Thai Basil, also known as Asian or Holy basil, is an herb with pungent and peppery flavors that is often used in Southeast Asian cuisine.
But what if you don’t have access to it? How can you substitute a missing ingredient while still maintaining the same flavor?
The answer lies in finding the best substitutes for Thai basil – ones that can give your dish a similar flavor profile.
In this article, we will explore how to use Thai Basil as well as dive into the five best substitutes for it.
What’s Thai Basil?
Thai basil is an herb with a unique flavor profile that is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine.
The leaves of Thai Basil are thin, pointed and generally gray-green in color.
It has a sweet licorice-like aroma and a sweet to spicy pungent flavor.
Some people describe the taste as having hints of anise and cinnamon.
Thai basil has many culinary uses and can be used fresh or dried.
It can be added to stir fries, curries, salads, soups and more for added flavor and aroma.
It can also be used as a garnish for dishes or drinks such as pad Thai or mint mojitos.
There are also some recipes that require only the leaves of the plant such as desserts like sesame balls or basil pesto sauce.
In addition to its culinary uses, Thai basil is thought to have beneficial medicinal properties as well.
Studies have suggested that it contains compounds that may help reduce inflammation, soreness, nausea and more.
While the research is still ongoing, many people enjoy drinking tea made from Thai basil for its potential health benefits.
The 4 Best Substitutes for Thai Basil in Recipes
While commonly grown in Thailand, Thai basil is also becoming a popular ingredient across the globe due to its unique flavor.
However, not everyone can get their hands on fresh Thai basil, or some may just be looking for alternative options in their cooking.
Here’s a detailed comparison of the 4 best substitutes for Thai basil in recipes, along with their key characteristics and proper ratios:
|Substitute||Key Characteristics||Proper Ratio|
|Sweet Basil||Similar to Thai basil but milder in flavor. It has a slightly spicy and peppery taste.||Use an equal amount as Thai basil|
|Lemon Basil||Has a citrusy and lemony aroma with a hint of basil flavor. It adds brightness to dishes.||Use an equal amount as Thai basil|
|Holy Basil||Also known as tulsi, it has a strong and peppery flavor with hints of clove and anise.||Use an equal amount as Thai basil|
|Cinnamon Basil||Has a spicy and warm flavor reminiscent of cinnamon. It adds a unique twist to recipes.||Use an equal amount as Thai basil|
Now let’s explore each substitute in more detail:
1 – Sweet Basil
Also known as Italian basil, sweet basil is the most widely available type of basil in the United States.
Its flavor is described as being sweeter and more aromatic than other types of basil.
Sweet basil has a mild yet still slightly spicy taste, while Thai basil is considered to be much spicier in comparison.
Sweet basil leaves are usually longer and pointier than Thai basil leaves and they have a more pungent smell.
This makes them ideal for cooking dishes like pizza, pesto, pasta, spaghetti sauces and tomato salads.
However, when compared to Thai basil’s stronger flavor profile and higher oil content—which results in a number of health benefits—sweet basil can pale in comparison.
2 – Lemon Basil
Lemon basil is a variety of basil native to tropical Africa and India.
It is easily identified by its thin, pointed leaves that have a highly fragrant aroma of lemon.
Lemon basil can be substituted for Thai basil in cooking because they both have similar flavor profiles and can be used interchangeably in savory dishes.
The flavor of the lemon basil will be subtler than that of Thai basil, but it will still impart the same citrus-herb taste.
When substituting for Thai basil in recipes, use about one-third to one-half lesser amount than what the recipe calls for – because its flavor is milder, you’ll need less to get the same great flavor as Thai basil.
3 – Holy Basil
Holy basil, also known as tulsi basil, is a type of basil that is common in Southeast Asian cuisine.
It’s a different strain from Thai basil, with a slightly different flavor profile.
Holy basil has notes of licorice and clove, along with the signature warm spiciness of regular basil.
You can use it instead of Thai basil if you don’t have any on hand.
Holy basil adds especially nice flavor to curries, tomato sauces, and noodle dishes.
Like other types of basils, holy basil also makes an excellent garnish for dishes such as salads or soups if shaved into paper-thin slices.
You should be able to find fresh holy basil in Southeast Asian grocery stores or organic food markets.
4 – Cinnamon Basil
Though it is not easy to find, cinnamon basil is one of the best substitutes for Thai basil.
It does have a hint of cinnamon in its taste, which would make it a great addition to spice up the dish.
The leaves are usually smaller than Thai basil, however; they have a vibrant and bright flavor that will add an interesting aura to recipes.
As long as you use it in dishes that include either spicy or sweet flavors, this type of basil can be equally as good as using Thai basil.
A little goes a long way with cinnamon basil as its intense flavor can be overwhelming when used in large quantities.
When looking for a Thai basil substitute, it’s important to take into account both the flavor and the visual impact of the dish.
Luckily, there are a variety of herbs with which you can replace Thai basil, depending on what type of cuisine you are cooking.
From Italian oregano and Mexican marjoram to Indian holy basil and Vietnamese coriander, there is a flavor substitute out there for almost any recipe.
Whether you’re in need of something with a peppery kick or something with more subtle citrus tones, these four Thai basil substitutes can help enhance your Asian-style dishes without sacrificing any authenticity.
The key is to experiment and find out which one works best for the dish you’re preparing — after all, that’s half the fun (and flavor) of cooking.