Basil vs. Thai Basil: What’s the Difference?
Who doesn’t love the delicious nuance of flavor that basil adds to your dishes? There’s something so wonderful about that sweet, light peppery element it adds to your dishes.
But did you know that basil comes in different forms around the world?
Thai basil, in particular, is incredibly popular in various Thai dishes, and it has a powerful flavor that can change the nature of a dish. If you’re looking for more herbs to add to your garden, or if you want to spice up your cooking with a new ingredient, look no further than Thai basil.
Let’s take a look at this incredible herb and see what it has to offer.
What Is the Difference Between Thai Basil and Conventional Basil?
Conventional basil that most of us use in our cooking is a variety called sweet basil. Thai basil is just one of the many species of basil.
The first thing that sets it apart is its appearance. Thai basil has deep purple stems instead of green stems. It is also a flowering plant, with deep purple flowers that extend beautifully past the leaves.
The leaves in Thai basil are also a very different shape than in sweet basil. Sweet basil has rounded leaves with soft edges. On the other hand, Thai basil has narrower leaves with serrated edges.
What Does Thai Basil Taste Like?
Thai basil has a unique and special taste that enhances many Southeast Asian dishes.
Thai basil has a strong peppery flavor and is a bit spicier than other basil leaves. It is often described as having a licorice flavor, and many say it tastes like anise.
How Does Thai Basil Compare to Other Basils?
While Thai basil is fragrant and used to add flavor like other basil plants, there are still some special characteristics that sets it apart.
Thai Basil vs. Sweet Basil
Thai basil is actually a botanical variety of sweet basil.
Although the two are members of the same family, they have some distinguishing factors about them.
We’ve already talked about the differences in looks, with Thai basil being laced with deep purple colors, flowers, and narrow leaves while sweet basil is green throughout, doesn't flower, and has round leaves.
The taste of these two is also different with Thai basil, taking the flavors of basil to greater lengths.
While both types of basil have peppery tastes, you can even detect the pepper through its aroma with Thai basil. Thai basil also has a more distinct spiciness on top of its flavors of anise.
Each type of basil has its own culinary uses, with sweet basil being prominent in Italian cuisine and Thai basil, as the name suggests, a key ingredient in many Thai and Southeast Asian dishes.
Thai Basil vs. Holy Basil
Holy basil is also incredibly fragrant but with the scent of cloves. It has a distinct sweet taste and carries subtle hints of lemon and mint. It still has a spiciness about it, but it’s a slightly different spiciness than the anise and licorice taste of Thai basil.
Looks-wise, holy basil is also bigger than Thai basil. Holy basil can grow up to two feet tall!
The reason this basil is called holy is because of who it symbolizes. Also called Tulsi, holy basil is thought to symbolize the goddess Lakshmi, who is the wife of Vishnu. Vishnu is one of the most sacred deities in Hinduism, so this basil plant holds great significance for the religion.
Can One Basil Be Successfully Substituted For Another?
Although all of these basil species are closely related, the flavor that they all bring is pretty different from one another. If you substitute Thai basil for regular basil, it would be challenging to get the same flavor.
For example, Thai green curry just wouldn’t be the same without Thai basil, and your pesto would be a little different without sweet Italian basil. It’s best to avoid substitutes and go for the real thing if you can.
Buying Thai basil can be easier said than done, especially if you do not live close to an Asian market, as it can be hard to find at your local grocery store.
How Can I Grow Thai Basil?
Growing Thai basil is pretty easy! You can have delicious herbs in your garden in no time as it is a fast-growing plant that should be ready to harvest a few short months after planting.
You can grow Thai basil directly from the seed or propagate one of the flower stems and then plant it.
Thai basil needs an average amount of water and thrives best with plenty of sunlight. Unfortunately, this herb doesn’t work as a houseplant because of the large amount of sunshine it needs, but it does well outside since it can handle the elements during the spring and summer. It’s best to plant during the spring, after the last frost.
If you’re using a pot, make sure the soil can get proper ventilation, and the water can drain out so the plant isn’t sitting in water, as this can be bad for the plant.
It’s also important to prune your Thai basil plant every two weeks to support its growth. Trim the buds as it's growing to promote more stem growth and more leaves.
Add this potent herb to your garden, and you’ll have yourself some delicious, homegrown Thai basil spice up your dishes. Not to mention, that wonderful smell of Thai basil in the garden can enhance your home gardening experience!
What Dishes Can I Use Thai Basil In?
There are a lot of incredibly delicious dishes that utilize the spicy, herbaceous Thai basil. For those looking to make Thai dishes that are as close to the real thing as you can get, here are some recipes that you can incorporate into your cooking that will blow people away.
There’s nothing like a classic stir fry, and using Thai basil in your stir-fry can add a new layer of flavor that you’ll love. Combine your fresh Thai basil with red chili, garlic, sesame oil, and sugar to make a savory, spicy stir fry sauce for eggplant, bell peppers, and tofu.
And don’t forget, it’s best to tear your basil leaves instead of cutting them. This releases the maximum amount of aroma. Talk about freshness!
One of the most classic foods of Thailand and popular noodle dishes out there is pho. This noodle soup is made with rice noodles and has a delicate, tasty broth made by simmering beef bones for hours.
We shortened the cooking time with a quick, 30-minute faux pho made with chicken stock, and the ingredient that makes this cozy soup shine is Thai basil... and tons of it! Don’t skip out on some Thai basil if you’re looking to make this comfort soup at home.
Continuing on with more Thai dishes, Thai basil is also a key ingredient in Thai green curry. Prepare your sinuses to be opened with an explosion of spice and aroma. This spicy dish is filled to the brim with flavor and is a staple of Thai cuisine.
Thai basil is combined with lemongrass, coriander, chilies, ginger, and lime for this curry.
In the curry roux, soy sauce enhances the flavor, brown sugar brings a deep sweetness, and coconut milk delivers a light, fresh creaminess. The light herbiness, the spice, and the depth of flavor are tough to beat. And Thai basil is the star of this green team.
You can make your green curry with any vegetable and proteins of your choice. Serve this dish over rice for a filling meal packed with vegetables that will never fail to satisfy.
Chicken or Vegetable Bowls
Are you looking for a simpler option? There’s something special about a simple chicken or veggie bowl with rice. Toss in some Thai basil for a little extra flavor. But don’t be afraid to go beyond just tossing it in.
Thai basil would work great in a marinade for chicken. Combine Thai basil with lime juice, sake, honey, garlic, and ginger to create a delicious bath for your chicken breasts or thighs.
The great thing about Thai basil is that you can put it in many dishes. Its elegant spiciness and peppery aroma can add to just about any dish. So don’t be afraid to get experimental with your spices! This is a great way to bring a fresh, new take to an old, familiar recipe.
Toppings and Garnishes
It doesn’t have to be complicated either. Thai basil makes for an amazing garnish for all sorts of dishes. Its green leaves, complemented by those purple stems, add a great pop of color that can bring your presentation to the next level.
Not to mention, as a garnish, Thai basil will add a unique aroma and subtle flavor that can enhance your meal all the more.
Finally, Thai basil is amazing when consumed as tea. Not only is it delicious, but this fragrant tea has a lot of potential benefits for your health.
Thai basil has been used in medicine for centuries, and those medicinal effects can be utilized when you drink Thai basil in tea form. It’s packed with healthy vitamins and minerals that can support the health of your bodily functions, such as:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
Also, it’s actually better to make Basil tea out of fresh leaves instead of dry ones. So, if you decide to get a Thai basil plant for yourself, you’re only one step away from having a tasty, nutritional tea every morning.
What Are Some Benefits of Eating Basil?
Did you know that basil has some amazing health benefits to offer you? It’s true! You might not expect a little leaf to be able to support your health, but it can.
Here are some ways that eating basil can help boost your health.
First, basil can give you a solid boost of antioxidants and reduce redness and swelling. Antioxidants are capable of fighting free radicals in your body. But, what are free radicals exactly?
Free radicals are molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons.
Free radicals are created naturally as a byproduct of cell metabolism. When they come into contact with other molecules, these molecules can end up stealing an electron from them. This can potentially cause damage to the molecules that make up the tissues in the body.
If this happens too often, your body can come to a state called oxidative stress.
Antioxidants, like the ones in basil, are capable of giving away an electron to free radicals without sustaining any damage. In this way, antioxidants and basil can help support your body’s health and work to keep away excess oxidative stress.
Blood Sugar Management
Basil may also be able to help support your blood sugar. One study found that basil was helpful in maintaining the secretion of insulin in the body. This process can help support healthy blood sugar levels. There aren’t many herbs capable of doing that!
Reduced Feelings of Tension
Basil may also be able to help support a healthy mood and mindset. A study found that taking a specific extract from the basil plant could help support and maintain a healthy frame of mind in individuals dealing with feelings of stress.
Drinking Thai basil tea is a great way to help you unwind at the end of the day. The warm, nutritious tea can help melt your tension away and put you at ease.
Are All Types of Basil Safe To Eat?
All varieties of basil are safe to eat and are cultivated for culinary use. Basil is even a safe plant to have around pets. It won’t harm them if they accidentally get into it.
Thai basil has a lot to deliver when it comes to flavor. Its unique and powerful aroma can really heighten a dish’s flavor. Not to mention, it can be used for so many recipes, from stir fry to tea.
So what are you waiting for? Try some Thai basil today! And for all your favorite Asian groceries delivered to your home, check out Umamicart!
Sources:What Are Free Radicals? | Maurer Foundation