Thai basil is native to Southeast Asia, but is believed to have originated in India; however, some experts believe that it may actually have originally come from Iran. It has been cultivated on the subcontinent for approximately 5,000 years. One relative of Thai basil is called tulasi in India and is considered a sacred plant. Tulasi holds an esteemed place in Ayurvedic medicine.
Like the Mediterranean variety, Thai basil is a member of the mint family.
Flavor profile of Thai basil
It should be noted that there are three types of basil commonly used in Thai cooking. They are:
- Holy Thai basil: The Thai people call this type of basil kra phao. Holy Thai basil’s flavor is often described as being spicy or peppery and similar to cloves. In addition, there are complementary notes of cinnamon.
- Horapa or horapha: This is another commonly used cultivar and is the one with which diners in the west are most familiar. It has the same anise and licorice notes found in the Mediterranean variety, but they are much stronger.
- Maenglak or manglak: This is cultivar is also called lemon basil and has a lemon scent and flavor. It too is a popular herb in Thai cuisine.
It should be noted that Thai basil is able to withstand longer cooking times better than the Mediterranean variety.
Health benefits of Thai basil
Thai basil is a rich source of many important nutrients, including:
- Vitamins: Just like its Mediterranean counterpart, Thai basil is a rich source of this vitamin A. This vitamin is needed for eye health and for maintaining healthy skin. In addition, foods with this vitamin are known to help protect the body from cancers of the lung and mouth. Thai basil has high levels of vitamin K, which the body uses for producing blood clotting factors and increasing bone strength.
- Minerals: Both the Mediterranean and Thai varieties of basil contain an abundance or iron, which the body needs to make hemoglobin. Basil is also known to contain other minerals like potassium, manganese and magnesium.
- Essential Oils: Thai basil, along with other varieties of the herb contain essential oils including eugenol and limonene. These oils are antioxidants with antimicrobial properties.
The various health compounds in Thai basil enable it to prevent or treat conditions such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis: The essential oils in Thai basil allow it to be effective for fighting inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis.
- Cancer: That basil has been shown to help prevent cancer by increasing antioxidant activity. Its cancer-fighting abilities extend to inducing the death of cancer cells.
- Bacterial infections: The essential oils in Thai basil also protect against bacterial growth, including strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
Common uses of Thai basil
Thai basil is most commonly used in Thai cuisine. It is used in a large number of Thai soups, curries and stir-fries.
Thai basil also shows up a lot in Vietnamese cuisine. Pho is a popular Vietnamese dish that features this herb. It is considered an essential ingredient for the dish and is used to make its flavors richer. Thai basil is seen as being even more important for a good pho than cilantro.