Unbelievably, there are over 100 varieties of basil, even if when you head to the shops you can only pick up 1 or 2 of these. Thai basil is becoming more and more common in Western recipes, but what exactly is it?
Well, as the name suggests, Thai basil is a Southeast Asian form of basil. It isn’t actually used solely in Thailand but across Asia. The leaves are quite thick with jagged edges.
What Does Thai Basil Taste Like?
If you’ve never used anything but sweet basil, you might wrongly assume that all basil tastes roughly the same. But Thai basil doesn’t taste an awful lot like the sweet Italian basil you might be used to.
Thai basil is far more complex with liquorice, aniseed flavours which are then combined with the usual basil flavours you’re used to.
What is the Difference Between Thai and Normal Basil?
When it comes to comparing Thai basil with sweet basil, there are two areas to look at:
- Appearance – They look quite a bit difference. Sweet basil has bright green stems with rounded, soft leaves. Thai basil has purple stems with dark green, tougher leaves with surrated edges.
- Taste – Sweet basil tends to have a fairly flat sweet flavour. Thai basil, however, has an aniseed flavour which is paired with peppery notes.
How to Use Thai Basil
It might be a unique herb but that doesn’t mean its uses are limited to just a few dishes. There are, in fact, a number of ways to use Thai basil:
Obvious, right? But Thai basil can be thrown in a range of popular Thai-inspired dishes you might find yourself cooking at home. Whether it’s a Thai green curry, pad Thai or Thai-style steamed fish, all can be enhanced with the addition of a few Thai basil leaves.
You can pimp up basic fried rice by adding in a few chopped Thai basil leaves. Fry basil leaves, sliced garlic, chopped chilli and finely diced garlic. Once fragrant, tip your cooked rice in and fry.
Fry sliced chillies, shallots, chopped Thai basil leaves and garlic for the ultimate seasoning that can be sprinkled over salads, grilled meats, roasted vegetables, noodles, soup, stews and curries.
How to Store Thai Basil
Thai basil is best when used fresh. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t have the longest shelf life. It should not be kept at room temperature and should be kept in the fridge.
Thai basil will keep in the fridge for around 5 days. After 3 days, it will begin to turn limp and will degrade in flavour but will be safe to eat. After 5 days or so, you will notice black spots and mushy leaves which is when it should be thrown out.
How to Freeze Thai Basil
Thai basil can be hard to come by. So when you do manage to find a bunch or two, it can be a good idea to store it in a way that ensures you have a long term supply at home. That’s why freezing it is such a good idea.
Roughly chop the leaves up then pack them into the slots of an ice cube tray. Submerge the leaves in olive oil, vegetable oil or water then freeze. Once the cubes have frozen solid, you can pop them out and into a freezer bag.
Whenever you need a hit of Thai basil in your cooking, grab a frozen cube and pop it straight into your cooking – no need to defrost!
Substitutes for Thai Basil
Unfortunately, Thai basil is still quite hard to come by, especially outside of specialist food stores and Asian grocery shops. So, what can you use instead?
- Greek Basil – Greek basil has a slightly more peppery flavour than sweet basil and lacks that instant sweetness. Thai basil is also far from being sweet which is why it works as a great swap.
- Sweet Basil – Ultimately, sweet Italian basil is going to be the easiest to find in the store so if you want to quickest, easiest and cheapest substitute then this is the one to go for.
- Star Anise – It might not be a herb, related to basil or green but that doesn’t mean star anise is a completely wild aubstitute. Thai basil has a prominent aniseed flavour which is not going to be found in other basil. Adding a star anise into your dish will bring that much needed liquorice flavour.
Ultimately, no substitution will replicate the exact flavour of Thai basil. But using something in its place is better than not using anything at all.
Where to Buy Thai Basil
It’s unlikely that your local supermarket will stock Thai basil unless you live in a large town or city. Instead, you’ll need to turn to an Asian grocery store where you have more of a chance of picking it up.
The other option is to grow your own. It’s easier than you think! Check out this guide to learn more about growing it at home.
Thai Basil FAQs
If you’ve got other specific questions about Thai basil and how to use it, then these might help:
Although it’s possible to make pesto with Thai basil (and any other basil), it will have a particularly unusual flavour. Imagine how your normal pesto tastes then add a hit of liquorice. Strange, right?
Yes, you can eat Thai basil flowers. However, once flowered, the rest of the plant can become too woody making it fairly unusable. Where possible, try to prevent it from bolting to flowers.
You might be able to use Thai basil in Italian cooking but you will find it has a strange background flavour. It will take on a strange aniseed flavour. This can work in some dishes (where you might use fennel) but in other dishes it can be off-putting.
Got more questions about Thai basil? Then ask away in the comments section at the bottom of this page and we’ll help out as much as possible!