What’s The Best Basil Variety for Pesto? (ANSWERED)

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Whats The Best Basil Variety for Pesto

Pesto is an Italian favorite celebrated around the world. Delicious on pasta or served as a dip, it is deceptively easy to create. It contains only four main ingredients; basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Other seasonings are purely a matter of choice.

pesto simple ingredients

Being so simple, it can be challenging to make your pesto stand out from the crowd. There is little you can do with most of the ingredients other than buying the best available. Basil, on the other hand, is one area that gives you some freedom. So, what is the best variety of basil for pesto?

With over150 varieties available, basil offers you many choices. The purpose of this article is to help you choose wisely and answer the most frequently asked question regarding basil for pesto. 

What’s The Best Basil Variety for Pesto?

red rubin basil

What’s the best basil variety for pesto? There is no steadfast answer to that question. People’s tastes are too individual. Italian large leaf is the most commonly used variety and the most traditional. However, the winner of the most recent Pesto World Championship used sweet Genovese basil.

Thai Basil is an option to explore for a slightly Asian twist and an extra dash of spiciness. To add a little color and extra bite to your pesto, you might want to explore using Red Rubin Basil. Lemon Basil and Cinnamon Basil are also very viable options you can choose. 

Which is the best variety of basil to use in your pesto? Explore and experiment to decide for yourself. Finding your own unique twist to a dish is part of the joy of cooking. 

Basil For Pesto FAQ

Can I use any basil for pesto?

Yes, you can use any available basil to create pesto. Using different varieties will affect the taste and texture of the finished dish, but that is to be expected.

How much basil do you put in pesto?

basil recipe

There is no hard-fast rule about the amount of basil that you should use in pesto. As a general rule, your pesto should be about 50% basil leaf or more. 

For example, if you use 1 cup oil, 1 cup cheese, and 1 cup of pine nuts with a few other spices added, you will need approximately 4 cups of tightly packed fresh basil leaves.

Can I use parsley instead of basil in pesto?

parsley grassy flavor

People do use parsley instead of basil when making pesto. Mainly they do this to boost its nutrient content. It should be noted, though, basil doesn’t have the grassy flavor that parsley does, and parsley doesn’t offer the sharp bite that the taste of basil delivers.

Should you wash basil before making pesto?

washing basil

From a food safety standpoint, you should always wash any fruits or vegetables before using them. Many people say that basil loses some of its flavor when cleaned. If you experience this, use more leaves. 

Is Lettuce Leaf Basil good for pesto?

Yes, Lettuce Leaf Basil can be used in Pesto. Just remember that while lettuce leaf has a more pungent smell than many other varieties of basil, it has a milder taste. 

How do you keep basil pesto from turning black?

blanching basil

To prevent your pesto from turning black, blanch your basil leaves before grinding them. You will need a saucepan of water and a bowl of ice water.  Bring a pan of water to a boil. Dunk your basil leaves in the boiling water for 10-15 seconds. Then immediately place them in ice water. 

This process kills most of the enzymes that cause pesto to oxidize and turn dark. 

Can you use wilted basil for pesto?

wilted basil

You can use wilted basil to make pesto. In fact, some chefs prefer to use greens that are just slightly past their prime. Some varieties of basil like lemon and dark opal become more flavorful just before going bad. 

What can I replace basil with in pesto?

Most people associate pesto with basil, but pesto is more of a technique than a particular dish. The word itself means to crush. If you travel Europe, you will find many different greens and herbs being used in place of basil.

Greens that can be used in pesto:

  • Arugula
  • Baby Kale
  • Seaweed
  • Spinach
  • Watercress

Herbs that can replace basil in pesto:

  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Tarragon

Why is my basil pesto bitter?

basil pruning

There are several reasons why your basil pesto may be bitter. The most common issue is it being made from leaves that were not raised, harvested, or stored correctly. 

Basil plants should never be allowed to flower. They require constant pruning of their buds to stay healthy and avoid becoming bitter. Basil will also become bitter if it receives too much or too little water, sunlight, or fertilizer. 

Another possible cause of bitter pesto is using garlic that is too strong. Garlic with a higher-than-average sulphur content can cause the basil to oxidize and become unpleasant. The exact mechanism hasn’t been explained but adding finely grated Pecorino Romano seems to correct this issue. 

Can I use tulsi instead of basil in pesto sauce?

Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, works perfectly for making an extraordinarily nutritious pesto.

Can you use Thai Basil for pesto?

Thai basil for pesto

Yes, Thai Basil can be used in pesto. Thai Basil adds a spicy element that is quite enjoyable. 

Can I use basil stems in pesto?

basil stems

You can use basil stems in pesto with one caveat. Avoid older, thicker stalks. Young tender stems have a cleaner, sweeter taste than even the leaves. Older, more woody stalks tend to be bitter.  

Can I use basil flowers in pesto?

basil flowers for pesto

You can use basil flowers in pesto, but they don’t deliver the taste that the leaves do. Moreover, once the basil plant flowers, the leaves will develop a bitter taste that most people find highly objectionable.