Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Tear basil, rather than cutting it, for best flavor

When a recipe calls for fresh basil, you’ll often hear chefs saying to tear it with your fingers, rather than shredding it with a knife, to get the best flavor. Sorry, but nope. The flavors in basil – like any herb – are primarily contained within the cells of the leaf. If you tear it, it tends to come apart between the cells so that less flavor is released (because it stays in the cells). If you cut the leaf, you will break open the cells (some of them, anyway), releasing more flavor. This makes the most difference when you are using the basil raw, as in a tomato salad. In cooked dishes, such as a sauce, it does not make as much of a difference because the cooking gets the flavor out of the cells.

My technique is to wash the basil, pat dry with paper towels, and remove the leaves from the stem. Stack several leaves together and roll into a cylinder, then cut crossways into thin strips.

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2 responses to “Tear basil, rather than cutting it, for best flavor

  1. Burt Reynolds August 28, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    sorry but nope, but isnt the point that the flavor gets released as the leaves are chewed. Hence keeping as many cells in whole will create a more distinct flavor.

    • kitchenmyths August 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      But, isn’t the point to get the flavor into the whole dish and not just released when one chews? When I am eating a tomato and basil salad, I want each piece of tomato to have the basil flavor even if there is not a piece of basil on my fork.

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