How to Store Fresh Basil The Best Way

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Basil is one of the most popular herbs used all over the world to add a subtle, aromatic touch to a variety of dishes. Once you know how to store fresh basil you will always have this tasty plant on hand to add flavor to your dishes. This annual or sometimes perennial herb is used in many cuisines, such as Italian Caprese salad and pesto sauce, Thai basil chicken and so much more.

Close up image of basil leaves.
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Fresh basil leaves can also be used as a garnish for savory dishes and cocktails. It even works in dessert recipes such as strawberry crepes, elevating the dish to a gourmet level.

I like to fry it in olive oil and then sprinkle it over goat's cheese or salad greens. Most people enjoy the taste of basil and you can find it at any grocery store or even grow your own fresh herbs.

What is Fresh Basil?

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is in the mint family. Also known as sweet basil it's a tender herb and basil plants can grow up to 5 feet high. It's green in color and smells sweet and aromatic. The taste is distinctive and subtly peppery.

Although some recipes call for dry basil, the fresh version is preferable in many dishes and can be used as a component of the dish or as a garnish. Native to India and various tropical areas from South East Asia to Africa, basil is so popular it is grown all over the world today.

There are different varieties to choose from, such as Thai basil, Greek basil, lemon basil, and cinnamon basil, each of which is slightly different. Basil prefers to grow in full sun to part shade and does well during the warmer months. You can also grow it indoors during the cooler months because it's sensitive to cold and frost will kill a basil plant.

Tips for Buying Fresh Basil

Look for fresh basil that has bright green leaves and no discoloration. As basil gets beyond its prime, the leaves turn brown and then black. They wilt and fall off. At this point, the basil isn't going to taste good and isn't worth buying. Avoid basil plants with a moist texture or unpleasant smell.

Bunch of basil in a jar with water.

How to Store Fresh Basil

The best way to store basil depends on whether you have potted basil or a bunch of basil. There are different methods to store each long-term.

Potted basil, when kept healthy, should keep growing, providing fresh basil for all your culinary needs. Knowing how to store fresh basil means you can reduce waste and enjoy fresh-tasting basil.

Here are some easy ways to extend the lifetime of this flavorful herb:

  • If you have a potted basil plant, bear in mind it needs about an inch of water every week. Keep it at room temperature on the countertop, on the windowsill, or outdoors if the weather is warm. A potted basil plant can last for months, growing new leaves and thereby cutting food costs. Snip off a sprig to add an elegant garnish to this chocolate mousse or your favorite dessert.
  • If you have a bunch of basil, trim the ends a little then put the whole bunch in a jar of water - about 1 inch of water gives the best results. You can either keep it on the countertop or in the refrigerator, although it turns black after a couple of days in the refrigerator. Change the water whenever it looks cloudy. Some people put a dry paper towel or plastic bag over the basil but I don't find this to be necessary. A bunch of basil, when stored properly, can last for more than a week beyond the “best by” date printed on the label.
  • If you want to freeze basil for up to 6 months, this is another option to consider. If you have a lot of fresh herbs, freezing them in liquid in an ice cube tray is a great way to make them last for months. Chop the leaves, make basil cubes by putting them in an ice cube tray and fill them with water to prevent freezer burn. Once frozen, you can transfer the frozen basil to a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. Another option is to store whole basil leaves in an airtight container. Basil ice cubes can easily be added to dishes along with the ice water while they cook or you can thaw them out and drain them. The thawed basil will be darker in color but the taste should be similar to fresh.

How to Tell When Fresh Basil Has Gone Bad

Spoiled basil will be limp and discolored and the leaves will start to darken to brown and then black. Basil with brown spots is safe to eat, so you can add it with salad leaves to a salad spinner, use it to make food processor pesto, or use it to top a pizza. Obviously, you'll want to use better-looking basil if it's going to be a garnish or used as a main ingredient such as in Caprese salad.

Common Questions

Do you use fresh basil stems or discard them?

Some types of fresh herbs, such as cilantro, have very thin stems which are perfectly edible and don't taste stringy. With fresh basil, you can use the thinner stalks if you wish, but I'd recommend discarding any thicker stems since they will be woody. Thin, young basil stems taste good and have a pleasant texture, while older ones are a little bitter, so you should discard those.

How can you dry fresh basil?

The easiest way to do this is to arrange fresh basil in a single layer on a baking sheet. Heat the oven to 200°F or as low as it will go. Bake the basil for 2 to 4 hours or until the leaves are dry and easy to crumble. Keep it in a small jar in a cool, dry place.

How much dried basil is equivalent to the fresh equivalent?

One tablespoon of fresh basil is equivalent to one teaspoon of dried basil. For recipes where you're adding the basil and then continuing to cook, dried basil is fine. If you're adding it at the last minute or making pesto or using the basil as a garnish, then choose fresh instead.

Basil bunch on a kitchen counter.

Fun Facts

  • Basil comes in different varieties. Sweet basil, or Genoese basil, is sweet and nice in salads and pesto. Purple basil is aromatic with purple leaves. Lettuce basil has big wrinkly leaves and works well in salads. Cinnamon basil is sweet and tastes a bit like cinnamon. This variety is popular in Mexico.
  • The name of this herb comes from the word "basileus" which is Greek for "king." It is believed the herb was used in ancient Greece to make perfumes for royalty.
  • Have you heard of holy basil? This herb, known as "tulsi" in India, has been used for many years in beauty and health preparations. Holy basil is rich in ursolic acid which is often used in the cosmetic industry, as it is believed to be good for the skin.

Now you know some simple ways to store fresh basil for a long time, you can decide which is your favorite way to do so. This versatile herb is loved in many cuisines from Italian to Thai, and it's always worth keeping some handy to add a special, aromatic basil flavor to your homemade dishes.

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