Genovese Basil: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

What is Genovese Basil?

Genovese basil is a cultivar of sweet basil, which is believed to have come from India and is also native to parts of Asia and Africa. Basil was brought to the Liguria region by the Ancient Romans, who believed that it was a healing herb. The Romans made a forerunner of pesto — the famous Genovese basil sauce — called moretum that they used as a spread and which consisted of olive oil, cheese, and herbs. The modern pesto made with Genovese basil was introduced in Genoa in the early 1800s.

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Starting in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, greenhouses began to be constructed in Genoa — the capital of Liguria — for the cultivation of basil. The city’s microclimate and nearby sources of water made it ideal for growing basil year-round. The city’s environment is believed to be among the factors that make Genovese basil’s flavor profile unique.

In 2005, the European Union granted Genovese basil a Protected Designation of Origin. The designation is a recognition that a particular area produces food that is unique because of the location. The herb has become the symbol of the whole region of Liguria.

Today, the highest quality Genovese basil is said to come from the western parts of Genoa and the Prà area in particular. The terraced hills on which Genovese basil is grown are a part of the cityscape. Genovese basil continues to be popular around the world with the United States being the biggest export market.

Genovese basil flavor profile

Genovese basil has similar mint and citrus notes to the other basil varieties, but it has its own twist on the basil flavor. Along with the flavor and scent common to all the cultivars, Genovese basil also has a hint of clove with a subtle peppery quality.

Health benefits

While not exactly a nutritional powerhouse, Genovese basil does provide some important compounds that can be beneficial for health, they include:

  • Antioxidants: Genovese basil contains a range of antioxidant compounds, including anthocyanins and beta carotene. The compounds limonene and eugenol are also found in high concentrations in Genovese basil, and both have antioxidant properties.
  • Vitamins: While the typical serving size of Genovese basil is small, you can still get a moderate amount of vitamins A and K from it.
  • Minerals: Genovese basil provides a small amount of calcium, iron, and manganese per serving.

If you have Genovese basil in your diet, you may be able to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Inflammation: The antioxidants in Genovese basil are useful for fighting the oxidative stress that causes inflammation, which contributes to serious diseases.
  • High blood pressure: The eugenol in Genovese basil may help to reduce high blood pressure.
  • Diabetes: Studies have shown that basil can reduce high blood sugar, which means that it may be beneficial for preventing type 2 diabetes. A part of this benefit may stem from the herb’s ability to lower blood pressure; high blood pressure is one of the contributing factors to diabetes.

Common uses

Genovese basil is best known for its use in pesto alla Genovese, the traditional sauce from Genoa. Genovese basil is also used in pasta sauces and salads, as well as on pizza. Use Genovese basil in its fresh or dried form in tomato dishes. If you are using the fresh herb, add it toward the end of cooking, since Genovese won’t stand up well to a long cooking time.