Are Thai and Holy Basil The Same? Taste, Aspect and Culinary Use!

Holy basil picture
Holy basil – Photo From Forest and Kim Far in Flickr

Probably you are a more experienced indoor gardener by now and after a few successes with your Genovese basil (difference between thai and normal basil), you were thinking of growing a different variety of basil. Or perhaps you are in the supermarket and wondering if Thai basil is the same as holy basil and how you can use them in your dish?

Thai basil is different from holy basil as it belongs to a different basil species. Holy basil has a peppery taste, missing in Thai basil that has a sweet/anise flavor. Thai basil is common in chicken dishes and better tolerates high temperature in cooking. Thai basil leaves are longer and shape like leaves and purple stems compared to the green holy basil.

If you want to know more about such differences and how to spot Thai basil from Holy basil you might want to keep reading!

Holy Basil vs Thai basil Infographic Leaves
Holy vs Sweet vs Genovese Basil Differences Infographic

Thai Basil and Holy Basil: Differences

Holy basil belongs to the Ocimum tenuiflorum species while Thai basil belongs to the Ocimum basilicum.

Holy basil vs Thai Basil Leaves Shape
Leaves differences: Holy basil (left) vs Thai basil (right) – Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

However, for the majority of us, these are just two unpronounceable names. So, let’s dive into the practical differences between:

  • Thai basil presents purple stems that get more intense in color while it ages while holy basil has only green and hairy stems;
  • Thai basil has smaller, spare-shape (a bit like mint), and sturdier leaves than holy basil whose leaves are larger and oval;
  • Thai basil leaves are also of a greener and shinier color (like they were coated with some kind of reflective layer);
  • Thai basil can have both purple and green ones (depending on the variety) while holy basil has only green leaves;
  • Thai basil leaves have a smooth margin while holy basil ones have a toothed one; and
  • Thai basil has a strong licorice sweet taste while holy basil presents a pepper flavor with a note of clove.
Holy basil vs Thai Basil Stem Color
Stem differences: Holy basil (left) vs Thai basil (right) – Photo by Forest & Kim Starr
Thai basil vs Holy basil full infographic differences
Infographics with the main difference among thai and holy basil
Icons from by CC 3.0 by. freepik iphoto3idea_studio and twitter from Flaticon

Can I Replace Thai basil with Holy Basil in my recipes?

I would not recommend swapping Thai basil with Holy basil for your recipes given their different flavor.

As the name suggests Thai basil is often used in east Asia and especially to prepare Thai dishes. Indeed, unlike the most common “Genovese” (or the Mediterranean) version, this specie of basil is more suitable for cooking and withstand high temperatures.

Thai basil releases its flavor better when cooked and does not get wilt/floppy as easily as the Genovese basil making the ideal in soups for instance. Thai basil is used in a large variety of dishes but mainly as a garnish of chicken/beef curry, in warm soups (where it can slowly release its flavor) and chicken salads.

On the other side, the Holy basil has a strong spicy flavor  (even stronger than the Genovese type), not sweet as the Thai basil, and it is mainly used to add a herb-peppery flavor to your dish. Think for instance of the large variety of stir-fry dishes and the famous Thailand dish called Pad Kee Mao (also known as drunken noodles).

Thai Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao)

Similarly to Thai basil, also the Holy basil is able to withstand high cooking temperature releasing its flavor when warmed up (opposite to the Genovese basil that is consumed almost raw in the majority of the recipes is required).

Thai Basil and Holy basil can be used in a variety of recipes, however I do personally prefer the Thai basil as gives that licorice taste that allows creating some “extravagant” tasting plate (at least if you are European like me, where dishes are more commonly on the salty/pepper side, and less with a sweet twist).

On the other hand, although it tastes great, Holy basil, as similar to pepper and clove, can be relatively easily replaced and does not present such a unique taste to me.

However, a point in favor of Holy basil is its famous health benefits such as help fighting bronchitis, stomach issues, reduce stress, reduce blood sugar, etc… Countless are the remedies that you can find online. 

What I usually do is a simply Holy basil tea. I fill a glass of hot water and put in 3-4 leaves of Thai basil. After 5 minutes or so I remove them and I enjoy such homemade tea with all the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that this herb is known to provide.

Indeed, Holy basil is so widely recognized for such benefits that some companies even produce capsule of “pure” holy basil that you can find in pharmacies as well as on the web. However, personally speaking, I avoid them and prefer more natural tea using fresh leaves in order to limit using processed food.

Ornamental Plant: Thai Basil or Holy Basil?

Suppose that you are not interested in the culinary aspect of the plant but you are evaluating which one might look better in your living room (remember to place it in front of a big window though).

In this case, I would go for Thai Basil. Indeed, its purple stems and leaves make this a pretty decorative herb for indoors. Its flowers are also pink-purple creating a great colorful addition to your living room.

Thai basil is a pretty ornamental plant as well – Photo by Summer Days 333 in Flickr

Holy basil, on the other hand, shows milder colors with green leaves (lighter than the Thai basil ones) and with light pink flavors. However, you like mild colors in your house you should go for Thai basil.
Moreover, given the sweet aroma that Thai basil release (similar in a sense to Genovese basil), for me, is a plus for indoor application.

Easy to Grow: Thai Basil or Holy Basil?

Both plants are not typically found in the supermarket (at least in the UK) differently from the most famous Genovese variety. However, you can easily find both of their seeds in Amazon (thousand for a few dollars/pound).

Where to find Thai Basil? The Seeds Needs brand is quite good, to be honest, and just for a few dollars it is really worth the price. Have a look on Amazon here to check also what the others say.

Hence, in terms of availability (and price) of the plant, I did not find any significant difference.

Regarding growing the plant it should be noted that Thai basil was found to require slightly more attention than Holy basil. Indeed, Thai basil is more demanding in terms of soil and light requirements than Holy basil. For instance, for Thai basil, the soil should be constantly moist (but not soaked), with a slightly low pH (acidic, hence you can use your coffee grounds in this case), well-aerated, rich in organic matter (you need to use fertilizer, either natural or bought from shops).

Moreover, you should be able to provide a constant ambient temperature of 21C (if your house is not warm enough, you might need some mat for the soil). Moreover, Thai basil bolts quickly if you do not prune its flower regularly.

In the case of Holy basil, it can grow (although slower) even with as low as 5 hours of direct sunlight a day and grow well in a neutral (pH=7) soil even if not rich in organic matter as the Thai basil one requires (hence it can strive also with less fertilizer).

Who Lasts the Most? Thai Basil or Holy Basil

Assuming that you want your little green companion around for as long as possible to have the most generous leaves harvest it is important to know how long such basil types are likely to last indoors. Both Thai and Holy basil, differently from the Genovese variety (photo guide of Genovese Basil vs Thai Basil) and they can last way longer. Indeed they are classified as a tender perennial

This means that the plant can last more than a year.  However, as the “tender” name suggests, these plants are very sensitive to low temperature. Indeed, in not tropical area, if grown outdoors, are annual de facto (they last only one season and die in winter).

Both Thai and Holy basil can last up to five years. However, to achieve this the plant should be strictly indoor if you are not in a tropical area with a night temperature above 10C and frost-free. Moreover, it should be pruned regularly once it reached around 30 cm of height. 

Holy Basil vs Basil?

Regular basil (Genovese) variety is an extremely good (and easy) options if you are planning to growth it indoor. However, how does it differ from holy basil? They present quite a few differences in their appereance, taste and culinary use.

To know them just dive in the below article!

Related Questions

Is Holy basil safe for pregnancy? At the moment the only information available is contradictory and based on animal experiments. Until further research is undertaken it is suggested to avoid such herb during pregnancy.

Is Thai basil safe for cats to eat? Yes, a safe bug-free Thai basil plant will not cause any problem to a cat ingesting its leaves.

Is Thai basil more expensive than regular basil? In Western countries, if available in supermarkets, Thai basil leaves are generally sold at a higher price than the most common Genovese basil due to its well-known and more marketable medical properties.

Further Readings

Thai Basil Vs Normal (Genovese) Basil

21 Tips to grow massive basil

Best container size for your basil

Best potting soil for your herbs

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