Exploring Basil Varieties

Even though basil is immediately recognizable, you’re probably only familiar with one side of the coin. There are a ton of different varieties beyond common sweet basil, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. By choosing the variety that matches up perfectly with your dish, you can bring a better unison of flavors while still creating an aura of mystery around the plate. Follow along as we explore the world of basil varieties in greater detail.

Sweet Basil

Without a doubt, this is the basil variety that most people are familiar with. Alternatively named Genovese basil, this variety is essential to pestos and pairs particularly well with ingredients associated with Italian cooking. Sweet basil is known for being an all purpose variety due to its brilliant green leaves, delicate floral notes, and approachable flavor, making it the best first foray into the popular herb.

Thai Basil 

Potentially the second most popular variety, Thai basil is drastically different from its sweet cousin. Thai basil is famously spicy and pungent, holding an anise-heavy flavor that goes well in southeast Asian inspired dishes. Avoid serving Thai basil raw; the cooking process mellows out some of the more aggressive notes and helps it become more palatable.

Lemon Basil

 As the name suggests, lemon basil combines the common aspects of basil with a mellow citrusy flavor. Appropriately, lemon basil has a bit more tang than other varieties, so it’s best utilized in marinades or dry-rubs. Although you can toss it onto steaks or pork chops, we like sticking with chicken or fish because it gives the more delicate flavors a chance to shine. 

Dark Opal Basil

If you’re looking for an eye-catching variety, this is the one. Dark opals have seductively dark purple leaves and a crisp, classic shape, making them beautiful additions to desserts or pizzas. If you want to go the extra mile, consider swapping in dark opal basil in your next pesto; the spread will turn a wonderful purple color! 

  • Pro Tip: Can’t get enough purple? Infuse dark opal basil into a simple syrup!

Cinnamon Basil

The variety is aesthetically similar to sweet basil but tastes more like Thai basil (expect a touch of floral notes followed by a spicy pepperiness) making it a bit of an enigma upon first bite. Size is very important when working with cinnamon basil too. The larger the leaves, the stronger the flavor, so cinnamon basil is harvested when the greens are small and young. Add a touch to dress up various dishes or throw some into a salad for an unexpected kick.