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Thread: Tip: Thai Basil vs. Sweet Basil

  1. #1
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    Tip: Thai Basil vs. Sweet Basil

    I signed up for a trial membership to CooksIllustrated.com, and get a newsletter. The most recent had this tidbit, which I appreciated since I've always wondered about it.

    Are Thai and Sweet Basil Interchangeable?
    When developing Thai-style recipes, we've run tests to see if Thai basil can be replaced with the much more available sweet (Italian) basil. The answer in all cases is a resounding no; these herbs have very different flavors. Thai basil, which can be identified by its purple stem, has a stronger flavor and aroma--we detected hints of licorice, cinnamon, and mint. If you can't find Thai basil in your supermarket, we recommend substituting mint, not sweet basil.

  2. #2
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    Thanks for the tip as I have been able to get to my Farmers Market more frequently which has a Hmong farmer peddling various Asian veggies -- including the Thai Basil.

    Makes sense -- i.e. that mint would be a better switch than Italian basil -- since many Americanized Thai recipes have mint as one of the flavors -- probably adapted in the testing stage to make it user friendly in terms of availability in most markets.

  3. #3
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    The funny thing is that mint and basil (both types) are all related -- I only found that out a few years ago and was at first surprised, but as I thought about the taste of fresh basil, I could definitely feel the "mint" relationship coming through. I'm glad to know that Thai basil is even closer, though, thus making mint the better sub.

  4. #4
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    I made the mistake...once...of using sweet basil in place of Thai basil and it was immediately evident that it was a bad idea. I wouldn't have thought to use mint (which I dislike in savory dishes anyhow) so I usually use cilantro. Not that it tastes like Thai basil, obviously, but it does generally match the flavor profile of the dish. I only see Thai basil at the ethnic farmers' markets and at some (though not many) Asian grocers. I'd think there would be more demand for it.....

  5. #5
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    Question

    this is slightly off-topic, but i have another kind of basil growing on my window-sill: lemon basil. it, too, has a very different flavor from sweet basil. does anyone have tips on what it would go well with? the lemony flavor really is quite distinct, so i was thinking of basic fish dishes and such, but other tips would be very welcome!

  6. #6
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    I'm not familiar with lemon basil, but it sounds wonderful!

    A Mediterranean fish dish does seem a natural, but I would also look to orzo salad or maybe pair with fresh mozzarella and green tomatoes or pair with a fresh veg marinade?

  7. #7
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    I think lemon basil would be good in a shrimp scampi pasta type dish. I second the orzo suggestion.

    I just bought some herbs at Home Depot today. They had tons of Thai Basil plants.

    Funnie Grrl, how are you liking your online Cooks Illustrated subscription? Do you get the magazine as well?
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  8. #8
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    I read a tip recently..I think it was in Cuisine At Home...that said if Thai basil is not available, use sweet basil and add mint.
    Michele

    Garnett had long known. . . that God's world and the better part of daily life were full of mysteries known only to women.
    --from "Prodigal Summer" by Barbara Kingsolver

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