May 7, 2012

Herb & Spice Fact of the Day

Basil known often as the king among herbs, is one of the oldest and most popular culinary herbs. 

It belongs to the genus: Ocimum and is a highly revered as a "holy herb" in many traditions all over the world, including India. There is a potted Tulsi (Ocinum sanctum) in every Hindu household in India and women across the country start the day by watering it and including it in their daily prayers. Basil grows best in warm, tropical climates. The leaves are light green, silky, about 2.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. 

There are several differnt varieties of Basil. The "Mediterranean" cultivar is typically called sweet basil, has light green leaves as opposed to "Asian basil" (Ocinum sanctum) that has large, hairy stems and stalks with pink flowers, purple or red leaves and has stronger ‘clove’ like flavor. There is also lemon basil, which has "lemon" flavor. Thai basil (O. basilicum 'Horapha') is similar in characteristics to Asian basil but features narrow, pointed, light green color leaves with a sweet licorice aroma. 

Basil leaves contain polyphenolic flavonoids like orientin and vicenin, which have anti-oxidant properties, essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene and terpineol, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Basil leaves contain exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are all protective antioxidants that help fight various disease process. In India, basil leaves are often mixed in tea to protect against the common cold, flu, seasonal allergies etc. It imparts an aromatic flavor to the tea. All in all, Basil deserves its title of King among herbs. Basil has a slightly sweet peppery flavor, with a delicate menthol/minty aroma.

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