Here’s what you need to know about Thai basil! There are so many uses, whether you’re growing this fresh herb or found it at the store.
It’s bright, beautiful, and has a lovely purple stem: it’s Thai basil! This fresh herb is in the same family as sweet basil, culprit behind pesto and the iconic margherita pizza. But it’s distinctly different in a few ways. Grab this Southeast Asian variety for your pho and spring rolls: the flavor is intensely aromatic and it’s worth seeking out at all costs. It’s also great for growing in the summer! Here’s a bit more about this tasty herb and its culinary uses.
What is Thai basil?
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. As you’d expect from the name, it’s used in Southeast Asian cuisine, including Thai, Cambodian, Lao, and Vietnamese recipes. You’ll find it in curries, spring rolls, noodle bowls, and more.
Where to find it? Thai basil is easy to grow at home, which we recommend during growing season since it’s fresher and more economical! Or, you can find it at international grocery stores or Asian markets.
Are there any Thai basil substitutes? In some recipes you can substitute sweet basil, if it’s all you have on hand. But it’s worth seeking out if you’re making a traditional Southeast Asian recipe like a curry, pho, or spring rolls.
Thai basil vs basil: the difference!
What’s the difference between Thai basil vs sweet basil? Here’s how to distinguish the two:
- Thai basil has a purple stem and narrow, ridged green leaves. The flavor has a strong anise (black licorice) essence, with a hint of spice on the finish.
- Italian sweet basil has large, bright green leaves and a green stem. The leaves are larger than the Thai variety, and the flavor is milder, with hints of black pepper and subtle anise.
Growing Thai basil: some tips!
Growing Thai basil is similar to Italian sweet basil. It won’t get quite as large and bushy, since the Thai variety stays more compact. Other than that, it’s very similar! Here are a few best practices for how to grow this fresh herb:
- Buy a Thai basil starter plant at a farmers market or garden store. This is the most reliable way to grow it.
- Plant the basil in full sun in a pot with drainage, raised bed, or soil. Use potting soil or a garden mix to plant the basil in a pot. Make sure the pot has holes in the bottom for drainage. If you have a garden, Thai basil does well in raised beds because of the drainage. Place the plant in a place that gets 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day.
- Prune the plant regularly. Removing basil leaves helps to encourage the plant to start branching, which makes it into a large bushy plant. Every time a branch has six to eight leaves, pinch off the stem and leaves back to the first set of leaves. Make sure to pick and use the leaves regularly: it helps the plant to grow! Remove any flowers immediately.
- Water the basil regularly. Keep the soil around the basil moist, watering every few days.
Thai basil is best used fresh. When you use it in recipes, harvest a few branches of the herb and then remove the leaves. If you happen to harvest too much Thai basil, you can store the cut stems in a jar in the refrigerator. Here’s how to store basil:
- Find a large glass jar and add a few inches of water. Make sure the jar is large enough that the stems won’t be squished or packed inside.
- Place the basil stems inside the jar, cut side down. Screw on the lid of the jar, which helps to keep the basil fresh.
- Store refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.
Top Thai basil recipes
How to use Thai basil in recipes? This aromatic herb features prominently in Southeast Asian cuisine. Here are some ideas for how to use it:
Got Thai basil? Here's a great way to use it: Thai Basil Fried Rice! Add it to fried rice, and it infuses an irresistible aroma that makes it impossible not to take another bite. It's a great way to use this herb if you have it on hand.
One of our favorite ways to use Thai basil in recipes? This Thai Basil Shrimp Stir Fry! It’s flavored with garlic, fresh ginger and soy sauce, with a light black licorice nuance on the finish. It tastes totally gourmet: whipped up in just a few minutes on the stovetop.
This delicious noodle bowl is flavored like spring roll—in bowl form! It’s an explosion of flavor: tangy lime, fresh herbs, and crisp veggies. Fresh Thai basil adds a subtle anise flavor.
There is so much flavor going on here: rich coconut milk, aromatic curry paste, tangy lime and peppery basil surrounding tender, juicy shrimp. Serve it over jasmine rice garnished with Thai basil.
These fresh vegetable spring rolls are packed with Thai basil, carrots, lettuce, green onion, and more! The Thai basil makes the dish, with its anise essence.
Thai Basil Chicken
Thai basil chicken, aka pad kra pao gai, is a popular Thai street food dish that stars this delicious herb. Thai food purists would say that this dish should include holy basil (a related herb with a different flavor), not Thai basil. But many recipes indicate you can use either one.
Beef Pho (Phở Bo)
Phở is one of the most iconic of all Vietnamese dishes, a steaming and restorative bowl of noodle soup. An authentic pho is often served with a plate of Thai basil, so eaters can garnish with the best aromatic flavor.
Thai Basil Fried Rice
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 3 to 4 1x
Thai basil fried rice is a delicious way to use this fragrant herb! Thai basil infuses a delicate anise flavor into this satisfying dish.
- 1/2 yellow or white onion
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger (about 1 inch nub)
- 2 large carrots
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup frozen peas
- 4 cups cooked jasmine rice, at least 1 day old or cooled using the shortcut below*
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- ⅓ cup Thai basil leaves
- Optional: 1 pound medium small shrimp (size 51 to 60), shelled and deveined, frozen or fresh**
- Mince the onion. Mince the garlic. Mince the ginger. Peel the carrots, then dice them.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil medium high. Sauté the carrots and onion for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the rice, peas and salt for 1 minute.
- Push the rice to the side. Add 1 tablespoon more oil. Add the eggs and pinch of salt, and scramble them in for 1 to 2 minutes until cooked through.
- Add the soy sauce and fish sauce, if using. Taste and add additional soy sauce if necessary. Heat for a minute or two, stirring, until all rice is coated. Add the Thai basil and turn off the heat, stirring until it wilts. Serve hot.
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Southeast Asian inspired
- Diet: Vegetarian
Keywords: Thai basil