Sweet Basil vs Genovese Basil: Differences & How To Choose

There are various types and species of basil, with the top two being sweet basil and Genovese basil. But how can one distinguish between these two types, and if given the choice, which one should be chosen?

Is sweet basil the same as Genovese? Sweet basil and Genovese basil are two distinct varieties of the same species. Sweet basil has bright-green leaves and a sweet flavor with hints of pepper, anise, and mint. Genovese basil has large dark-green leaves with a pointy end. The aromatic leaves have hints of clove and mint.

If you can’t decide which one of those two basil varieties to grow, read more to find out the strong points of each variety and how to grow them both.

Sweet Basil vs. Genovese Basil

Sweet basil is the most common variety of basil. If you look for basil in the supermarket, sweet basil is the one you’ll find there. Genovese basil is less popular, and not all nurseries will have the plant or its seeds. Before you commit to one basil variety over the other, you should learn more about each variety.

What’s the Difference Between Sweet Basil and Genovese Basil?

The difference between sweet basil and Genovese basil extends beyond the aroma and flavors to the shape of the plants themselves. Sweet basil has bright-green leaves with curled edges. The leaves have a round end and their flavor is a combination of pepper, mint, and anise. The aroma is mild and goes well with presto and other Italian dishes.

Genovese basil is a showy plant with dark-green leaves. The leaves are flatter and larger than sweet basil leaves and have a pointy end. It’s ideal for growing in pots and has flavors reminiscent of mint and clove with a generous dash of spiciness. 

Growing Sweet Basil

Sweet basil is easy to grow as long as you provide adequate light and rich, loamy soil. Keep the soil moist, and give it 1 inch of water a week. Mulching is important to improve water retention.

Sweet Basil Size & Appearance

The mature plants grow between 12 and 24 inches tall. The leaves have a pointed end and are slightly curved. They’re moderately green when healthy.

Sweet Basil Aroma & Taste

As the name implies, sweet basil has a sweet taste with a hint of anise and mint. It adds a delicious flavor to your dishes if used in moderation.

Sweet Basil Uses

Sweet basil goes into many dishes, soups, marinades, pestos, and teas. It can also be used as garnish.

Growing Genovese Basil

Genovese basil is a cultivar of sweet basil, so it requires the same growing conditions. Light and water are the two most important factors to consider. 

Genovese Basil Size & Appearance

Genovese basil has larger leaves than sweet basil. The leaves are flat and round at the tip. Healthy mature leaves are dark green. The mature plant reaches about 24 inches high.

Genovese Basil Aroma & Taste

The leaves of Genovese basil have a richer and deeper aroma and taste than sweet basil leaves. The aroma is a combination of clove and mint. 

Genovese Basil Uses

Genovese basil is used in pesto and caprese salad. Because the leaves have a rich taste, you should use them judiciously in your dishes.

Best Basil Variety

Every basil variety has unique features. Except for ornamental varieties, each basil variety is distinguished mostly by the flavor and aromas it emits.

Basil VarietyKey Features
Sweet Basil Mint, pepper, and anise flavor 
Genovese BasilClove and mint flavor
Thai BasilLicorice/anise flavor with hints of spiciness
Purple BasilOrnamental variety with purple leaves
Lemon BasilHas citrus flavors
Holy BasilHas medicinal properties
Italian Large Leaf BasilLarge leaves and rich flavors
Napoletano BasilLarge leaves and strong sweet flavors
Cinnamon BasilSweet cinnamon flavor
Spicy Globe BasilSmall and compact with aromatic leaves

How To Plant Basil

The best time to start basil from seeds is 6 weeks before the last frost. Start the seeds indoors, and transplant them to the garden when the weather warms up. Alternatively, you can transplant them to pots and keep them growing indoors. Here’s how to plant basil outdoors.

  1. Find a reliable source to get your seeds. Your local nursery should have the varieties that best grow in your Grow Zoneone. 
  2. Fill a tray with a general-purpose potting mix, and sprinkle it with water to get it moist.
  3. Spread the seeds over the potting mix, and cover them with a thin layer of soil.
  4. Water the seeds to keep the soil moist and cover them with a clear sheet of plastic to trap the heat and moisture.
  5. Check the potting mix regularly, and water it to keep it moist.
  6. After 7 to 10 days, the seeds will germinate. Remove the plastic cover and bring the plant to a window sill facing the sun.
  7. When the garden soil becomes workable and daytime temperatures stay above 70℉, you can transplant the seedlings to the garden.
  8. Choose a sunny spot that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight. Turn up the soil, and mix in a generous portion of organic compost.
  9. Make a hole for each seedling as deep as its root ball, and plant the seedlings 12 inches apart.
  10. Backfill each hole with soil, firm it, and water immediately.
  11. Cover the rows with mulch to suppress weeds and improve water retention.
  12. Apply organic compost once every 4 to 6 weeks.
  13. Prune basil leaves to the second set once they have six sets of true leaves.
  14. Pinch off the main stem around week 6 to prevent premature flowering.

Related Questions:

What Is Christmas Basil?

Christmas basil is a cultivar that is the result of breeding sweet and Genovese basil. The leaves are large and glossy with a wine aroma. It can be grown as a decorative plant thanks to its purple flowers and festive foliage.

What Is Purple Basil Good For?

Purple basil is a decorative variety of basil grown mainly as an ornamental plant. It adds a rich purple color to the garden during the spring and summer. However, the leaves lack the usual flavors and aroma that other basil varieties have.

Conclusion

Although Genovese basil is a variety of sweet basil, the two have distinct features that set them apart. The key differences are in the shape and aroma of the leaves. Sweet basil leaves are bright green with slightly toothed edges and a pointed tip.

The flavor is a combination of mint, anise, and pepper. Genovese basil leaves are flat, veined, and dark green. They’re also larger and have richer flavors that combine clove and mint.