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Just regular Basil is great, but the world of Basil is a lot larger than you think! What most of us know as Basil, is actually just one of the many varieties out there. Sweet Basil is the most common type of Basil and most likely it is this variety that your local stores are selling. And although Sweet Basil is very popular for a reason (it’s delicious), there are many other types of Basil that are just a tasteful and can easily be grown at home. Start growing these 7 varieties in your kitchen to spice up your dishes and add a little variety in your herb garden.
1. Cinnamon Basil
Let’s start with my personal favorite: Cinnamon Basil. Yes, you heard that right. This type of Basil actually tastes like Cinnamon, thanks to something called methyl cinnamate, giving it its strong fragrance and flavor. Sometimes also referred to as Mexican spice basil, it is used to make tea, cookies and pies. It does also well to add some sweet hints to a pasta or salad. Fortunately, this delicious variety is not hard to grow at all, as long as it gets it’s daily dose of sun (6-8 hours). So get yourself some seeds and start growing!
2. Lemon Basil
Another variety with a distinct flavour is (Thai) Lemon Basil. You can recognize it by its white flowers and it can grow up to 20 inches tall. It is most popular in the Southeast Asian, Arabic and Persian cuisines. Especially in Laos, where it is called pak i tou, it is widely used in soups and stews and is considered an important ingredient. Also in Indonesia and Thailand, this type is very common. Especially for the impatient gardeners among us, this is a great choice, as it is a fast grower. And although it is a tropical plant that requires about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day, it is also quite a hardy variety. If you are into Asian food, Lemon Basil is your go to variety to add some authentic Asian flavor to your dishes!
3. Dark Opal Basil
If you would like to add some color variety to your herb patch, this purple variety is a great choice. Developed at the University of Conneticut, it is a variety of Sweet Basil that goes well with pasta, vegetable and soup dishes. It prefers a spot in the sunlight and it grows best in rich and well-drained soil (preferably PH 5.5 to 6.5). Unlike some of the previous varieties in this article, Dark Opal Basil is not the easiest type to grow yourself. However, if you are up to the challenge, you will not be dissapointed when the harvest is ready!
4. Thai Sweet Basil
Thai (Sweet) Basil is another Asian variety with an interesting taste. It has hints of anise and licorice and has a slight spicy taste to it. It is quite a tender strain, but you can certainly grow it yourself. Like the other Asian varieties, it is a tropical plant. It needs plenty of sunlight and well-draining soil (PH 6.5 to 7.5). One advantage over other Sweet varieties is that it will retain more of its flavor under high temperatures. It is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine and is one of the 3 main varieties used in Thailand (the others are Lemon and Holy Basil). If you ever had a red or green Thai curry, chances are you’ve already tasted this variety before!
5. Cardinal Basil
With its deep red blossoms, this next variety is worth growing just for its looks alone. Named after the Cardinal bird, it was developed in Israel and is classified as an ARO Selected Cultivar. It has a licorice-like and slightly spicy taste. Interestingly, unlike most other varieties, the flowers are perfectly edible and can be a great decoration in a salad. Not surprisingly, it is not only used in the kitchen. Also for use in bouquets or as a decorative plant in the garden it lends itself well. Unfortunately, Cardinal Basil is not as easy to find. However, if you do manage to get your hands on some seeds or cuttings, this variety is a great addition to your garden. Both for its taste and looks.
6. Holy Basil
Holy Basil is native to the Indian subcontinent, but widely grown in Southeast Asia. Tulasi, as it is called locally, is traditionally cultivated for religious purposes. It is used as a herbal tea in Ayurveda and as a component of traditional medicine. For Hindus of the Vaishnava tradition, Tulasi is a holy plant (hence its name). It plays a very important role in in the worshipping of Vishnu. Traditionally, Hindu prayer beads were made of Tulasi stems and followers of this Hindu tradition are known as “those who bear the tulsi round the neck”. Although Holy Basil has mostly a traditional role in India and Nepal, it is one of the three main types of Basil used in the Thai kitchen. So, even if you are not interested in the spiritual aspects of this plant, it can still be a great variety to grow for Asian food afficionados.
7. Green Ruffles
Last but not least, Green Ruffles. With hints of cinnamon, anise and citrus, this variety has an interesting flavor profile. It is a descendant of Lettuce Leaf Basil and its leaves are slightly unusual compared to other types. It can be used in any dish that requires Basil, but it lends itself best for Pesto or herb vinegars. If you are located in an area where sunlight is scarce, Green Ruffles are your go to variety. It can do with less sun than most other varieties, although 3 hours of sunlight is recommended. Don’t let its curious appearance put you off. Green Ruffles are very tasty and a great choice for the more refined cooks among us.
Now all that remains is for you to choose your favorites and start growing in your kitchen or garden!