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Thai basil vs basil: what’s the difference between these similar fresh herbs? Can you substitute one for the other? Here’s the breakdown.

Thai basil vs basil
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Thai basil vs basil: what’s the difference? These two types of fresh herb are from the same family. But there are marked differences between the Thai variety and the common sweet basil! Here’s a breakdown on what makes them distinct, and when you can use them as substitutes.

Thai basil vs basil: a breakdown

What’s the exact difference between Thai basil vs sweet basil? Here’s the difference between these varieties of the same herb:

  • Thai basil is a type of basil with an anise or black licorice flavor that’s native to Southeast Asia. It has a purple stem, purple flowers, and thin, dark green leaves. It’s common in Southeast Asian cuisine, including Thai, Cambodian, Lao, and Vietnamese recipes. The flavor is very distinct, with strong black licorice notes and a hint of spice on the finish.
  • Italian sweet basil is a type of basil that’s most common in Western cooking. It has bright green leaves and a green stem. The leaves are larger than the Thai variety (see the bunches on the right in the photo above). The flavor of sweet basil is milder than Thai basil, with hints of black pepper and subtle anise.

Can you substitute one for the other?

Well, yes and no. Here’s what to know about substitutions when it comes to Thai basil:

  • Can you substitute sweet basil for Thai basil? It depends on the the recipe. In some recipes you can substitute sweet basil, if it’s all you have on hand. But if you’re making a traditional Southeast Asian recipe like a curry, pho, or spring rolls, it’s definitely worth seeking out for its distinct flavor. You can grown Thai basil at home or find it at Asian markets or international grocery stores.
  • Can you substitute Thai basil for sweet basil? Not really. The strong anise flavor of Thai basil makes it incomparable to sweet basil in terms of flavor. Here are the substitutes for sweet basil that we recommend instead.

What can you make with Thai basil?

There are lots of ways to use Thai basil! Here are some great uses:

What can you make with sweet basil?

Sweet basil is used in lots of Mediterranean style cuisine! Here are some of our top sweet basil recipes:

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Types of basil

Thai Basil vs Basil: A Breakdown!

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


A great way to use Thai basil? Try this Shrimp Curry! It’s a Thai-style red curry flavored with coconut milk and curry paste.


  • Jasmine rice (or basmati rice), for serving
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 15-ounce can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Zest of 1 lime (plus lime wedges to garnish)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound large shrimp, shell on or tail on (wild caught if possible)
  • 5 leaves Thai basil, plus more for garnish


  1. Start the jasmine rice (or basmati rice).
  2. Mince the onion. Mince the garlic. Cut the pepper into thin strips.
    In a large skillet, pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic & red pepper and saute for 1 minute. Stir in the curry paste and saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, turmeric, lime zest, water, and kosher salt and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the shrimp and cook about 4 to 5 minutes until the shrimp is tender and opaque, depending on the size of the shrimp. Stir in 5 large leaves Thai basil.
  4. To serve, spoon the shrimp and sauce over rice. Garnish with additional chopped Thai basil and lime wedges. Store refrigerated for up to 2 days.
  • Category: Main dish
  • Method: Curry
  • Cuisine: Thai-inspired
  • Diet: Gluten Free

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. J Messer says:

    Is there a way to preserve thai basil? With sweet basil, I make pesto and freeze it? How would you make something you could freeze with thai basil? Thanks.

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      We haven’t tested any preservation methods. Sorry!

  2. Sonja Overhiser says:

    Let us know if you have any questions!