Thai basil vs Holy basil vs basil (sweet basil) have different names, but what actually is the difference among them? These 3 kinds of basil are plants in the same family, they have something similar, but they are different.
Basil vs Thai basil in Thai Cooking
In Thai cooking, a different kind of basil is used in different dishes. To be honest, if some restaurants in Thailand use a wrong kind of basil, they may get pretty strange reputation among locals. One of the reasons is because Thai stir fried basil is the most popular dish in Thailand, like Americans and burgers or British and tea. People can discuss (aka argue) about this dish in various aspects.
However, if the same situation happens outside of Thailand, personally I think it is much more understandable and kinda acceptable. Basil vs Thai basil vs Holy basil are different, but not much enough to stop us from making some delicious basil dishes. So if you cannot find the right kind of basil, I provided substitution choices below. Or If you would like to follow authentic recipes, this article would be pretty helpful to make it clear.
Thai people use 2 kinds of basil in their recipes:
- Holy basil (Kra Pao / กะเพรา*)
- Thai basil (Horapa or โหระพา)
What is Holy basil or Kra Pao?
Holy basil is “Kra Pao / กะเพรา*” in Thai. It is used only in “Pad Kra Pao” or stir fried holy basil with chicken / pork / beef. Some people may call this basil as “Thai holy basil”, but don’t be confused, it’s not the same as “Thai basil”. It has more taste of pepper and the smell is more similar to mint.
What is Thai basil?
Thai basil in Thai is “Horapa or โหระพา”. Thai basil is used in various dishes, such as green curry, Thai basil soup. It has more sweet taste than holy basil. Both holy basil basil and Thai basil have much stronger aroma than usual basil.
Do Thai people use sweet basil (the usual basil) in their recipes?
Not much. Your usual basil is not usual in Thailand, it is pretty expensive (like quadruple the price). So people mainly use it in Italian or western recipes only. Many Thai people have similar question about Basil vs Thai basil as well, like what is the best substitute for “usual” basil.
How to differentiate Basil vs Thai basil vs Holy Basil?
These are pictures of Basil vs Thai basil vs Thai Holy basil’s leaves, branches and flowers. If you want to know which basil is the basil for Thai cooking, look at their branches and flowers. The branches of Thai basil usually are not quite green, they have some purple color. And look at their flowers or the tip of their branches. The flowers of holy basil is smaller and stick together on a long soft branch (in racemose inflorescence shape), while Thai basil has bigger flowers that stick together in form of a thyrse at the end of the branch. Please see the pictures below.
Pictures of Basil vs Thai basil vs Holy basil
Where to buy Thai basil?
You can buy Thai basil from many supermarkets in herb section. Thai basil also available in most Asian grocery stores. Actually, I think it is one of the easiest ingredients to find.
Where to buy holy basil?
It’s quite difficult to find. Some Asian grocery store that focus on South East Asian products might have.
Substitute for Thai basil and Substitute for holy basil
If it is not convenient to find Thai basil or holyl, it is ok to use basil. It smells less, but it gives a very similar smell. When I use sweet basil or the common basil in my recipe, I like to add 20-30% more than recommended amount in the recipe to try to get stronger smell.
Similarity score of Basil vs Thai basil: 6.5/10
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