Basil is one of the most commonly used herbs on earth. With over 150 different types and subtypes, it offers a wide scope of flavors ranging from sweet and mild to spicy and bold.
Basil is used in many different styles of cooking but is most often associated with Italian food. With so many varieties to choose from, what’s the best type of basil for Italian food?
This article will attempt to determine just that and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about using basil in Italian dishes.
So, What’s the Best Type of Basil for Italian Cooking?
How much salt, much less which type of basil works best in any dish, is essentially a matter of taste. All of the different possibilities and subtle characteristics of the various kinds of basil literally fills volumes.
There are, however, six types of basil that are most commonly used in Italian cooking and will deliver the most traditional flavors possible to your table.
- Italian Large Leaf
- Red Rubin
1. Cinnamon Basil
Cinnamon basil is sometimes called Mexican basil. It is related to sweet basil but contains Methyl cinnamate, a compound that gives it the warm peppery taste it is named for. Cinnamon basil pairs well with fruity flavors, and in Italian cuisine, it is often used as a spicier replacement for members of the mint family.
2. Italian Large Leaf
Italian Large Leaf is the most commonly used type of basil used in Italian cooking in Italy. It has a robust herbal flavor that is at home in dishes ranging from classic marinara and pesto to green leaf salads. If you can only master the use of one type of basil, Italian Large Leaf would be a good choice.
3. Lemon Basil
Lemon basil lives up to its name, delivering a crisp, clean taste that is very refreshing. More commonly used in Asian dishes, Lemon Basil has found a home in light Italian dishes like lemon basil cream sauces for pasta. Many Mediterranean-style dishes also make use of Lemon Basil.
4. Red Rubin
Red Rubin Basil is one of the most pungent members of the family. Stronger even than Black Opal or Genovese Basil, Red Rubin Basil can have a sharpness that rivals that of cloves. Red Rubin can be used in any dish that you would use Sweet or Large Leaf in but proceed with caution. Its strong flavor is too much for some people.
5. Sweet Basil
Sweet Basil is America’s favorite and Italy’s second favorite member of the basil family. For truly authentic Italian dishes, reserve this beauty for Mediterranean dishes and lite summer fare like vegetable fettuccine with cream sauce. For Americanised, Italian use it any way you can.
6. Thai Basil
Thai Basil is far from being the most traditional offering on this list. This subtype of Sweet Basil has an anise, licorice spiciness. Modern Italian cooks are finding Thai Basil an excellent way to add flair to more time-honored recipes.
FAQ Basil in Italian Food
What is Italian basil?
Italian Basil is a misnomer that describes Sweet Basil, Italian Large Leaf Basil, and Genovese Basil. No member of the basil family is genuinely Italian. They all originated in Central America. The phrase came into common usage because the sweet and large leaf varieties were the first two types of basil used in Italian cooking and the only ones for over a century. Others have been added to this category as their use became more common.
Is Sweet Basil the same as Italian basil?
Sweet Basil is one variety of basil that is often referred to as Italian basil. The other is Italian Large Leaf Basil.
Can I use Thai Basil instead of Italian basil?
You can substitute Thai Basil for Italian basil (Sweet or Large Leaf). Keep in mind that Thai basil does have a peppery spiciness, and the flavor profile of the finished dish may be far from what you’re used to eating.
What do you use Italian basil for?
All forms of Italian basil are culinary herbs that have been used for centuries to liven up dishes and add nutritional value to food. Basil tastes, unlike any other herb. There is a touch of anise to its intense aroma but a crisp cleanness to its flavor that makes it very unique.
It is used in soups, sauces, salads, and to season main courses and side dishes. Most chefs closely associate it with Italian cuisine, but basil is used in dishes originating across the globe.
What’s the difference between Thai Basil and Italian basil?
Thai Basil is a specific type of basil noted for its spicy flavor. Italian basil is a collective name used for various kinds of basil commonly used in Italian cooking.
What is the difference between Sweet Basil and Italian basil?
Sweet Basil is one type of Italian basil. All Sweet Basil is Italian basil, but not all Italian basil is Sweet Basil. The name Italian basil can refer to at least two other types of basil commonly used in Italian cuisine.
Is Italian basil a perennial?
There are types of basil that are perennials, but none of them are considered Italian basil. All of the varieties that fall in the Italian basil category are annuals.