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Thai Basil - how can I tell?

I bought a bunch of new herbs recently - one of them being labeled "Thai Basil." I am wondering if it is this since there is no purple to it. Does the purple come later in the plant's life?

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  1. Does it have purple stems?

    I think that the purple in the leaves does come later but I think the only way to tell is to taste it if it has the slight licorice/anise flavour then it probably is thai basil.

    1. I think thai basil has a longer leaf and the italian type has a kind of rounded puffy looking leaf, and the texture is somewhat different, I don't know if you'd be able to tell from that alone though, but yes taste it to make sure.

      1. There usually some purple on them (see attached) and it should have a liquorice smell to it. The basil that is used in Persian cooking is pretty similar in appearance, but not entirely in taste.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MaxCaviar

          i agree the way to tell is definitely the licorice flavour. I must admit I never noticed the purple. Superb with prawns :-) but it can ruin / overpower a dish if not handled properly.

          1. re: Bibulous

            I've heard of but don't know anything about the Persian basil but agree that "Thai"/SE Asian basil inevitably has that distinctive "licorice" taste though not flavor (I think I recall seeing something that might've been Persian basil with a note that it was anise-like fwtw). I have seen quite a few different cultivars of Thai basil and they do vary in foliage color. On the other hand, there is also "holy basil" which is mostly grown as a symbolic and/or ornamental plant in Thailand, but I've heard is sometimes used in food. That's usually or always bright green and has a very different, sweet fragrance. I have a plant of it but have never seen it for sale as a cooking ingredient so it's probably know what the OP has but it's a not-inconceivable possibility...

        2. The dark purple basil is something else. It is milder and not the flavor you would want from Thai basil.

          Thai basil will have some purple tinge around the immature leaves and flower buds at the apical tip, but not always. The leaves are more slender and elongated than sweet basil and there should be a noticeable licorice aroma.

          1. I never heard of Thai basil being purple. It's always green, just a different shape and flavor than the other basil.

            1. I just had a purple basil in Tajikistan. My first taste-driven (not visually driven) thought was "Thai basil". You can tell by the taste!

              1. There's green and then there's dark green. I think of dark green, wrinkled leaf basil as common or Italian (?) I have a very pale green, smooth leafed basil and I thought that was Thai. Purple is milder. I think of it as more ornamental.

                1. My store sells this purplish basil called "Taiwan basil", it's the same type they use in pho restaurants. I'm not sure if this is Thai sweet basil

                  1. The purple comes later. Thank you for bumping this up. My basil stems are starting to purple.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: TampaAurora

                      The scientific name for what is commonly called "Thai Basil" is Ocimum basilicum and in Thai the leaf is known as Bai Hua Rapha. It has a subtle licorice smell. The leaves are hairless. In Thai cooking it is mostly used in curries though there are some shellfish dishes that also call for it. In the West it is known as "Sweet Basil".

                      Another commonly used basil in Thailand is called Bai Ka Phrao and it's scientific name is Ocimum tenuiflorum. This is commonly called Holy or Sacred Basil. It has a smell of cloves and the leaves are slightly hairy and can be either green or purple. In Thai cooking it'll be used in any dish incorporating the name "Ka Phrao," like chicken stir-fried with basil (Kai Phad Kra Phrao).

                    2. I don't know what everyone else thinks about "Thai Basil" -- but it seems that the restaurants using it around here overdo it. I could swear that it seems like the dishes have old fashioned hair tonic in it. If I even think there is Thai basil in a dish -- no thank you. Anyone else feel this way?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: RGC1982

                        Ugh, now that you mention hair tonic...I'll try to take that out of my mind

                        Personally, I'm addicted to thai basil, I could eat it as a salad if I could

                        1. re: takadi

                          You can! I make a Thai-influenced cole slaw with shredded cabbage, shredded carrots, slivered Thai bird peppers (or serranos or jalapenos if I can't find bird peppers), cilantro, and Thai basil. I make a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, salt, and peanut oil, and toss it, then add chopped roasted peanuts. It's really good, and I use a LOT of cilantro and Thai basil in it. Of course, this is usually a summer time treat for us, when the cilantro and Thai basil are growing in pots on our deck.

                          1. re: Niki in Dayton

                            Here's a translated recipe that is similar to yours. It's from a Thai-language cookbook I acquired in Bangkok a month ago and is ideal for people who want papaya salad (Som Tam) but can't locate a green papaya (like me). It doesn't call for basil but I see no reason why that couldn't be added.
                            10 Thai bird peppers, chopped
                            5 cloves garlic, chopped
                            1 Tbspn fish sauce
                            1 tsp sugar
                            3 Tbspn lime juice
                            1 cup shredded cucumber
                            1/2 shredded carrot
                            1 small onion, chopped
                            1/3 cup cashews, dry roasted
                            2 scallions, cut into 1/2" lengths
                            In a mortar, pound the bird peppers and garlic to a paste. Add the fish sauce, sugar and lime juice and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Put the cucumber, carrot, onion, cashews and scallions in a bowl. Pour on the sauce and mix well.

                            1. re: Niki in Dayton

                              Ooo that's very similar to a type of pickled cabbage my grandmother makes...I guess it could double up as a salad too