Organic Ground Basil
Organic Ground Basil
Basil, scientifically called Ocimum basilicum, is a member of the lamiaceae (mint) family and is closely related to lavender, marjoram, oregano, thyme and spearmint. The most commonly used basil in the United States is referred to as "sweet basil" which is typically grown in Mediterranean countries, even though there are numerous varieties of basil to choose from. The colloquial name "sweet basil," is strange because a much sweeter variety comes in the form of Thai Basil.
Most frequently found in your local Italian kitchen, sweet basil is almost always fresh and used only towards the end of the cooking process, as cooking will rapidly deteriorate the distinct flavor of the herb.
Sweet basil has .5% to 1.1% essential oil, primarily linalool (40%) and methyl chavicol (25%). Eugenol, which is also found in cloves, is what gives basil its easily recognizable clove scent. Soil, climate and time of harvest are pivotal to both the amount and also the composition of the essential oil of that particular harvest.
Basil is called habaq or reehan in Arabic, yu xiang ca in Mandarin, basilie/basilic commun in French, basilikum in German, barbar in Hindi, bajiru in Japanese, manjericao in Portuguese, bazilik in Russian and albahaca or alfabega in Spanish. Some people also call it "herb royale" or "great basil" in English.
Basil exists somewhere that magic and reality intertwine and has so many myths linked to it that it is the greatest culinary contradiction. From poison to cure, from rich man's herb to the seasoning of the poor, this plant has had its fair share of definition. If you are a little more familiar with Greek mythology, you might be thinking of the basilisk as a half-dragon half-lizard type creature that would kill you with a single glance. If you are less familiar with Greek mythology, you may be thinking of the creature from Harry Potter that could petrify with any indirect eye contact or kill if its victim looked directly into its eyes. Thought of as the king of the serpents, the basilisk was a terrifying force to be reckoned with. Luckily, the Greeks had basil to deter it. They thought that basil had the power to protect them from the basilisk and would carry it around with them as a sort of protective shield against the creature.
The name basil is derived from the Greek basileus which means "king." Literally this word translates to "people's leader." Since the basilisk was considered the king of the serpents, this name is quite fitting. Sometimes the Greeks even called basil by the name of the creature it was said to defend against. Yet side by side with the idea of basil as royalty, the pinnacle of poverty to ancient Greeks was a haggard woman, dressed in rags, standing beside growing basil. Hilariously, a Frenchman name Hilarus had another idea about basil altogether, saying that the smell of it would have scorpions sprouting up in the brain.
Even with its strange uses and different origin stories, basil has been cultivated for over 5,000 years. It is believed to be native to Thailand and Vietnam, though most people assume that basil is indigenous to the Mediterranean. Ancient Egyptians used basil, along with other substances, during religious ceremonies. Most notably, it was used in the preparation of the balms used for mummification during that time. Most accounts suggest that basil was introduced in Europe by the Greeks and Romans around the 1500s.
Traveling with the Europeans who settled at the Plymouth Colony in New England, Basil made its way to America in the 1620's. In the later part of the 1700's, New York newspapers showed stores advertising Sweet Basil for sale.
At 2 to 3" long, basil leaves are both oval and broad. Yellowish-green to bright green or red are the colors one would expect to see when working with fresh basil. The leaves will vary in both size and color based on where they are grown, as the variety, climate, and soil makeup of the location are all determining factors. Shiny and silky to dull and crinkly are the range of textures of basil, and this is because of the many cultivars in use. Small flowers, which range from white to purple appear and are arranged on the ends of branches in whorls. Whorls are an arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that start at a single point and find themselves wrapped around the stem.
Basil needs specific conditions to grow as it is particularly tender. Well-drained, fertile soils with a high organic matter content are ideal. The basil plant's tissue does not handle the stress of drought well at all and so rainfall needs to at 27" minimum annually for field cultivation.
Producers may only harvest basil twice a year, once before and then again during the full flowering stage; some other producers will harvest the crop just as flowering begins, which allows for regrowth. Up to three additional harvests are possible when using this method. Cuttings which are made at 4-6" above the ground allow for faster regrowth. Commercial producers use a sickle-bar type mower with an adjustable cutting height for harvesting. If optimal flavor is desired, harvesting should be done in warm, sunny weather.
Counting and identifying them would be tedious for anyone as there are more than 50 species of basil. They are different in physiological appearance, growth habits, chemical composition, and also aromatic composition. The United States uses basil that is most frequently from California, Egypt and France.
Our imported basil is harvested in Egypt.
The kind of basil you think of when you imagine an Italian dinner at a fancy restaurant is Mediterranean Basil (Ocimum basilicum), which is sometimes called sweet basil. The basil with a cinnamon flavor that is mostly used in soups or in making tea is Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Cinnamon'). Basil that you will find in salads with soft stems and a slightly spicy bite is Greek Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. minimum). The basil with a lemon fresh scent is Lemon Basil (Ocimum americanum) and it is often found swimming in soups paired with fish. Like Lemon basil, Lime basil (Ocimum basilicum citriodorum) has a mild citrus scent and is also paired with fish quite a bit. Siam Queen, or Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora) is a basil that is both sweet and a little bit spicy, making it ideal for Indian and Thai cooking.
Irradiating basil is a process that is sometimes used in drying non-organic basil and this process may lead to a significant decrease in vitamin C and carotenoids in the basil. It is best to buy organic when looking for a good dried basil.
American and Italian grandmothers alike love to use basil in their cooking. As a key ingredient in some versions of the dried herb blends Fines Herbes and Herbs de Provence, basil is also revered in French cuisine. Cooks in China, the Mediterranean, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam use basil, too. Basil is traditionally when seasoning tomato-based sauces, dressings and juices. It pairs exceptionally with oregano for use in seasoning pizza sauce.
Basil is good when paired with capers, corn, cream cheese, eggplant, eggs, lemon, mozzarella cheese, olives, pasta, peas, pizza, potatoes, rice, tomatoes, white beans and zucchini.
When cooking with more than one seasoning, basil pairs wonderfully with chives, cilantro, garlic, marjoram, oregano, mint, parsley, rosemary and thyme.
Basil just happens to be one of those herbs that is better when dried. The plant has a more saturated flavor when it is dried because the drying process forces the plant tissue to collapse. This collapse increases the amount of the essential oil present in the herb helping the food around it to absorb its flavors more easily. Herbs of a similar constitution that are better dried include marjoram, oregano, rosemary and thyme.
Some herbs that are best when fresh include cilantro, curry leaves, dill weed, lemon grass and tarragon.
With undertones that are peppery, anisey and minty in nature, basil is a particularly aromatic herb. Just as its scent suggests, basil is sweet yet savory.
One teaspoon of dried basil is roughly equal to one tablespoon of fresh basil.
Serving Size1 tsp
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*