Basil is a popular herb that is commonly used in many cuisines around the world. It has a distinct flavor that pairs well with a variety of foods and drinks. When used in beverages, basil can add a refreshing, herbal taste. The flavor of basil can vary slightly depending on the type, but generally it tastes earthy, sweet, and lightly minty or licorice-like.
What are the main flavors and aromas of basil?
The main flavors and aromas of basil that impact taste include:
- Citrus notes such as lemon or lime
- Spicy or clove-like
The earthy, sweet flavor tends to be most prominent. The minty and licorice notes add an extra layer of interest. Depending on the specific type or cultivar, basil may also have undertones of pepper, citrus, or spice.
How does basil taste different in drinks compared to food?
When used in beverages, the taste of basil comes across a bit differently than when used in cooking:
- More potent aroma – The smell of the basil is more noticeable when consumed in liquid form.
- Milder flavor – The flavor of the basil is more subtle and blends more evenly throughout the drink.
- Minty note stands out – The minty/licorice flavor tends to be more pronounced versus the earthy, herbal taste.
- Sweetness balances acidity – Basil’s sweetness helps mellow out acidic drinks like lemonade or citrus juices.
Overall, basil makes drinks taste fresher and brighter. The aroma comes through, but the flavor integrates more subtly into the overall beverage profile versus how it would taste sprinkled on top of pasta or pizza, for example.
What drinks pair well with basil?
Here are some examples of beverages that complement the taste of basil:
Lemonade or Limeade
The citrus flavors pair perfectly with the sweet earthiness of basil. The basil balances out the acidity. You can muddle basil leaves into basic lemonade or limeade for an herbaceous twist.
For black, green, or herbal iced tea, toss in some torn basil leaves to infuse the tea with refreshing flavor. The minty notes in basil are a great match for many types of tea.
Try adding some minced basil to juices like orange, grapefruit, apple, or cranberry juice. It can help brighten up the flavor and add complexity.
Mojitos or other cocktails
In cocktails like mojitos or vodka lemonade, muddled basil adds a perfect pop of flavor. The aroma and taste complement many types of liquor.
For refreshing infused waters, add sliced basil leaves, which will subtly impart flavor without overpowering the water.
In fruit or vegetable smoothies, basil can provide an unexpected flavor twist. It works especially well in berry-based smoothies.
Tomato juice or vegetable juices
The herbal quality of basil helps freshen up vegetable juices like tomato, carrot, or green juices. Add some torn leaves while blending for a tasty addition.
What types of basil work best in drinks?
Sweet basil varieties tend to work best in drinks. Recommended types include:
- Genovese – This classic sweet basil has a balanced, aromatic flavor.
- Lemon basil – With a slight lemon/citrus taste, this pairs well with fruit drinks.
- Cinnamon basil – Has a spicy aroma and flavor that can add interest to beverages.
- Thai basil – With licorice/anise notes, this basil varietal tastes great with lime drinks or cocktails.
The flavors of purple basil varieties like red rubin or osmin purple are not as suitable for drinks. Stick with traditional green sweet basil types for the best taste.
Should basil be fresh or dried for drinks?
For most beverages, it’s best to use fresh basil leaves rather than dried basil. Here’s why fresh basil works better:
- Brighter, more vibrant aroma – Fresh basil has a more potent, nuanced smell.
- More balanced flavor – Dried basil can taste overly potent, bitter, or licorice-heavy.
- Better texture – Fresh leaves or torn bits of basil add visual and textural appeal.
- Longer shelf life – Drinks made with dried basil need to be consumed quicker before the flavor fades.
The exception would be for hot coffee or tea, where dried basil works well and adds convenience. But for juices, lemonades, cocktails, etc., always opt for fresh basil.
What’s the best way to prepare basil for drinks?
Here are some tips for prepping basil to enhance its flavor contribution to beverages:
- Wash and pat dry fresh basil leaves thoroughly to remove grit or dirt.
- Remove leaves from tougher stems which can be bitter.
- Stack leaves and roll tightly, then slice thinly into ribbons or chiffonade.
- For a subtle flavor, use whole leaves.
- For more flavor infusion, mince or tear leaves into small bits.
- Lightly muddle leaves or bruise them to release oils and aroma before steeping in a drink.
- Add basil at the end of mixing drinks to preserve the flavor.
Taking these steps helps coax out the best and brightest basil taste in drinks.
How much basil should you add to drinks?
The amount of basil to add depends on the type of drink, but here are some general guidelines for proportions:
- Citrus juice or lemonade: 3-5 fresh basil leaves per 8 oz serving
- Iced tea or infused water: 5-7 fresh basil leaves per 8-12 oz serving
- Cocktails: 5-10 fresh basil leaves for a single drink
- Smoothies: 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves per 2-3 servings
Start with less basil and add more if needed to prevent overpowering other ingredients. Taste test as you add more leaves to find the right basil-to-drink ratio.
What does too much basil taste like in drinks?
While basil offers great flavor to beverages, too much can make drinks taste:
- Overly earthy or bitter
- Strongly licorice-flavored
- Minty in an unpleasant, medicinal way
- Sour or harsh, especially in citrus drinks
- Like the basil is masking all other flavors
Using a heavy hand with basil or not balancing it out properly can make drinks seem unpalatably strong. Start with small amounts and adjust upward for best results.
Does blending or muddling change basil’s flavor?
Yes, the way basil is incorporated into a drink can alter its flavor contribution. Here’s how:
- Muddling: Lightly crushing brings out basil’s aromas and oils for a more intense taste.
- Blending: Evenly distributes basil flavor but can make it taste muted or earthy if over-processed.
- Steeping: Infuses a brighter, more gentle basil flavor if leaves are left intact.
- Shaking: Also diffuses basil’s flavor evenly while maintaining vibrancy.
For the freshest, brightest basil taste, avoid over-blending and instead muddle, steep, or shake in drinks. This prevents the grassy flavors from becoming too dominant.
Should you use basil stems in drinks?
Most recipes advise using just the basil leaves rather than the stems when adding to drinks. Here’s why the stems are typically avoided:
- The stems can have a bitter, woody taste compared to the sweeter leaves.
- Stems add a stringy texture that is unappealing in beverages.
- Any dirt or grit on the stems can transfer to the drink.
- The stems dilute the flavorful oils and aromas of the leaves.
However, very tender and thin stems attached to smaller leaves can be acceptable to include. But avoid the thicker main stems for the best flavor and texture in drinks.
What drinks pair basil with other than citrus?
While basil and citrus are classic partners, basil also pairs nicely with other ingredients:
- Berries – For smoothies or infused water, basil complements strawberries, raspberries, blueberries.
- Melons – The earthy basil taste balances out sweet melons like honeydew or watermelon.
- Cucumbers – In infused spa water, basil and cucumber are refreshing together.
- Tomatoes – For virgin Bloody Mary’s or gazpacho, basil boosts the tomato flavors.
- Pineapple – With tropical drinks, basil adds an interesting contrast to pineapple.
- Grapefruit – The slight bitterness of grapefruit is mellowed out by sweet basil.
Basil is versatile enough to enhance many non-citrus fruits, vegetables, and flavors in drinks.
Should you use basil in alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks?
Basil can taste delicious in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Here are some ways it works well with each:
- Alcoholic drinks – Muddled basil brightens up cocktails. Pairs well with vodka, gin, rum, tequila.
- Non-alcoholic drinks – Infuses flavor into teas, juices, lemonades. Allows basil flavor to shine without competing liquors.
For cocktails, basil is great paired with citrus-flavored liquors. For the alcohol-free options, it can provide a unique flavor twist. Either way, basil adds intrigue.
Adding basil to drinks provides an aromatic, earthy flavor that also has pleasant minty and licorice notes. It helps balance sweet and citrus flavors. Basil tastes best fresh rather than dried for drinks. Using torn leaves or lightly muddling brings out basil’s essence. Start with small amounts of 3-10 leaves per serving. Basil complements citrus beautifully but also pairs well with many other fruits, vegetables, teas, juices, and liquors. Use fresh sweet basil judiciously to enhance all kinds of beverages with its flavor and fragrance.