Many Shades of Green: Basil Varieties

A relative of mint, basil thrives in hot, dry climates. Though it is predominantly associated with Mediterranean cuisines, the herb is native to India and used the world over in fresh and cooked preparations. There are more than 40 culinary basil varieties ranging in flavor from delicately herbaceous to downright emphatic—these 8 are our favorites. Try experimenting with them to take your pestos, sauces, and salads in different directions.

Genoese Basil

Genoese Basil
The most common variety for pesto, basil genovese is what's known as a sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), prized for its delicate fragrance, which doesn't overpower the other ingredients in the sauce.Todd Coleman

Cinnamon Basil

Cinnamon basil
This type of basil is often harvested young as "micro basil," before its spicy flavor becomes too assertive.Todd Coleman

Spicy Bush Basil

Spicy Bush Basil
We like the edge spicy bush basil gives to pesto; harvested when young, you can use the leaves without removing their stems.Todd Coleman

Thai Basil

Thai Basil
There are many varieties of Thai basil, which has a light anise flavor that doesn't dissipate when heated. Often used in stir-fries and curries, it makes for a gorgeously perfumed pesto.Todd Coleman

Opal Basil

Opal Basil
This variety of basil has a strong clove flavor and makes a sharp, deep purple pesto. It's also great infused into simple syrups for cocktails, or macerated with peaches for dessert.Todd Coleman

African Blue

African Blue
A spicy, anise-like flavor makes this type of basil a good pair with dark meat chicken or lamb.Todd Coleman

Mixed Bloom

Mixed Bloom
Purple-hued Mixed Bloom basil yields an aromatic, licorice-flavored pesto.Todd Coleman

Lemon Basil

Lemon Basil
This basil's citric, almost floral aroma and astringent taste make it a natural for a pesto to serve with vegetables and fish.Todd Coleman