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Basil (Ocimum basilicum) of the Family Lamiaceae is also known as Albahaca, St. Joseph's Wort, and Sweet Basil. It is a tender low-growing annual herb, originally native to tropical Asia. It grows to between twenty and sixty centimetres tall, with opposite, light green, silky leaves 1.5-5 cm long and 1 3 cm broad. It tastes somewhat like cloves, with a strong, pungent, sweet smell. Basil is very sensitive to cold, with best growth in hot, dry conditions.
The word basil comes from the Greek , meaning king . The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine". Basil is still considered the "king of herbs" by many cookery authors.
Basil is most commonly used fresh, and in cooked recipes, is generally added at the last moment, as cooking destroys the flavour quickly. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. Place fresh leaves in a dry jar with a pinch of salt, and cover with olive oil. The dried herb also loses most of its flavour, and what little flavour remains tastes very different, with a weak coumarin flavour, like hay.
Mediterranean cuisines frequently use basil, especially combined with tomato. Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto an Italian sauce from the city of Genoa. The most commonly used Mediterranean basil cultivars are 'Genovese', 'Purple Ruffles', 'Mammoth', 'Cinnamon', 'Lemon', 'Globe', and 'African Blue'.
Basil is sometimes used with fresh fruit and in fruit jams and sauces in particular with strawberries, but also raspberries or dark-colored plums. Arguably the flat-leaf basil used in Vietnamese cooking, which has a slightly different flavour, is more suitable for use with fruit.
When soaked in water the seeds of several basil varieties become gelatinous, and are used in Asian drinks and desserts.
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