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Your Guide to All the Different Types of Basil

Does your recipe call for basil? Turns out there are plenty of types of basil to choose from.

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Green basil growing in raised beds in gardenBarbara Rich/Getty Images

Basil is a kitchen herb in the mint family. Although it’s native to India, basil is used in a wide number of cuisines, from Italian to Thai and Vietnamese recipes. While sweet basil might be the most commonly used variety, there are several different kinds, each with a unique flavor profile.

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Fresh basilTetra Images/Getty Images

Sweet Basil

Sweet basil is the most common variety at the grocery store. If your recipe doesn’t specify what kind of basil to use, it probably calls for sweet basil. This type of basil has dark green, glossy leaves and a sweet but slightly spicy flavor. Use it to make pesto or a caprese salad.

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Close-up of fresh Thai basil plants in a plant nursery. The leaves of the plant basil is a popular Asian herb in cooking and the Southeast Asian cuisine. Photographed in horizontal format.YinYang/Getty Images

Thai Basil

Thai basil is strong and bold, with a spicy, licorice-like flavor. The leaves are smaller and pointier, and the plant produces beautiful purple flowers. This type of basil holds up well to high-temperature cooking, so don’t be afraid to add it to your favorite stir-fry recipe.

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Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as Holy Basil & tulsi in India. Tulsi is cultivated for religious and medicinal purposes, and for its essential oil. It is widely known across South Asia as a medicinal plant and an herbal tea, commonly used in Ayurveda. Tulsi is worshiped by Hindus and is an important symbol of Hindu religion. It is a very common sight to find Tulsi Vrindavan ( A special structure where tulsi is grown) in houses of Hindus.anand purohit/Getty Images

Holy Basil

Holy basil (also called tulsi) is a sacred plant in Hinduism. It’s used for medicinal purposes in Ayurveda, but you’ll also find it in many Thai dishes like pad kra pao. It can taste bitter when consumed raw, so it’s best to cook with this type of basil.

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Lemon basilkittikornphongok/Getty Images

Lemon Basil

Combining the flavors of fresh basil and lemon is a sure winner, so it makes sense that this variety is gaining in popularity. This herb is sweet and has a powerful lemon scent, making it ideal for grilled vegetables or fish dishes.

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Purple basiljusthavealook/Getty Images

Purple Basil

As its name suggests, this type of basil isn’t green like most herbs. It’s a vibrant purple color with larger-than-normal leaves. It’s not as sweet as other basil varieties, and it has a strong clove flavor. We don’t recommend cooking it, as it turns an unappealing black color when heated, but it’s perfect for use in salads, pesto or any of your other favorite ways to use fresh basil.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.