Basil brings a lovely flavor to any dish, whether it is dried basil or fresh basil leaves. I’m focusing on basil today as part of my quest to figure out how to lessen food waste. I love basil and its versatility, but it is quite finicky and rots easily! I tried the different ways of storing fresh basil so that you don’t have to!
What type of herb is basil?
Basil is a tender herb that is part of the mint family. This was surprising to me, but it makes sense since it has tender leaves, a strong smell, and a crisp flavor like mints does. Different varieties of basil are used in Thai and Vietnamese recipes, but it is most known for being an essential part of Italian cooking.
How is basil used in cooking?
Dried basil is better to add at the beginning of cooking so that the dried herb can reconstitute and infuse the dish even more. Dried basil doesn’t taste exactly like fresh basil but is used in many recipes since it is easier to have on hand and you can find it easily at a grocery store. If using dried basil, use one-third the amount of fresh basil called for in a recipe.
Fresh herbs will deliver the best flavor for a dish. If a recipe calls for dried basil, you must triple the amount to substitute fresh basil. Fresh basil is added towards the end of cooking since the heat will make the essential oils evaporate and the flavor will be less intense.
How to pick fresh basil
Choose basil leaves that are bright green and with no dark spots. It is important to take a good look at each basil leaf since basil turns black easily. You want to choose leaves that have the greatest chance of lasting long.
How to prepare basil
To prepare basil, rinse with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Separate the leaves and throw away the stems. The leaves can be left whole and added directly to sauces, salads, or to top pizza. If you want smaller pieces, you can tear them into pieces for a rustic look, finely chop them, or cut them into chiffonade or thin strips.
In general, you only want to buy just enough basil for whatever dish you are making. It is safe to assume that any store-bought basil will turn brown soon after you bring it home.
How to store fresh basil
For those times when you have leftover basil, there are a number of techniques to make basil last longer.
The most popular advice online is to treat basil like a flower bouquet. Add enough water to cover the ends of the stems. Water is the enemy of basil leaves, so ensure that the water line is way below the leaves. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and place it on your windowsill so it can get sunlight and continue to grow. You will have to watch the water level; it shouldn’t dry out. After some time, roots will start to sprout; make sure the roots touch the water. The basil should last about two weeks.
Something like this fresh herb keeper is perfect:
Storing fresh basil in a covered jar
I found that placing basil stems in a jar and placing the cover loosely on the jar was better than the basil bouquet since I didn’t need a plastic bag. I’m guessing the trapped humidity in the jar helped the plant survive.
You just need a big enough jar! But a quart jar could work if it’s for leftover stems. Or you could trim the stems so they can fit. This method helps the basil last up to a month.
Storing basil in the refrigerator
I tried different techniques for storing basil in the refrigerator for a month. I’ve stored basil in a plastic bag or the container it came in. Adding a paper towel helped absorb excess moisture. This usually lasts a day or two in the fridge.
I had some space in the refrigerator, so I made two basil bouquets and covered one with a plastic bag and the other jar sealed the cap lightly. The cold refrigerator made the basil bouquet covered with plastic wilt quickly. The stems in the covered jar fared better.
Storing basil in the freezer
This way is a little involved, but it is great if you are going to use basil in cooked recipes. You will have to blanch the leaves before storing them in the freezer:
- Trim the leaves from the stems
- Prepare an ice bath by placing ice cubes in a bowl of water
- Boil water on the stove
- Then blanch the leaves in the boiling water until the leaves are bright green
- Remove basil from the boiling water and drop it into ice water
- then lay them out on a paper towel and blot dry
- place in between parchment paper and then into freezer bags
- store in the freezer
Use the frozen basil leaves as you would fresh basil in a cooked dish. Using frozen basil leaves in a salad will not work! Try to use up frozen basil within six months.
Grow basil plants for fresh herbs whenever you need them!
I love growing herbs, so having a pot of them in soil is one of the ways that I make herbs last! I have a plant light so that I can keep it indoors all throughout the year. It is perfect for whenever I make pasta or a salad for a nice herby pop of flavor.
You can place stems (that have some leaves) in water and they will grow roots. This extends the life of basil for about a month. It should also be placed on a sunny window sill.
Other ways to store basil and make it last longer
One of the yummiest ways to store extra basil is to make pesto or basil-infused oil. For basil-infused oil, place a couple of leaves and stems in a bottle with olive oil to get a nicely flavored oil you can use for salad dressing or top a dish right before serving.
Make a basil cube, aka olive oil and basil ice cubes. Chop up the basil leaves, place them in an ice cube tray and cover them with olive oil. Place it in the freezer and pop out a cube for sauces, soups, stews, or sautees.
If you have a dehydrator, you can make your own dried herbs! Store the dry basil in an airtight container so that it stays dry and doesn’t go soft.
What is the best way to store fresh basil?
The internet was right! Treating basil like a bouquet is a great way to make it last longer. I was surprised that a basil bouquet in a covered jar worked well, too, whether in the refrigerator or on the counter. The caveat is that you need a large enough jar not to crowd the leaves. If you’re lucky to have the right-sized jar, this is the easiest way to make it last longer.
Otherwise, keeping the basil in the container it came in and adding a paper towel is a decent way to store basil, especially if you will be using it sooner rather than later.
But if you really want basil anytime, it is best to get a pot of it. Some supermarkets sell them; just pick one with lots of green leaves. Place it by a sunny window or get a plant light to help it grow. A basil plant can easily last six months and supply you with fresh basil anytime your heart desires it.
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