Fresh basil and dried basil are two forms of the same herb but that does not mean that you can use both of them in the same ways. Making the right decisions with these herbs requires that you know how each of them works. If you are trying to decide between them or are just trying to educate yourself on culinary herbs, read the SPICEography Showdown below.
What is the difference between dried basil and fresh basil?
The big difference between dried and fresh basil is flavor. While it may seem counterintuitive, dried basil is actually more flavorful than fresh basil.
Think about it this way: dried basil’s flavors have been concentrated, whereas the water content of fresh basil dilutes its flavor somewhat. What you should note is that while dried basil offers more flavor, you won’t get the same flavor you would get from fresh basil.
Dried basil’s flavor profile is mintier and without as much of the anise note that is one of fresh basil’s most distinctive characteristics. The differences in flavor and aroma are because some volatile oils get lost during the drying process.
As you might expect, the texture of each form of basil is also different. Dried basil is brittle and crumbly like most dried herbs, while fresh basil leaves have a similar texture to spinach and other fresh herbs. Note also that dried basil is a dull green color while fresh basil is a vibrant green.
Can you use dried basil in place of fresh basil and vice versa?
You can use dried basil as a substitute for fresh basil in most cooked applications, but not for the uncooked ones. Before you think about switching these two up, remember the differences in texture. Dried basil will not be a great substitute in applications where the texture or appearance of fresh basil is important.
In addition, you will need to use dried basil differently when you use it in a cooked dish — you add it earlier in the cooking process than you would fresh.
Alternatively, you will find that fresh basil works well as a dried basil alternative in most applications. If you plan to use fresh basil as a substitute for dried basil, remember that it has a shorter cooking time.
When should you use dried basil and when should you use fresh basil?
Use dried basil in preparations that have moderate to extensive cooking times. The more time it spends cooking, the more flavor it adds. Dried basil is the preferred form of the herb for pasta sauces and other traditional preparations. These are dishes that cook for many hours.
Use fresh basil in salads, pestos and other raw preparations where its bright flavor and brilliant color will be complementary to the other ingredients. Since fresh basil is more versatile than dried, you can use it in cooked food as well, but it works best when you can add it at the end of cooking. For brighter flavors, consider waiting five minutes before you remove the food from the heat to toss it in. It is excellent in stir-fried dishes that cook quickly.