There are many types of Basil.
One of the most common basil types of Basil that you would see in the USA would be the Sweet Basil.
Thai Basil is found in South East Asia and is quite popular in cuisines. It has a slightly spicy, licorice-like flavor.
You can easily notice that the prominent difference between Thai basil and Sweet Basil is in the stem. Thai Basil has a purple stem whereas the regular basil has a greenish stem.
Let us look below at how Sweet Basil differs from Thai Basil.
Thai basil and regular basil differ a lot in appearance, which is why it is not difficult to tell them apart.
Thai basil has a purple stem which is a bit hairy. This means that it has fine hairs surrounding the stem. The stem is rigid and can turn woody as it nears the end of its life.
Regular basil has a green stem. It is quite smooth all the way. Just like Thai basil, regular basil too has a rigid stem that turns woody towards the end of its natural cycle.
Thai basil has narrow, thin leaves. They are prolonged and usually straight.
Its leaves are firm and lighter in color. Moreover, they do not release any aroma when rubbed, which is not the case with regular basil.
Regular basil has large, oval leaves that curl slightly downwards.
They are dark green in color. When rubbed, they release an intense aroma that will linger on your fingers for a while.
Thai basil produces colorful flowers that are purple or pink in color. They are quite small in size.
Regular basil presents flowers that are white in color. These flowers are similar in shape to those of the Thai basil.
Thai basil and regular basil grow more or less at the same rate. They usually grow up to 16 to 18 inches (up to 45cm).
If you take special care of your basil, it can grow even larger. The basil can grow taller than 3 feet, which is almost double their normal size.
Thai basil has a taste that is milder than regular basil. It has an anise flavor along with an aroma of licorice and a spicy taste.
Regular basil has a distinct taste of anise that it shares with Thai basil. Along with the anise flavor, it also tastes peppery and sweet.
Thus regular basil is also known as sweet basil.
Thai basil is preferred to be used as an ornamental plant. It is a colorful herb, with a purple stem, green leaves, and pink and purple flowers. It is classified as an ornamental cultivar.
Regular basil is not used as an ornament. It is mostly cultivated for its delicious leaves that can be used for diverse recipes.
Regular basil and Thai basil can be grown side by side, which would look pleasing to the eye, and will also providie tasty leaves for cooking.
Thai basil, as the name suggests, is widely used in Thai and another East Asian cuisine. It is staple basil in this region, used in a large variety of dishes.
Thai basil is incorporated early on in any cook. This is because Thai basil reacts well to heat. The more it is heated, the more flavors it releases, making it a good idea to add Thai basil leaves right during the cook.
Regular basil, or the Genovese basil, is staple in Mediterranean cuisine, especially Italian. Used in most of the western world, the sweet basil is a part of an array of dishes all over the world.
Regular basil needs to be added to any dish at the very end, or used just as a garnish.
Regular basil does not react well to heat. It wilts and becomes droopy when overcooked. It will lose all flavor and oil.
Recipes that use Thai Basil
Thai basil is used in Southeast Asian, Chinese and Thai cuisines. Below are some of the popular dishes that uses Thai Basil as an ingredient.
Vietnamese spring rolls
Thai basil is a major ingredient in Vietnamese spring rolls.
You can put Thai basil leaves in vinegar, olive oil, or other types of oil. Keep them in to infuse flavor. You can also heat it in the oil and then set it to cool down.
This will give you flavorful infused oil. You can also add some garlic or tomato to the mixture to give it an extra flavorful taste.
Thai basil is commonly used as a garnish in pho, a traditional Vietnamese dish which is a noodle soup.
Drinks and desserts
Thai basil seeds are widely used in many tasty cold drinks. It also acts as a cooling agent.
Thai basil leaves are used in desserts like ice cream because of its distinct licorice taste.
Recipes that use regular basil
Basil is the main ingredient while making pesto, and sweet basil is the choice of basil for this recipe. Pesto is used as a sauce or salad dressing in many recipes.
Italian dishes, like pizza and pasta, use regular basil. Pizza Margherita uses basil as one of its main ingredients. Basil is also used in making marinara sauce.
You can use basil in salads, like Caprese salad or burrata salad. You can also make a basil vinaigrette.
You can substitute one basil with the other since they both carry a sweet flavor. But other than that, the tastes of both these varieties vary, as Thai basil is spicier and smells like licorice.
Can you substitute regular basil for Thai basil?
Regular, or sweet basil, is the most common basil, especially in the western world.
Sometimes when it is not possible to get your hands on Thai basil. If that is the case, you can substitute Thai basil with regular basil. To get the taste and aroma of Thai basil, you can use star anise.
But, if you are making an authentic Southeast Asian recipe, like pho or Thai basil chicken, it is recommended that you use Thai basil as it has a very distinctive taste that goes especially well with Southeast Asian cuisine.
You can grow your own Thai basil or find some in Asian supermarkets.
Can you substitute Thai basil for regular basil?
Regular basil is on the sweeter side, while Thai basil has a strong anise flavor. So it is not really recommended to use Thai basil instead of regular basil. It is not easily possible to match the flavor of sweet basil with Thai basil as Thai basil has a strong flavor.
Thai basil is a perennial herb. This means that it can easily last for 2 or more years as long as you take proper care of it. It may become dormant during the winter, but it will perk right up as soon as the cold is gone.
The regular basil is an annual herb. It only lasts for one year. The plant grows and starts growing flowers. Once it grows flowers and seeds, the plant reaches the end of its life cycle and eventually dies during the winter season.
The life span of basil can be increased by regular pruning of its leaves and nipping its flowers in the bud, but it will still not live very long after that.
Thai basil and regular basil have very similar growth requirements.
Thai basil requires a bit more attention than regular basil and needs fertile soil which is always moist, but not waterlogged.
The soil needs to be slightly acidic, with a pH from 6.5 to 7.5. Coffee grounds can be used to make the soil acidic. The soil needs to be well-aerated with rich organic matter.
You can use a natural or store-bought fertilizer from time to time.
The basil is a tropical plant, so it needs a constant ambient temperature of 21C and 6 to 8 hours of adequate sunlight every day.
If you do not prune the flowers regularly, the plant will waste no time in bolting.
If the climate is hot and dry, retain moisture with the help of mulch.
Thai basil has 22.8g calories per 100g leaves, cholesterol, 0.8g fat, 0.004g sodium, 0.29g potassium, 2.8g carbohydrates and 3.2g protein. It has 40% more carbohydrates than regular basil.
Vitamin A in Thai basil is 104%, Vitamin B is 30%, calcium is 13.6% and iron is 17.6%.
Every 100g leaves, regular basil has 24 calories, 0g cholesterol, 0g fat, 0.004g sodium, 0.3g potassium, 2g carbohydrates and 4g protein. It has 20% more protein than Thai basil.
Regular basil has 106% Vitamin A, 30% Vitamin B, 14% calcium and 18% iron.
Where to buy Thai basil?
Thai basil does not have the same popularity that regular basil has in the western part of the world.
While Thai basil is very easily available in Asia, you might have to search a lot before you can get it if you live anywhere else.
Potted Thai basil plants in supermarkets are a rare sight. However, you can find packaged fresh Thai basil leaves in supermarkets or any Asian stores.
Sometimes you might find leaves still on the stems, as they are hand-picked. In that case, you can grow your own Thai basil by propagating it from the cuttings.
If not the stem, you can get Thai basil seeds to grow your own basil plant. Thai basil seeds can be found in many gardening stores as they live longer and are easy to grow as well.