Can I use Regular Basil Instead of Thai Basil? (ANSWERED)

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can I use regular basil instead of Thai basil?

Wondering if you can use regular basil instead of Thai basil? Then you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll discuss everything you need to know about swapping these two ingredients.

So, Can I Use Regular Basil Instead of Thai Basil?

thai basil taste

Thai basil and regular basil can be exchanged in most recipes and for most uses. Both are part of the same family and are really the same plant with some minor differences.

To begin, Thai basil and regular basil share the peppery flavor which we love, however, Thai basil comes off much stronger than its sweet relative. Regular basil has a mild, sweet, anise flavor. Thai basil is said to have a spicy kick to it which makes it so prized in Asian cooking. 

Thai basil also has hints of licorice, which is much more potent than the undertones of anise found in sweet basil. Thai basil is also usually used fresh, whereas sweet basil is a mixture of both fresh and cooked when it comes to dishes.

When swapping Thai basil and regular basil you may want to consider using slightly less Thai basil since it does have a stronger flavor profile. Remember, you can always add more in, but you cannot take it out once you’ve added it!

Here are some common ways that you can swap these two ingredients:

For Spring Rolls

Thai basil spring rolls

Probably one of the most infamous dishes for Thai basil to take center stage is in Vietnamese spring rolls. These spring rolls are typically made with thin rice paper stuffed with fresh vegetables and Thai basil. 

Thai basil is prized in this dish for its splendid spice, which regular basil does not have. If you are desperate, regular basil is better than no basil at all for spring rolls. However, the dish will definitely lack the signature spice of the Thai basil, but will still work!

For Thai Basil Chicken (sub Tofu for Vegan)

Thai basil tofu

Thai basil chicken is a staple from Southeast Asia. It is known for its colorful flavors and the Thai basil adds a nice kick to the sweetness of the sauces. Although Thai basil certainly has a unique flavor to contribute to tofu dishes, it isn’t impossible to add some regular basil instead. 

This dish calls for a variety of spices, so the spice-kick will not be missing due to the switched basil. You may wish to increase the amount you use just a little to ensure the basil flavors are still recognizable in the dish since regular basil is more mild than Thai. 

For Massaman Curry

vegetarian curry basil

In dishes such as Massaman curry, Thai basil leaves are added fresh to the dish. Thai basil, when used fresh, has a very distinctive flavor from regular basil. The taste isn’t necessarily the primary flavor of the dish. 

You can certainly use regular basil in such cases when Thai basil is traditionally called for. The flavors will certainly be different than the flavors delivered by Thai basil, but the flavors will still be overall complimentary. 

To summarize:

  • For spring rolls: Regular basil is better than no basil, but you may want to add something with spice as well in order to emulate that spicy kick you get in Thai basil. 
  • For Thai Basil Tofu: This can be a little tricky, since the spice from the Thai basil is a favorite part of this dish. Be sure to up the dose of other spices to ensure the dish doesn’t lose it’s notable kick. 
  • For curry sauce: Be sure to add the basil early on in the recipe similar to how Thai basil is used, and add a sprig more once the simmering is complete to ensure the taste has not been lost. 

Frequently asked Questions

Is there a difference between Thai basil and regular basil?

One of the most distinctive physical features which set these herbs apart is their coloring. Regular basil has a rich green with a lovely sheen. Thai basil has slightly less shine in the leaves, and a distinctively purple stem. 

Other differences include the shape of the leaves. Regular basil has a nice, almost teardrop-shaped leaf. The plant can grow rather tall, but it resembles more of a small bush when it is healthy. 

Thai basil is a smaller variety of basil, growing closer to the ground. The leaves of Thai basil are thinner and come to a point. As mentioned above, the stem of the plant is also a lovely purple color, while regular basil has a relatively uniform color throughout. 

Does Thai basil taste different?

Thai basil does have its own unique taste which sets it apart from regular basil. Regular basil has a sweet flavor with mild pepperiness and anise. Thai basil, while similar, has stringer spice and more of an overall kick to the taste. 

The flavor is distinctively savory and is great when paired with sweet, tangy sauces. This also brings out the licorice flavor which complements many savory dishes well. 

Is there another name for Thai basil?

Thai basil has many names. Its traditional name is Chi Neang Vorng, which is what it is called in Southeast Asia. This is loosely translated as cinnamon basil, which is another popular name for this herb. 

The other more common names in the west include anise basil and licorice basil. 

Both of these names emphasize its strongest flavors which are well-liked. 

A name that is commonly used for this herb, but is actually not correct, is Thai holy basil. This is due to the look and state of these two is very similar, but with their own distinctions and favored uses. 

What basil is used in Thai food?

lemon basil

Thai cuisine uses many types of basil, but there are three types that are most common. These include Thai basil, Lemon basil, and Holy basil. Each of these is very similar but liked for its own distinctive characteristics.

We’ll briefly touch on these new ones here. 

Holy basil is used for many spicy and savory dishes because of its wonderful pepper flavor. In India, Holy Basil is also popular for religious ceremonies and health purposes, which is where it gets its name. Another name for this herb is Tulsi, which is a common addition to a lot of curry sauces. However, some say you should not eat the Holy Basil or Tulsi directly so you may want to do more research before you start using it.

Lemon basil is the least spicy or peppery of these three varieties. Lemon basil is sweeter than regular basil with hints of lemon zest. It is similar to and a relative of lemon balm. They are both a lovely addition to savory dishes, but not for the spicy kick like Thai and Holy basil, but for its citrus flavors. 

Can I use Thai basil in pasta?

Thai basil pasta sauce

Thai basil can certainly be used in pasta, however, you want to be careful what type of pasta sauces you are using it in. Regular basil, which is the usual type, is sweet flavored basil and pairs nicely and mildly with the common seasonings used in Italian cooking. 

If you’re using Thai basil with pasta, focus on fresh and bright flavors such as lemon, mint, and other citrus flavors. Rather than a thick Italian tomato sauce, you may want to make more of a “pasta primavera sauce” which is lighter and a little sweeter with lots of fresh veggies mixed in.

One distinction between the two is that regular basil is much softer than Thai basil. Thai basil should be added early on in a dish to allow all the flavor to be absorbed into the sauce. Regular basil is very easily wilted and overwhelmed by other flavors if it is added too early. Therefore, be sure to add Thai basil to a dish much sooner than regular basil. 

Can you put Thai basil on pizza?

Thai basil pizza

If you are adding Thai basil fresh on top of your pizza, it will be quite delicious. However, just remember that the flavors will be different from regular basil, with a spicy licorice taste over the sweetness of the regular kind. 

For pizza, consider pairing Thai basil with other fresh vegetables such as asparagus, spinach, or perhaps even some fruits such as pineapple!

Can you freeze Thai basil?

Thai basil, much like regular basil, actually freezes rather nicely. Thai basil has a beautiful color that can be retained if you blanch it properly. Blanching is a relatively simple task that involves putting basil in hot water for a brief amount of time and then putting it immediately on ice. 

When blanched, Thai basil can be stored in the freezer for about 6 months. If kept longer, some of the flavors may be lost and the colors diminished. As long as it is not freezer burnt, however, it may still be alright for your needs. 

Why does Thai food use basil?

Thai food is notably spicy, sweet, and savory all at the same time. Because basil has all of these properties wrapped up into one, it’s common for it to be used in Thai food. Depending on the dish, it can be cooked into the meal or used raw as a garnish.

Can you eat too much Thai basil?

basil estragole

Thai basil, or almost any variety of basil, is perfectly safe to consume fresh or cooked. Although, there is the possibility of overdose on basil if consumed in large quantities. 

When eaten, this is extremely unlikely to occur. It would be a rather alarming quantity however if you were just eating fresh or cooking it in your favorite dish. The main concern is when it is used as an herbal supplement or a tincture. 

Tinctures are strong extractions made from oil or vodka. You would soak the herb of your choice in the medium (oil or vodka) and they would absorb the minerals from the herb and people like to use these to get the health benefits from the herb. 

Although, basil has estragole which is not healthy for the liver and has been linked to liver cancer. Normal quantities of basil are harmless, but if taken as a medicine please be careful not to use too much.

And of course, be sure to consult your doctor or health care provider to be safe.

What is the difference between Italian basil and Thai basil?

Thai basil vs Italian basil

Italian basil is the common seasoning used in most Mediterranean dishes. It is a term that actually includes Genovese basil and sweet basil, both of which are very popular in Italian food. The tastes are extremely similar and this is why they are typically lumped together as “Italian basil”.

Thai basil is much more savory than regular basil. Regular basil is softer, milder, and much sweeter. The tastes are similar, but different flavors pop out more in Thai basil vs Italian basil. While both have a sweetness and a peppery flavor, the spice is stronger in Thai basil than in regular basil. 

Remember to add Thai basil early on in the simmering process to allow the tastes to be absorbed by the other components of the dish. This is different from traditional basil, which is added later and for more subtle flavors.

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