How many times have you bought basil at the grocery store only to let them go to waste? Well, this does not have to be the case again! I will show you how to store your fresh basil herbs for later use.
Basil can be stored using the 1) bouquet style and 2) paper towel method to retain its freshness for a short time. However, it is possible to keep them for months or years when preserved properly through 1) drying, 2) freezing, and 3) salt desiccating.
Freshly picked basil can go from being perky to droopy a few hours later. But you can preserve its freshness by storing your herbs properly. To help you better, we have provided several best ways to store basil.
Freshly picked basil can only last for 2 days in the open air and up to 13 days in a water glass under room temperature. However, it can be kept considerably longer if appropriately preserved.
To determine how long freshly picked basils last, I performed 2 short experiments. I harvested fresh basil in my garden and started setting up the experiment.
1. Basil in the open air- It was done by placing unwashed fresh basil leaves in a bowl. I left the bowl uncovered on the tabletop, exposing the leaves from the open air at room temperature.
A few hours after the test, I noticed that the basil leaves start to wither from the margins. The next day, I checked on the experiment only to find wilted brown leaves. However, the leaves were not completely dry until the second day. Basil leaves become black and brittle.
2. Basil in water glass – This test was done using a freshly cut basil stalk. I removed 2 or 3 bottom leaves and submerged the tip of the stem in the glass half full with water. The setup was left in an open space on the tabletop, keeping it away from direct sunlight and high kitchen temperatures.
Surprisingly, the basil leaves look almost the same up to day 5. On day 7, I noticed that the leaves were slightly wilting with tiny discolored spots. However, the basil still smells fresh, but the bottom leaves turned yellow on day 10.
The leaves remained green yet wilted only until day 12, as they began to drop and get moldy on the afternoon of the 13th day.
For easier comparison and understanding, I would like to share this table about the shelf life of basil herb using different storing methods.
|STORING METHODS||BASIL LEAVES SHELF LIFE|
|Open-air||Up to 2 days|
|Basil Bouquet||1 to 2 weeks|
|Plastic and Paper Towel||4-5 days|
|Dried||2 years or more|
|Salt Desiccated||6 months|
The methods to keep basil fresh for long are 1) the basil bouquet method and 2) the paper towel method. These simple methods will allow basil to maintain its freshness for 5 to 14 days.
Basil adds a fresh flavor to the dish, but it does not retain its freshness for long. Nevertheless, a few easy methods in the kitchen extend its shelf life a little longer. I’ll share with you how to store fresh basil properly.
The bouquet method is the most straightforward approach to store basil. Here, the basil is placed in a glass jar with enough clean water, like a bunch of fresh flowers in a vase. The tip of the basil stalk should be submerged in water to keep the plant thriving and fresh for 2 weeks.
The bouquet method is only applicable for basils with stems. This is the easiest storing method because you only need fewer materials such as glass, water, and freshly picked basil. Here are the simple procedures to keep your basil for a couple of weeks.
1. Fill the glass jar halfway with clean water. You will need a tall glass container if your basil has long stems or a shallow bowl if the basil stalks are short. Use clean water so your basil won’t rot quickly.
2. Trim the bottom stem of the basil. At a 45-degree angle, snip a small portion of the end stem to increase the surface area and allow more water absorption. Also, remove a couple of bottom leaves so they will not be submerged in the water.
3. Place the basil in a jar of water. Immerse ⅓ of the trimmed basil stems into the water. Make sure that no leaves should be touching the water; otherwise, they will get black and moldy.
4. Position the basil jar on the counter at room temperature. Leave the jar on the table or counter, away from direct sunlight and hot kitchen appliances.
This method allows you to keep basil fresh naturally. When you need to use the basil, pick only the green, fresh, bottom leaves and not the young buds, or else the plant will wither in no time. Wash the basil before use. After a few days, the water may turn brown, so you need to change it.
Make sure to use the basil within a week or two for a fresher taste and aroma. You might find roots growing from the tips, but it’s normal. It is a good sign that your basil is thriving in the water. If this is the case, you may transfer the plant to suitable potting soil and grow a new basil plant.
Bouquet Method with a Twist
Covering the entire jar of basil bouquet loosely with a plastic bag is another good way to store it using the bouquet method. The covered jar is placed in a dark spot at ambient temperature to slow evaporation.
Another type of bouquet method is by using an herb saver bought online. This tool is designed for storing tall stemmed herbs such as basil. It has the same setup as the glass jar, but the herb saver works perfectly because it provides more space and support for the stems.
Here is an herb saver perfect for storing your basil for a few days.
The paper towel method is the same technique that works with leafy vegetables stored inside the fridge. It includes wrapping the basil with a paper towel and packing it in a ziplock with holes. Then, it is stored in the refrigerator (not the freezer) and may last somewhat for 4-5 days.
This method is best applied if you use basil in your daily dishes. Although this is proven effective, it cannot keep basil fresh for long. Here are the simple steps of applying the paper towel method.
1. Pick basil leaves
Start by picking the basil leaves from the stem and wiping the leaves to remove dirt and insects. You should not wash the leaves, or they will spoil easily. If you wash the leaves, make sure they are completely dry before storing them. I recommend washing only before you use the leaves.
2. Lay in a paper towel and roll
Arrange each leaf flatly in a single layer in the dry paper towel. Carefully and loosely roll the paper towel with basil leaves inside. The paper wrap will soak up the excess moisture, keeping the leaves from rotting while maintaining a slightly moist air around.
3. Put the wrapped basil inside a plastic bag
To protect the basil from the outside elements and keep its flavor and freshness, place it inside a ziplock or resealable plastic with small holes. The tiny holes on the plastic bag allow gas exchange so moisture will not be trapped inside, leading to decay.
The advantage of using this method is that basil will remain fresh for 4 to 5 days. So to ensure tasty herbs in your menu, you have to use them within that period. This is best applied with store-bought basil leaves. Another advantage is that it won’t use up big space in the fridge.
The drawbacks of this method are shorter basil shelf life and too much work needed. Unlike the bouquet method, basil wrapped in a paper towel has only a few days of freshness. After that time, the basil leaves will start to turn black, wilted, and slimy.
To make basil last for several months or years, it has to be preserved through 1) drying, 2) freezing, and 3) salt preserving. These techniques are helpful if there is a big bounty of basil available.
Basil plants need regular pruning and harvesting to maintain their shape and promote new growth. So what should you do with those bunch of harvested fragrant leaves? Preserve them for future use! Stick around, and let’s discover the proper techniques for preserving basil plants.
Dried basil can be stored for 2 years or more. Several popular drying techniques include air drying, oven drying, and microwave drying. Dried basil works perfectly with meat marinades but is not ideal for pasta or to be placed on a fresh pizza before going into the oven.
Compared with fresh basil, dried basil is more potent, so use it in lesser amounts of what you would. Remember that dry basil does not taste like fresh one due to the dehydration process that removes from the fresh plants, oils, and nutrients in different proportions.
What’s best is that it makes your kitchen aromatic and fresh smelling.
If you want to preserve basil using the drying method, you need to dry the basil leaves completely to guarantee long shelf life. Properly dried basil leaves are crispy and brittle to touch. On the other hand, tender and moist leaves are prone to molds.
Basil’s unique aroma, taste, and nutrients will be preserved if well-dried in the natural air. The amount of time needed to dry basil leaves depends on the temperature and ventilation. It takes more or less than 2 weeks to air dry basil leaves.
There are several ways to air dry basil leaves, but here’s how I do it.
1. Trim basil stems. You need to choose a basil branch with healthy leaves. Tie the stems altogether to make a bunch.
2. Wash the leaves. Hang the basil bunch upside down for easy washing. Hose down gently with clean water, going through each leaf to get rid of dust and insects. Discard diseased or yellow leaves and shake off excess water.
3. Wrap loosely with a gauze cloth. Cover them loosely with gauze cloth when the basil has dripped to keep off dust and flies. You may keep them hanging upside down or transfer them to an upright container to dry up.
4. Place in a shaded area. Keep the basil in a dry, shaded warm spot with good ventilation. Avoid direct sunlight because basil leaves may scorch and lead to substantial nutrient value loss.
5. Collect dried basil leaves and store them. Check the basil if it has dried out by pinching the leaves. Crispy or crumbly leaves means well dried. Collecting the dried leaves does not require much work because they will easily detach from the stem. Store dried basil leaves in a sealed container.
Another method of drying basil leaves is with the use of the oven. Oven drying basil leaves requires lesser time and work than air drying but needs careful monitoring. Too dry basil leaves lose nutrients, and results are likely to pulverize.
I am sharing with you the most convenient way to oven-dry basil leaves.
1. Pick and wash basil leaves. Pluck out the leaves from the stem and wash thoroughly to remove dirt and insects.
2. Dry with a paper towel or salad spinner. Dry the basil leaves with a kitchen towel or use a salad spinner to get rid of water from the leaves.
3. Arrange in a metal tray and place inside the oven. Once all the leaves are dry, arrange them in a metal tray lined with the cookie sheet. Place the leaves in a single array and put the tray inside a preheated oven. Set the oven at a temperature below 100F. Basils under too high a temperature may lose their flavor.
4. Heat until leaves are dry. Leave the basil inside for 3-4 hours. However, you need to monitor them from time to time to make sure they don’t burn. Heat until all the pieces become crunchy and brittle, but not too much. Well-dried basil leaves should break when pressed between your fingers.
5. Store in an airtight container. Allow the dried basil leaves to cool down before storing them in a tightly sealed glass jar.
Watch this video of drying basil leaves in the oven.
Drying basil leaves in a microwave is easy to do and requires no more than 5 minutes for a small quantity alone. According to the Universiti Putra Malaysia, microwave drying is the optimum technique for drying basil herbs as it only requires a short heating time. Hence, nutrient loss is minimal.
Unlike oven-dried basil leaves, microwave-dried herbs preserve their color and flavor. Here’s how you do dry basil leaves in a microwave.
1. Wash and pat dry basil leaves. It is essential to wash off dust and insects from the basil leaves before putting them in the microwave. Squeeze the leaves with a kitchen towel to remove any water on them.
2. Spread the leaves on a baking sheet. Using a microwavable plate, place a baking sheet and spread the leaves on top in a single layer. Then, cover the leaves with another baking sheet.
3. Place in a microwave to dry. Microwave the basil for one minute, keeping a close eye to make sure the leaves don’t burn. If the leaves are not yet thoroughly dried after a minute, continue drying in 30-second intervals.
Extended drying can get anywhere from 60 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the amount you are drying.
4. Keep the dried basil in an airtight jar. When the leaves are crisp and parch, remove them from the microwave to cool them down. Once the basil leaves have cooled down, transfer them to an airtight container for future consumption.
There are many ways to freeze basil leaves and make them last year-round. Basil leaves can be 1) frozen whole, 2) made as ice cubes, 3) paste with olive oil, and 4) blended in butter. Frozen basil is more suitable for cooking or making pesto than garnishing.
Freezing basil is an excellent alternative if you have a lot of it and want to retain it for a longer period. You can stash them in the freezer for several months and consume them all year, especially in winter!
Surprisingly, frozen basils retain their natural fresh flavor for up to 6 months. Although it is still safe to use them after that period, it may be past their prime. I will walk you through different freezing methods used to preserve basil.
To store basil through freezing it is important to 1) blanch the leaves 2) use ice water 3) dry and 4) place the leaves in a plastic bag.
You can have a stash of frozen whole basil leaves ready every time you need them on your menu. This is the basic method to freeze basil leaves, summarized in 4 easy steps.
1. Wash and blanch the basil leaves. Clean the leaves thoroughly and sift to remove excess water. Place the basil leaves in a casserole with boiling water and boil evenly for 5 seconds. Before freezing, blanching is necessary to neutralize the enzymes that hasten basil decay and cause black spots.
2. Plunge the leaves into the ice water. The blanched leaves are plunged right away into the ice-cold water to cool the leaves down and stop the cooking. Use a strainer to scoop out the basil leaves and drain excess water.
3. Dry the basil leaves. Spread out the leaves in the kitchen paper to dry them. You can place another sheet of paper towel above and pat the leaves to remove the remaining water.
4. Place the leaves in a resealable plastic bag. Stash the leaves inside a plastic bag removing as much air as possible to prevent moisture from forming inside the bag. Keep it frozen in the refrigerator, and don’t defrost them until it’s time to use the leaves. It will retain its color and flavor for up to 180 days or 6 months.
Preserving basil leaves using the ice cube technique is plain and simple. Blanch the leaves just like the first method above. Then, chop the leaves and measure 1 teaspoon of basil into each cube in the tray. Pour enough water into the ice cube tray to cover the leaves, and put it in the freezer.
Once they are frozen, pop them out from the tray and transfer them into a ziplock. Make sure to remove any air from the plastic bag before storing it back in the freezer. When needed in the kitchen, just take a basil cube and incorporate it into your cooking dish.
One more freezing technique is making a frozen puree. Add the blanched leaves into a food processor, pour olive oil, and blend well to make a basil paste. For every 2 cups of leaves, use ⅓ cup of oil to achieve a good mixture consistency.
Pour the mixture into a container with a tight-fitting lid and freeze it. Before using frozen basil puree, thaw it, and spoon out the amount you need for cooking. Butter is also a good alternative to olive oil. But remember to note the amount of butter used in the recipe as it may affect the taste.
Another way to preserve freshly picked basil is by desiccating the leaves in salt. Salt helps retain the original fresh flavor of the herb by pulling out moisture from the leaves. Salt desiccated basil can last up to 6 months.
The ability of salt to draw water from the leaves inhibits unwanted microorganisms. Hence, the deterioration of basil leaves is slow when preserved in salt. Start this technique by washing and thoroughly drying the basil leaves. Follow the next steps below.
1. Add a layer of salt to a clean jar. Lay a thin layer of salt to cover the bottom of the jar. Use salt that has no iodine, which can turn basil leaves to black. Discoloration during desiccation won’t affect the taste of the herb, but it can be unsightly. Sea salt or kosher salt are the best examples.
2. Top up with basil leaves and refrigerate. Alternately layer the herb leaves on top of the salt until the container is filled. Cover the jar tightly and keep it refrigerated.
For months, the leaves will remain amazingly fresh and tasty. When using desiccated basil, just scoop the leaves and put the salt back into the container. The salt can be used in cooking and as a flavor enhancer because it will get flavored with basil over time.
To keep the freshness of basil leaves without the stalk, use the freezing technique to retain their bright green color and tasty flavor for a few months. But if the basil is only for short-term use, the paper towel method is an easy way to keep the herb fresh. Just make sure to use it within 5 days.
According to Clemson University, basil does not stay long under refrigeration. Instead, it will wilt faster and absorb all the scents that surround it inside the fridge. Even though many individuals stash their basil directly in refrigerator compartments, research reveals that this is not a smart idea.
Basil exposed inside the cold fridge will not only wilt faster, but it will also absorb all of the other scents that surround it. Keep the herb in a glass of freshwater, like flower bouquets, if you want to keep it as fresh as possible.
Basil leaves stored in open-air will only last for 2 days but will stay up to a couple of weeks if the stems are submerged in a glass of water. Storing freshly picked basil herbs through the paper towel method and the bouquet method will keep basil leaves up to 5 and 14 days, respectively.
Basil leaves can be preserved for 2 years through drying in air, oven, and microwave. While freezing whole basil leaves, ice cube basil, and frozen basil puree will preserve the taste of basil herbs for up to 6 months.
Basil leaves desiccated in salt is an effective technique to preserve the herbs and remain flavorful for 6 months.
- “Effect of drying methods on nutrient quality of Basil (Ocimum viride) leaves cultivated in Ghana,” by Eric Danso-Boateng, Universiti Putra Malaysia
- “Drying Herbs,”Oregon State University
- “Harvesting and Preserving Herbs and Spices for Use in Cooking,” The Pennsylvania State University
- “Basil,” Clemson University
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