Thai Basil vs Basil: Can You Substitute Them?

When it comes to growing herbs, Thai basil, and basil are popular herbs that add a delicious nuance of flavor to your dishes. In most cases, Thai basil and sweet basil cannot be used interchangeably since they have very distinct flavors that can significantly affect the taste of the dish. Thai basil has a stronger anise or licorice-like flavor with hints of mint and pepper, while sweet basil has a more subtle, slightly sweet flavor with a hint of peppery spice.

However, in some recipes, you may be able to substitute one for the other with some careful adjustments. For example, if a recipe calls for Thai basil, and you only have sweet basil on hand, you can try adding some other ingredients to the dish that will bring out the flavors of Thai basil, such as adding some mint or cilantro. On the other hand, if a recipe calls for sweet basil, you can use Thai basil, but the dish may have a more pronounced licorice-like flavor.

Let’s take a look at these incredible herbs and their differences.

Thai Basil vs. Basil

Thai Basil vs. Basil

Thai basil (Ocimum. basilicum var thyrsiflora) is very common in Asian cuisine. It is not one plant but rather a group of cultivars of sweet or Italian basil. Thai basil has a long history of uses and is native to South Asia.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) has a long history of uses and has been around for over 400 years. Basil is a member of the large mint family Lamiaceae family, and it is believed to have originated in India but has been cultivated for over 5,000 years. There are reports that this medicinal plant may have originated farther east than India, with ancient records from 807 A.D.

Differences Between Thai Basil and Basil

Unlike other basil plants, Thai basil is very different. Below are the differences that set the two herbs apart.

  • Thai basil has more delicate leaves than other basils, and they are thin and tender.
  • Thai basil has a savory, spicy, licorice-like flavor, while basil has a peppery-sweet flavor.
  • Thai basil has purple flowers, while basil has white flowers.
  • Thai basil can be grown indoors and outdoors.
  • Thai basil has purple stems, while basil has green stems.
  • Thai basil is used as a garnish in cooking, while basil is used to make pesto.
  • Thai basil is also used in soups, salads, and other dishes.
  • Thai basil is often used in Thai dishes and by thai people, while basil is used in Italian dishes and often used in the United States.

Similarities Between Thai Basil and Basil

  • Both have similar tastes but with slight differences. They are also used in cooking as herbs and have similar medicinal properties.
  • Both are used for culinary purposes and can be used interchangeably.
  • Both herbs grow best with six or more hours of sun and regular watering.


Thai Basil and Basil

Thai basil is a unique herb smaller than basil and typically grows 12 to 18 inches tall. The leaves are bright green and shiny with smooth edges and a mint or spear-like shape.

As it grows, the stems grow to be a darker purple color with leaves that are also one or two inches long. While basil leaves are glossy and oval-shaped with smooth or slightly toothed edges, and the leaves are arranged oppositely along the square stems.


Both herbs are similar in their taste. The flavor of Thai basil is described as a distinct, milder flavor that is also savory, while the flavor of basil is described as pungent, warm, spicy, and peppery with hints of cloves.


The distinct and refreshing flavor of Thai basil makes it an essential ingredient in achieving delicious meals like Thai Green Curry, Vietnamese Pho, and Coconut Mango Pudding. Thai basil can also be added to drinks and cure many ailments like fever, dry cough, and colds. It is also high in antioxidants, anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties, which is why it has been used in traditional healing for centuries.

Thai basil makes a great focal point in your kitchen for aesthetic purposes with its unique purple flowers and bright green leaves. According to a study published by National Library of Medicine, Thai basil is a renowned medicinal plant and a rich source of bioactive antioxidant compounds with several health benefits, with actions to prevent cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Since basil is one of the oldest herbs known to mankind, its healing and healthful properties have been the most treasured knowledge across the world. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, a popular ingredient for treating illnesses, and is a flavorful cooking herb.

In India, basil is planted in garden courtyards and is used in weddings and funerals. Because it is rich in antioxidants, most people incorporate it into their diet as a health supplement through tea or extracts.


Thai basil grows well outdoors in a garden or as a container plant, and it can be grown in warm summer temperatures or tropical and sub-tropical climates year-round. When grown indoors, they need more sun than other basil varieties and should get at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day.

In contrast, basil grows well outdoors during the summer or year-round in tropical or subtropical climates as a small, flowering shrub. It grows quickly and propagates through its numerous seeds in moist, well-drained soil, warm temperatures, and full or partial sunlight. It should get at least four hours of sunlight each day when grown indoors.


In contrast to basil, Thai basil is hardier than sweet basil. Depending on how long they’ve been biologically programmed to last, both herbs can be classified as perennial, annual, and biannual. As a result, basil is classified as an annual that must be planted yearly, while Thai basil is a perennial that keeps flourishing.

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