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Basil


Basil

Varieties

Plants in the mint family have a square stem, readily identifiable if you roll the stem between your first finger and the flat of your thumb.

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Storage

Fresh basil should be eaten quickly, within 2 days of receiving eat. If you have to store it, do not put it in the refrigerator. However, it may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Alternatively, you can freeze the basil in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

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Origins and Culture

A distinguished and exotic member of the mint family, basil is most likely native to India, but there are some indications it may have originated even farther east. Ancient records from 907 A.D. indicate sweet basil in the Hunan region of China. It migrated westward as whole plants, since it could be grown easily indoors away from frost exposure.
Originally, the word basil comes from a Greek word meaning king. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine." The Romans, however, associated the plant with a cure against the terrifying basilisk, a half-lizard, half-dragon creature with a fatal piercing stare, according to mythology. Among Romans, the basil plant could cure a victim of the look, breath or even the bite of the basilisk, when a basil leaf was medicinally applied. Although this story moved into the realm of fable, basil was still considered a medicinal cure for venomous bites, a cure, incidentally, which has been validated by modern science. In keeping with its hostile status, later Romans believed the most potent basil could only be grown if one sowed the seed while ranting and swearing. This custom is mirrored in France where semer le baslic (sowing basil) means to rant. Oddly enough, as time went on, basil came to signify love in Italy, so that leaving a potted basil plant on the balcony meant the bachelor of the house was in love. As if to capture the complexity, both the complexity of taste and emotional association, basil's symbolism in the Victorian language of flowers signified both hatred and best wishes.

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Nutritional and Medicinal Properties

Basil is a very good source of iron, calcium and vitamin A. In addition, basil is a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium.

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Basic Cooking Instructions

Basil is most commonly used fresh. In cooked recipes, it is generally added at the last moment, so the flavourful, volatile oils of the plant are not dissipated by the heat. The leaves are the prime part of the plant. Small stems are okay, but thicker stems and stalks should be discarded as they tend to be bitter. The stems and large veins also contain compounds that will cause pesto to turn brown and dark.
Sweet basil has a mellow, almost sweet, peppery flavor. Most other herbs tend to overpower basil's flavor and aroma, but oregano is one that is most often used in conjunction with basil. Other good combinations include summer savory, rosemary and sage. Don't be tempted to rinse basil until just before you need to use it.
Fresh basil is the perfect candidate for freezing, either whole or chopped. Blanch whole leaves for two seconds, plunge into ice water, pat dry and place in airtight bags in the freezer. Flavor will be stronger if you don't thaw before using. Another option is to put whole or chopped fresh leaves in an ice cube tray and cover with water or broth before freezing. Once frozen, pop the cubes out into an airtight bag. Use the cubes in soups, stews or sauces.

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