Genovese Basil Vs. Sweet Basil: SPICEography Showdown

Genovese basil and sweet basil both belong to the Lamiaceae family, which is the mint family to which multiple culinary herbs belong. Varieties of the basil herb are grown all over the world including in Asia, Africa, and Europe with Genovese and sweet basil among the most common. How closely related are Genovese basil and sweet basil? What are their different properties, if any? Let’s answer these questions by exploring Genovese and sweet basil in this SPICEography Showdown.

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How does Genovese basil differ from sweet basil?

Genovese basil and sweet basil originated in different places. Genovese basil is a variety of sweet basil first cultivated in the city of Genoa in Italy. Sweet basil originated in India and has been cultivated all over the world for millennia.

Genovese basil and sweet basil are different plants, but how different depends on who you ask. Many experts consider them the same and use the names interchangeably. Technically, Genovese basil is one of the many cultivars of sweet basil, which means that all Genovese basil is sweet basil but not all Sweet basil is Genovese basil.

Genovese basil has a different appearance from that of sweet basil, but it’s subtle. Genovese basil has relatively flat leaves that are larger and flatter compared to sweet basil leaves. Sweet basil leaves are rounded over to form a dome. Sweet basil leaves are paler than those of Genovese basil and are not as shiny.

Genovese basil and sweet basil differ slightly in their flavor profiles. While both have the same distinctive minty quality found in all basil, Genovese basil has more of a clove note while sweet basil has a slight anise note.

Genovese basil and sweet basil differ in terms of their availability. In many places, Genovese basil is not as common as sweet basil. Sweet basil is the most common basil variety, especially when it comes to the dried herb — dried Genovese basil is hard to find, but dried sweet basil is fairly common.

Can you use Genovese basil as a substitute for sweet basil? And vice versa?

Genovese basil can replace sweet basil easily; in fact, it is probably the best available substitute for sweet basil. The flavor notes are similar enough that most people won’t be able to tell that a switch has been made in most cooked applications. The slight difference in appearance won’t usually make a difference.

Sweet basil will also make a good substitute for Genovese basil, and won’t be noticeable to all but the most refined palates. The dried versions of each herb are perfectly interchangeable.

How should you use Genovese basil? And how should you use sweet basil?

Genovese basil is generally associated with pesto. It is the main basil variety used in traditional pesto. Genovese basil is also recommended for other Italian preparations like pasta and pizza sauces. Genovese basil is best when eaten raw or cooked as little as possible; add fresh Genovese basil to a dish right before serving it.

Sweet basil is suitable for all of the above preparations, but it is perhaps not as ideal as its Genovese relative. You can use sweet basil as the green in salads and as a topping on Margherita pizzas. Like Genovese basil, you should use Sweet basil in its fresh, uncooked state; however, dried sweet basil will still add flavor to your food.