which the herb is handled is also important when cooking with basil. Fresh leaves should be torn with fingers, if possible, to avoid bruising. If cutting with a knife is necessary, slice the basil gently; running over the herb repeatedly with the knife will bruise the tender leaves and alter the flavor. If dried basil is being used in place of fresh in a recipe, it is usually best to use 1/4 of the amount that is called for in the recipe; dried basil not only has a different flavor than fresh, but can also be overpowering when used in the same quantities.



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