The sweet, aromatic flavor of basil makes Italian dishes something of a sensation. The “kingly plant” is considered sacred in India and is also often used in Asian cuisine.
Basil as an Herb
Basil is as crucial to Italian cooking as oregano. The fresh and dried leaves give pesto alla genovese, pizza Margherita and Caprese salad their savory-sweet, subtly clove-like flavor. As well as the type of basil that we are familiar with and use frequently, there are numerous other varieties with different flavors. Basil is sacred to Hindus. It is considered to be a holy plant in India and under the protection of the god Vishnu. Basil is therefore rarely used in Indian cuisine, though it is used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Mediterranean basil is a temperamental diva: Its flavors are extremely delicate and easily destroyed during cooking. It’s therefore best to heat basil as little as possible and add it to your meal just before serving. The flavor of basil goes particularly well with Mediterranean salads, pasta, vegetables, fish, chicken and beef. Basil is also used outside of European cuisine: The different varieties of Thai basil can be found in many dishes from Southeast Asia, such as curries and hot-and-sour soups.
Pluck the leaves using your fingers rather than chopping them with a knife for an enhanced flavor.
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Basil is thought to originally come from Egypt or India and has been used in Central Europe since the 13th century. A bushy herb, it is related to marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary and sage, and has green or red leaves that can grow to up to 10 cm long. Basil was actually considered to be a medicinal herb in ancient times, though in the Middle Ages it acquired a rather bad reputation. Regarded as a toxic, black magic herb that brought bad luck, it was feared rather than loved. Today, basil is one of the most popular herbs around and is grown predominantly in the Mediterranean region and Southeast Europe.
- Scientific Name
- Ocimum basilicum
- Mint family (Lamiaceae)
- Other Names
- Meridian fennel, Persian cumin
- Probably Africa and India