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Using Basil Stems in Recipes

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2014

Cilantro stems can be used in recipes. Is this also the case with basil stems?

We have found that cilantro stems have the same fresh flavors as their leaves and can be used as long as their crunchier texture is acceptable. To see if basil stems could also be put to use, we first got our bearings by asking tasters to sample basil leaves as well as various portions of the stems raw. All agreed that the tender, thinner, younger stems tasted clean and sweet, comparable to the leaves. However, as tasters reached thicker, older portions of stem, particularly the lower portion of the central stem, bitter flavors began to dominate.

With that in mind, we made two batches of a classic basil pesto in our food processor, one with leaves that had been destemmed and another with equal volumes of both leaves and tender stems. Tasters were unable to tell one batch from the other.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While we don’t recommend using the thicker stems from a bunch of basil, it’s perfectly fine to make the most of your basil bunch and put the younger, more tender stems to use.

STEM EDUCATION

1. Don't process thick stems in pesto.

2. Younger, tender stems are fine.