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Apr 16, 2009 11:01 AM

Taste vs Beauty in Herbs

Do you normally buy the typical green culinary herbs or try out the more unusual variegated or differently colored herbs. Example purple basil or tricolor sage vs the normal green. Which still work for cooking? I found silver thyme to be very nice in both color and taste but on the other hand basil is often not so good in the purple form, although the small leaf varieties are nice. Any examples of cases where the pretty herbs don't lose their characteristic taste?

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  1. I normally stick with the basic green herbs for cooking but I do like to include the oddball prettier herbs just for show in my garden. I'm a sucker for herbs of all kinds! I think I like them better than regular flowers.

    1. Right now in my garden - there are perennial herbs that were planted 5 years ago:
      Lemon thyme
      Yellow oregano
      Golden sage
      Tricolor sage
      Bronze fennel

      And, yes, I do have the green versions too.

      1. I grow a Thai basil, Siam Queen, that is as beautiful as it is tasty! The stems are purple, and the leaves are deep green tinged with deep purple. It's very tasty in Thai and Vietnamese recipes---much more licorice-y than the Genovese basil that I also grow.

        2 Replies
          1. re: Anne

            Thai basil is worth growing for culinary use. Great peppery flavor, but NOT a substitute for Genovese basil in Italian or other dishes. Just NOT the same.
            The other basils are ornamental. They simply don't have the rich, deep flavors.

            I started growing Thai basil to make Thai Basil Chicken which was served at Germaine's Restaurant in Washington years ago. It was the first Asian fusion place in town, opened in the late 70s by Germaine Swanson, a Vietnamese refugee and wife of a US journalist who helped her and her family flee Saigon when it fell.
            This was the dish that the restaurant was known for and it's a winner.

          2. Im still not sure what the right answer to your question is. Yes and no? I think the variegated sages are just fine for cooking, tho I dont have one in the garden now. I grew a green and white basil (called "pesto perpetuo"last year that tasted just fine and looked beautiful in the garden, but I didnt like the way it looked in dishes. This is a sport of the really wonderful greek columnar basil which grows upward and branches but does not flower -you can pick all summer.And I have a variegated spearmint (green and white) that I just cant convince myself tastes as good as the plain green variety. I dont believe in the purple basils, either and the bronze fennel I dont view as a culinary variety (tho I wouldnt be without it, it is such a beautiful plant and a butterfly magnet (I have swallowtail caterpillars on mine every year) I agree with other posters that the thai basils are beautiful plants as well as useful and delicious. As far as thymes go, I would touch and taste these to decide, they have differing flavors. And definitely go with the culinary oreganos - some of the decorative varieties are wonderful to grow for foliage and flowers (Hopley's, Herrengarten,or Kent Beauty) but they dont match up to the simple greek and similar varieties in cooking.

            1. Each colored herb is different, and you may have to grow one to find out if it is worthwhile, or at least, pinch and smell in the nursery.

              Last year I was surprised by purple sage (very good) and lemon/yellow sage (not worthwhile.)
              Purple basil has been disappointing, and harder to grow than green.
              The biggest disappointment was a beautiful purple/green sorrel. It had no flavor, not a hint of lemon or sour.

              I have to admit, you can't go wrong with green!

              1 Reply
              1. re: jayt90

                I agree with the first post about purple basil, if you mean "Opal Basil". Not much taste.
                It looks nice but I wouldn't grow it for cooking again.
                I find Rubin Basil better than Opal. Still purple, but not as attractive. However, I use it in salads and with noodles.

                But I really like Anise Basil.

                I like the regular green Basil for tomato dishes. Spicy Global busg Basil looks nice but I find I only use the tiny little leaves on salad. Very mild