You might think it is the herb that transforms thick slices of tomato and mozzarella into Caprese or makes lemon cocktails more interesting. Basil is also a time bomb. It slouches, slumps, and spits the moment I get it from market. Before I can even bring it inside, its arms touch my toes. This continues for the rest of the week.The once lively bunch now seem to have lost their will to live. It pains me, the defeatist feeling that there’s nothing I can do to keep my basil alive. One blink and a few basil leaves could lose their bright green color, or even worse, become brown.
There are lots of tips for the best way to store fresh basil leaves—and I’ve tried most of them, with little repeated or sustained success. So it’s time to approach the issue more strategically, testing the methods side by side in order to determine which one will be the true lifeline.
According to experts: The best way to store basil
Before testing a few different methods myself—including storing basil at room temperature (both covered and uncovered in a glass jar), and storing basil in the fridge in a loose plastic bag—I reviewed what other cooking experts had to stay about this. Alexandra Stafford, who cooks a wondrous array of beautiful, delicious food (if you follow her on Instagram, I don’t have to tell you this), recommends storing the basil out of the fridge: Snip off any bands, trim the bottoms, then transfer to a tall jar with a small amount of water. Don’t leave it alone. Instead, treat the basil like a flower bouquet, changing the water every couple of days and making sure no leaves are below the waterline (otherwise, they’ll get slimy and discolored).
While most tender herbs will last longer if they’re stored clean and dry, I couldn’t find many authorities that recommended rinsing basil leaves before storage. Some experts advise loosely covering the bunch with a plastic bag: J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats goes a step further. He has found that “keeping the tops of those herbs tightly covered by placing an overturned zipper-lock bag over them and sealing it against the base of the jar was also an essential step in keeping them fresh.” He stores herbs in sealed quart containers with just a small amount of water on the bottom. A tight seal is more effective than an open cover.
While most basil should be stored at room temperatures (since refrigeration causes the leaves to turn brownish and bruise), there are some who disagree can they really be trusted? Let’s see.
Basil Storage Techniques
Armed with this knowledge, I purchased a number of big basil bunches, cut them up and fetched my prayer beads. Six tests were then organized.
My first attempt at this method, which I don’t recommend, was to place the basil unwashed in the plastic bag/clamshell that it came in. This method is also known as “the lazy gal’s method” aka what my boyfriend would do if I weren’t there to scold him harshly. There’s no strategy or logic to this method, so it’s no surprise that this doesn’t work great, especially in the long-term (more on that later).
You can store fresh basil by using the flower bouquet method. Place the basil in a container with some water. You don’t want them to be completely submerged in water, because that will actually cause them to go bad more quickly. Here are four options: I tested them all.
The renegade in basil storage is finally here: I store the fresh leaves as salad greens. The leaves were picked and washed. I dried them and wrapped them in paper towels. Finally, I sealed the package in plastic bags and put it in the refrigerator.
Each evening, at 8 PM, I did my “basil rounds”. (I am a doctor).I examined each patient and took copious notes about the color and firmness of their leaves. Let me skip the detailed notes, so I can give you a summary of what the good, bad and ugly were.
Here’s a disclaimer. My apartment is warm. The A/C doesn’t reach my kitchen. Many of the bunches that were “room temperature”, however, were very close to my oven which is rarely used. It’s like a sauna. It’s likely that all the basil would have lasted much longer in a cooler environment. As I share these results, keep this in mind.
The winners and losers were immediately distinguished. From the beginning, the cold bouquet stood out as the darkest. (My notes read: “Already sad, droopy. I wouldn’t mind putting this on a Caprese. These won’t last past day three.”
The other plants looked fine (it was only the first day), but I noticed some dark spots on the renegade leaf leaves. Both the covered and uncovered room temperature bouquets of flowers were holding up well, but I have some reservations about how the method was done. I found it difficult to determine if the entire bunch of leaves received sufficient water. I also felt that I needed to cut off many of the lower-hanging leaves to prevent them from being submerged, which felt wasteful. The outer leaves had a greater tendency to droop than those in the middle.
Concerning the quarter-quart containers, there was some condensation I felt could be moldy. To ensure that at least some air circulated, I left the top of each container open.
My biggest surprise was the fact that my control bag which I simply put in the fridge was still looking great. The control bag would be great for garnishing a salad. It doesn’t need to be blanched, pulverized, or otherwise modified in any way.
The fortunes of the control bag had changed dramatically by Day 2. It looked tired, had a lot of broken brown leaves and was beginning to lose its outer leaves. It was not funky, moldy or anything. However it wouldn’t win any beauty contests.
Another big loser is the refrigerated flower bouquet. Refrigerated bouquets are the other big loser. Although the flowers were fine in the middle (green and perky), they were duller on the outside.
Room temp flowers were beginning to shrink, but not too much. The uncovered bouquet was still faring much better than the covered one, even though some leaves were yellowing. As I pulled the bouquet out of its jar, I saw that many leaves had fallen off. Also, I could see the sliminess and discoloration in the bottom.
The leaves from the quart containers looked lively and had a pleasant aroma, while those of the renegade were the same as yesterday.
Mid-week arrived and I declared my control bag almost dead. (I would not consume 90 percent of the contents.” Refrigerated bouquets were almost as terrible, with the exception that the middle portion of the flowers remained fresh and firm. The renegade leaves smelled and looked fresher than the other two. However, black spots continued their growth.
Basil stored in a large container (quart) looked its best. This was something I noticed. I noticed that the other bouquets, both covered or uncovered, lost a lot in volume.
This was when I began to remove them altogether. The refrigerated and control bouquets were declared extinct. I found the renegade option to be the most effective, although by then, nearly all the leaves were covered in black.
Also, I decided the uncovered bouquet was better than the covered. Shrouded bouquets were much more droopy, and had many dark leaves. The fresh smell of the uncovered bouquet was still present, but there were a few discolored leaves. It could be that the ununcovered bouquet was larger and came in a high-sided container, which helped it stand up.
All of my refrigerated options were gone at this point. The renegade leaves were not only blackened and slimy but also had a funky smell. The three options for room temperature were left, with the loosely wrapped bunch being the weakest. It looked drier and darker than the uncovered bouquet and had begun to develop mold.
So I went down to the uncovered bunches and the quart-sized bunches, which both were happy and well into Day 6.
Yes, there were black spots, some droopiness, and—in the case of the uncovered bunch—a thinning of leaves, but they looked and smelled fresh. Some leaves could even be used to decorate an open-faced sandwich.
The Best Method?
Basil can be stored in plastic bags for as long as you want. The first day, the “control” basil was okay. It doesn’t need to be taken care of immediately. If you plan on using the leaves within one day, you could also take them out and cut them. The renegade method is also possible, although it can be difficult for the first two days.
The refrigerator is not recommended for storage. Store your basil like a flower bouquet—uncovered—or tuck it into a quart, leaving the top propped open. While both methods work, I prefer the quart container method. It contains your basil, and helps to prevent it from drying out. Bunch 2C seems to retain its volume more than Bunch 2A. This might not matter if you use a small amount of basil daily.
Keep your basil in a sunny—but not hot—location (a tricky balance). The windowsill is in my bedroom. I have air conditioning at night so that my basil doesn’t get too hot. You should realize that your basil won’t last for more than six days and you will lose some of the leaves. Even the most efficient storage systems assume you will use basil every day, and not just six days before.
Although six basil leaves were too much work to keep in my small kitchen for over a week, I am more comfortable knowing that the techniques are tested and proven effective.
Let’s get real: What do you do to keep basil fresh in your garden? Comment below to let me know your tips!