Basil, belonging to the genus Ocimum, comes in numerous varieties, each with its distinct character. Some of the most popular types are:
- Italian Basil (Sweet Basil): Characterized by its large, green leaves, this is the most commonly recognized type, essential in Mediterranean cuisine and famous for its role in pesto.
- Purple Basil: Beyond its vibrant colour, purple basil brings a milder taste with hints of clove. It's visually striking in salads and can add a unique touch to vinegars and oils.
- Thai Basil: This variety, with its narrower leaves and a purplish stem, has a licorice-like flavour. It's a cornerstone in many Thai dishes, from curries to stir-fries.
- Holy Basil (Tulsi): Native to the Indian subcontinent, Holy Basil has a peppery kick. Apart from its culinary uses, it holds significant spiritual and medicinal value in Hinduism and Ayurveda.
Basil's roots trace back to India, Asia, and parts of Africa. Over time, its seeds journeyed along trade routes, making their way to Europe and eventually North America. Italian basil became synonymous with Italian cuisine, while the Thai and Holy basils remained integral to Southeast Asian and Indian dishes. In Alberta, as global cuisines found a home and local produce became a priority, basil's variants began to feature prominently in gardens, farmers' markets, and restaurant dishes.
Basil's culinary adaptability is impressive. Italian basil shines when freshly torn over a Margherita pizza or blended into a vibrant pesto with pine nuts and Parmesan. Purple basil can elevate a simple Caprese salad or be infused into oils for a visual and gustatory treat. Thai basil's spicy undertones make it a must in green curry or a refreshing Thai basil lemonade. Holy basil, with its peppery flair, stars in India's 'Tulsi Tea' or the popular Thai street food dish, 'Pad Kra Pao'. In Alberta's diverse culinary scene, basil variants are celebrated in everything from traditional dishes to innovative culinary fusions. When growing basil in Alberta's shorter growing season, many gardeners opt for starting it indoors before transferring it outside, ensuring a healthy, fragrant yield.