What Is the Difference Between Basil and Sweet Basil?

Reviewed on 5/21/2021
Common basil, or “basil,” is the traditional ingredient in Thai and Mediterranean cuisines.
Common basil, or “basil,” is the traditional ingredient in Thai and Mediterranean cuisines.

Common basil, or “basil,” is the traditional ingredient in Thai and Mediterranean cuisines. It goes well with veal, lamb, fish, poultry, white beans, pasta, rice, tomatoes, cheese and eggs. It blends well with garlic, thyme and lemon and adds zing to mild vegetables such as zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, parsnips and spinach and to soups, stews and sauces that contain these vegetables.

Sweet basil is a sub-type of common basil with milder or licoricey taste. It is the best choice for Italian sauces and soups and for making pesto. Sweet basil leaves can sustain better in high-temperature cooking than common basil, so they are widely used in the South Asian cuisine.

Cinnamon basil is another type of basil distinct from sweet or common basil.

More than 150 varieties of basil have been discovered. Physically, basil is characterized by its branching stems, opposite leaves, brown or black seeds (also called nutlets) and flower spikes. However, flower color and size, shape, and texture of leaves vary by species.

  • Leaf textures range from smooth and shiny to curled and hairy, and flowers are white to lavender/purple.
  • Leaf color can vary from green to blue/purple, and plants can grow from 1 to 10 feet in height, depending on species.
  • Most people are familiar with sweet basil, common culinary basil, but the world of basils offers a wide array of plants with a great diversity of flavors, scents and uses.
  • Some of the more popular basils include sweet, specialty fragrant (cinnamon, lemon and Thai/anise), purple-leaved, bush and miniature or dwarf.
  • Basil arose in tropical and subtropical Asia where it is often a small perennial shrub.
  • Basil is considered a royal and sacred herb not just in India but also by other communities such as the Greeks.
  • It is a culinary herb native to India and tropical regions of Asia and has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. The herb has strong smell and is used commonly in Italian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

What are the health benefits of including basil in the diet?

There are many health benefits of including basil in the diet. Below are a few common advantages.

  • Basil may facilitate digestion. It claims to fortify the digestive and nervous system and can be a good remedy for headaches and insomnia. Eugenol (chemical ingredient) present in the leaves ensures antiswelling action in the digestive tract. Basil also helps encourage healthy bacteria within the gut microflora. A healthy gut flora increases immunity and promotes healthy digestion.
  • Essential volatile oil of basil has been seen as a traditional remedy to treat various tummy problems in addition to indigestion. Consuming basil could help reduce bloating and water retention. It can even stimulate loss of appetite and could cure acid reflux. It helps against helminthic infections of the gut.
  • Basil and its strong anti-inflammatory properties can prove to be a cure to various diseases and disorders. Powerful essential oils, including eugenol, citronellol and linalool, help lower inflammation. Anti-inflammatory properties of basil may help lower the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions. Consumption of basil could soothe fever, headache, sore throat, cold, cough and flu.
  • Natural antioxidants can help protect body tissues against free radical damage. Basil contains two important water-soluble flavonoid antioxidants known as orientin and viceninare. These potent antioxidants strengthen the immune system, protect cellular structure and DNA and delay the effects of skin aging.
  • Basil's essential oil may help manage depression and anxiety too. The herb is believed to stimulate neurotransmitters that regulate hormones responsible for inducing happiness and energy. Basil is considered a powerful adaptogen or an antistress agent. Its antiswelling and immune-boosting properties help manage stress too.
  • Consumption of basil could result in slower release of sugar in the blood, which is essential for people with diabetes. The herb has a very low glycemic load. Essential oils present in basil help cut down triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which are persistent risk factors among people with diabetes.
  • Basil's strong detox properties may do wonders for your liver health. Basil may help prevent fat buildup in the liver and keep your liver healthy.

Although basil may be included in daily diet, it should not be consumed in large quantities because some research shows that it may cause liver damage due to the presence of chemical called estragole. Basil oils and extracts might make bleeding disorders worse. Taking excessive basil extracts might dangerously lower blood pressure in susceptible people.

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References
Basil An Herb Society of America Guide: https://www.herbsociety.org/file_download/inline/c2cd2efa-f150-4aac-9c7b-f10a0ccaf889

The Many Uses And Types Of Basil: https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/basil.html

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