Basil and mint are both versatile herbs that belong to the Lamiaceae family. Basil is widely used in Mediterranean dishes while mint is more popular in the Middle East and parts of Asia. These two herbs share certain qualities, but also have very definite differences. In this SPICEography Showdown, we will compare mint and basil to highlight their differences and similarities.
How do basil and mint differ in flavor?
Of the many varieties of basil, sweet basil is the most popular one for western cooking. This is the Mediterranean version of the herb and is also called Genovese basil. Its complex, sweet aroma contains notes of anise and clove with a mild peppery flavor that is easier to detect when the herb is used fresh.
Drying changes the flavor of basil since the herb loses much of its volatile oil content in the process of being dried. Dried basil has a more noticeable camphor flavor unlike the fresh herb; however, its brightness and complexity are severely muted.
As with basil, there are many different varieties of mint. Spearmint is one of the most popular mint varieties and has an aroma that can be described as being both sweet and herbal. That aroma is accompanied by a strong menthol flavor and a cooling sensation in the mouth.
Much like basil, drying mutes the brightness of fresh mint and leaves a flavor that is more muddled but still recognizable.
Can basil be used in place of mint and vice versa?
Both basil and mint are members of the same family, which means that they do share certain properties. Basil can be used as a mint substitute in all of its savory applications and can do just as good a job at flavoring vegetables. It is also sweet enough to be useful in some dessert applications.
Mint can also be used in some dishes that call for basil. For example, it can do a good job of replacing basil in a pesto; however, its sweetness may make it an unsuitable basil alternative in a traditional marinara sauce.
Do mint and basil provide the same or similar nutritional benefits?
Both spearmint and basil are very good sources of vitamin A with basil providing 175 percent of your daily recommended intake per 100 g serving and mint providing 135 percent. Both herbs are rich in minerals including calcium. A 100 g serving of basil provides 18 percent of your daily calcium requirement while the same amount of spearmint provides 20 percent.
What are the best uses for basil and for mint?
While there are several dessert and beverage recipes that incorporate basil, the herb is used mostly in savory dishes. It is best known for its role in flavoring pasta sauces where both the fresh and dried herb may be used, and for its use in pestos. Fresh basil may also be used in salads and is a great topping for pizza.
Mint has both savory and dessert uses with the latter being the most popular. Mint pairs well with a range of vegetables including potatoes, peas and carrots. Fresh mint leaves can be added to salads and in the Middle East is used as a flavoring for grilled meats and for rice. In desserts, fresh mint is often combined with fruits or used to make sherbets.