The fresh, powerful, almost anise-like flavor of basil is what makes it stand out as one of the most popular herbs. It has a particularly famous place in Mediterranean cooking, as well as being unlikely partners with fruits such as strawberries and mango.
However, with fresh basil comes the tricky situation of trying to keep it fresh for as long as possible. The wrong storage conditions will cause it to wilt, go bad, and lose its delicious taste. So, how is the best way to store basil?
There are actually a few different ways you can store this wonderful herb. From keeping it at peak-freshness to giving it a super long shelf life, each of these is ideal for anybody looking for a way to keep a supply of basil available at all times!
Keep It Alive!
Whether you’ve grown your own or have purchased a living-pot from your grocery store, the best way to store basil for ultimate freshness is to simply keep it alive! This is easy too. All you need to do is place it on a windowsill that gets a lot of sunlight and give it an occasional drink of water to keep it happy.
You do need to harvest the leaves regularly though, otherwise, your basil plant might try and set seed. Once it’s done this, the leaves will turn bitter and the entire plant will begin to die back.
To prevent this from happening, pinch out the leaf-bearing stems about half way down, making sure that you’re severing it at a point where leaves are already growing. This will shock the plant into growing and, ultimately, producing more delicious fresh basil to eat!
Another way to store basil is by drying the leaves. This also makes it last a really long time and gives it a stronger flavor, meaning that a little will go a long way when you add it to your recipes.
To dry basil, begin by cutting all of the stems from the plant right at the base. Once that’s done, follow these steps:
- Take a piece of string and tie it around the basil to form a bunch.
- Punch some holes into a paper bag and place the bunched-together stems inside.
- Hang the bag upside down in a warm room with low lighting.
- Check the bag every couple of days. As the basil dries, the leaves will fall to the bottom of the bag. This is your dried basil!
It’s worth noting that cutting your basil all the way down to the soil will kill the plant, so only dry your leaves if you’re 100% certain that you don’t want the plant to grow back.
Basil is also available to purchase ready-bunched from grocery stores. But, as with most pre-bunched herbs, you probably won’t need to use the whole lot in one go. So, how do you keep these fresh?
Your refrigerator is your best friend here. Freshly cut basil can last up to two weeks when stored properly in the refrigerator. There are a couple of ways to do it too, the first of which you’ll need a freezer bag and some paper towels for. Here’s how to do it:
- Begin by giving your basil a quick wash underneath a running faucet. This will remove any tiny pests that might be living on it.
- Once that’s done, sandwich the basil between two clean dishcloths and gently press down to remove as much excess water as possible.
- Next, take a dry piece of paper towel and wrap the basil inside, leaving nothing exposed.
- Take your paper towel parcel and place it inside the freezer bag. Then pop it in the refrigerator.
If you’d prefer an even lower-maintenance way of storing your basil, the other option available to you is to simply place your basil into a plastic container. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, an inherited container that you got when you last ordered food in will be fine. Just make sure it’s airtight and you’re good to go!
We’ve mentioned before how drying your basil leaves will give it a super long life, but some recipes call for fresh basil rather than dry. So, if you’d like to get the same sort of extended lifespan from your basil as drying would give it, but would prefer to have fresh leaves, freezing may be the best choice.
This is where things can become a little tricky, though. Basil is a Mediterranean herb that loves being bathed in hot sunshine. In nature, even the slightest touch of frost will kill it off. So, just how are you supposed to freeze basil?
Luckily, there are a couple of avenues you can explore here. The first of these is known as ‘blanching’. This involves cooking your basil for a very short time before freezing it. This is how to do it:
- Pick your basil leaves and set them to one side.
- Bring a large pan of water to a boil.
- Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice.
- Once the water is boiling carefully add the basil to it.
- Allow them to bubble away for just 15 seconds, then quickly remove them from the boiling water. A slotted ladle or a colander is the best tool for this.
- As soon as the basil is out of the water, plunge them into the icy bowl of water. This immediately halts the cooking process.
- Leave them for a few minutes, then remove and pat dry.
- Place the basil leaves into a freezer bag, label it, and pop it in the deep freeze.
When you’re ready to use some basil, simply remove as many leaves as you need from the freezer bag and allow them to thaw at room temperature.
While this is a super-effective way to freeze basil, it is a little time-consuming. You’ll also need to make sure the boiling water and icy water have your full attention at all times. So, if you’re looking for a slightly easier way to freeze fresh basil, you might want to try this method:
- Wash your basil leaves and then add them to the bowl of a food processor.
- Add a drop of olive oil (just enough to coat the leaves) and blitz them until they are coarsely chopped.
- Take a couple of ice cube trays and scoop the mixture into each reservoir.
- Put the ice cube trays into a freezer bag, and place them in the freezer.
This is a much easier method, but it does take away the ability to accurately measure how much fresh basil you’re using. Generally speaking, however, one cube of frozen basil will equate to two tablespoons of freshly chopped basil.
So, there you have it! A whole host of ways to store basil and keep it fresher for longer. Some of these methods will even extend the life of fresh basil for months, giving you the opportunity to use it whenever you like!