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

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.

Cinnamon Basil

This type of basil is often harvested young as “micro basil,” before its spicy flavor becomes too assertive.

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.

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.

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.

African Blue

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

Mixed Bloom

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

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.