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The Differences Between Thai and Italian Basil

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2018

What is Thai basil, and can you use Italian basil in its place?

A variety of the sweet Italian basil used widely in American and European cooking, Thai basil brings slightly savory, spicy, anise-like notes to many Southeast Asian and Chinese dishes. Its leaves are sturdier and stand up to heat better than those of Italian basil, so it can be added during cooking versus as a finishing touch. Italian basil is an acceptable substitute in dishes with many other strong flavors, such as our Three-Cup Chicken, but Thai basil is worth seeking out for dishes such as Vietnamese spring rolls, where spicy flavor and sturdy texture are key elements.

THAI BASIL: Sturdy leaves; purple stems; slightly savory, spicy, licorice-like flavor

ITALIAN BASIL: Delicate leaves, green stems, peppery-sweet taste