Most of us know flowery Genovese and Italian sweet basils—think pesto—but the world of basil offers huge diversity, especially if you grow your own.
Thai basil has a sweet, anise flavor. Holy, or tulsi, basil is more pungent and clove-like. Both are common in Asian dishes. Lemon basil’s citrusy tang is perfect for infusing vinegars and in seafood dishes. And lime basil adds zest to fish and salads. The spicy essence of cinnamon basil makes it a good fit for heartier dishes. Purple-hued opal basil is ideal for garnishes and adding a pop of color to salads. Tiny-leaved pistou and fino basils more than make up for their small size with intense aroma and spicy-sweet taste. Unlike other basils, they have soft stems, much like parsley.
You may not find all these varieties at the store, so grow your own! You don’t need a green thumb: basil is easily grown in a pot, content in a sunny spot and pretty forgiving. Plus, having your own plant means you get fresh herbs whenever, without the waste of plastic clamshells or wilted sprigs. Pick the leaves young, when they are more aromatic than older leaves.