What are the best ways to freeze basil leaves so that they remain as fresh as possible and are easy to use in recipes throughout the winter? I put six different ways to the test and there was a clear winner that surprised me!
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I've always believed that preserving basil through the winter is best accomplished through making and freezing pesto. I love that it's ready to use for bread toppings, appetizers, and pasta dinners, among other things.
But if you've ever grown a couple basil plants, you know that when they're happy (in my garden that's after getting rid of bugs…) they will continue to pump out leaves until frost kills them.
And you only need so much pesto - plus, it's not the cheapest thing to make - which is why I researched and shared 22 other ways to preserve basil.
Because being able to use what we have is a good thing.
While I was researching more ways to preserve basil, I came across a number of different methods to freeze basil - some in comments, some on Pinterest, and some from websites - that had me curious:
What is the best way to freeze basil?
Can you really freeze basil leaves and still have that great basil flavor?
I decided to put the methods to test - and since I've been pretty vocal about my love for not blanching produce before freezing (like beans, peas, corn, and peppers) because of how easy it is and the better results, you can guess I'd have to test this method with basil, too.
I gathered six of the most-mentioned methods to freeze basil, tested them all on one day, froze them for a week, and took pictures along the way to share with you.
The results? There was a clear winner for me - and a runner-up method that surprised me.
6 Ways to Freeze Basil Leaves
I'm starting with the method of blanching and freezing fresh basil leaves because it is the "official" way. Meaning, when you search for how to freeze basil, this will most likely be the first thing that comes up.
How to blanch & freeze basil leaves:
- Wash & dry basil leaves.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water.
- Put fresh basil leaves into a colander that fits into the pot (it's important to have the basil in something so you can quickly remove it all at once).
- Dip the colander with leaves into the boiling water for just 3-5 seconds.
- Transfer blanched leaves immediately to the ice water bath.
- Spin the blanched leaves dry in a salad spinner (or pat dry as best you can). This is the spinner I use and love - it's the longest lasting one I've had.
- Lay out on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm, 12-24 hours.
- Transfer leaves to a freezer bag - they start thawing immediately, so move quickly.
Brightest color, though most time-intensive.
If leaves are blanched just a few seconds too long, some turn brown, which I found stressful.
Transferring to freezer baggie was hard since they start to thaw within seconds on tray and are very wilted. Once in the bag, though, the individual leaves were easy to remove to use in recipes.
2. Unblanched, spread on tray
- Wash & dry basil leaves.
- Lay out on a cookie sheet in a single layer.
- Freeze until firm, 12-24 hours.
- Transfer leaves to a freezer bag, pressing out as much air as possible.
The frozen leaves looked exactly like they did when I put them on the tray, BUT they started to thaw so quickly it was tricky to get them into the bag and they turned brown rapidly as I did.
They, too, were easy to remove for recipes, though they 'broke' more than the blanched leaves (which may be better for recipes?).
Above is a side-by-side comparison after bagging up both the blanched and unblanched leaves.
You can see on the left how brown the unblanched leaves became as I transferred them to the bag. The smell and flavor (I pulled off pieces to taste just to see if there was a difference) seemed the same, however, so it's a matter of visual appeal, I think.
3. Fresh Leaves Rolled in a Paper Towel
I read about this method in a comment on a website, "I have always rolled my basil in paper towel and then in Ziplock bag in freezer" and was curious to see if the paper towel made any difference. I'm assuming it is to soak up moisture?
- Wash & dry basil leaves.
- Add a single layer of leaves to a paper towel and roll it up.
- Place in a gallon freezer bag, removing as much air as possible (have you used this trick yet?) and freeze.
Hard to peel leaves off paper, not easy to access leaves for recipes (have to take roll out, unroll and peel off leaves…), and some of the leaves actually turned brown in spots.
This was probably my least favorite method - there wasn't much to recommend it in my opinion.
TIP: Keep track of how much basil you freeze - and all your other food preserving - with the free printable Preserving Record Notebook!
4. Unblanched Straight Into Freezer Bags
This was another method I read about in a comment on a website I visited: "I often harvest my basil leaves and put them straight into freezer bags. Once frozen, I just take out what I need to cook with and chop while still frozen. They maintain that great fresh taste."
Since this was a version of my favorite non-blanching method, I wondered if it could be any different than how I usually do it on trays?
- Wash & dry basil leaves.
- Place leaves into freezer bags.
- Remove as much air as possible, either by pressing or using this trick, and freeze.
Decent color, easiest method (only handle the leaves one time), easy to break off portions to use.
Oh, my gosh, this was the WINNER in my book! Look at the more natural green color (the blanched basil looks unnaturally green to me) and how fresh the leaves still look!
While you have to actually break off chunks to use (vs. the individual frozen leaves of blanched), that's not hard to do and it's how you would use them in cooking anyway. It's true that the leaves will turn brown as you cook with them, but that's what fresh leaves do, too, so that's not a negative for me.
Can I freeze basil without blanching?
The answer is YES! By using this packing basil leaves straight into baggie/container method, removing as much air as possible, and freezing.
Can I freeze whole basil leaves?
The answer to this is also yes - because you can easily throw all the leaves in the baggie with only washing needed before hand.
I love, love, that again the easiest method proved to be a good one - and the best one for me.
Two More Methods
But there were still two more popular Pinterest methods to test both of which start with chopped leaves and use a type of liquid.
One that surprised me with its usefulness, the other with its…not so usefulness.
5. Chopped & Coated With Oil
This method is very popular on Pinterest and I wondered if coating in oil would somehow help preserve the leaves versus the other methods.
Here's how to do this:
- Wash, dry & chop basil leaves.
- Toss leaves with a bit of olive oil (I used 3 cups of leaves to 2 tablespoons oil).
- Portion into mason jars and freeze.
Very dark leaves and very hard to remove - I needed to chip away at it just to remove a bit. The oil didn't seem to help keep color at all.
I was actually surprised to find that this was another least favorite method, since it seemed to be so popular.
6. Chopped in Liquid Cubes
I've read about preserving chopped leaves in liquid cubes many times (also for herbs in general) and have done a version of it by processing leaves in a food processor, almost like pesto, before adding them to ice cube trays (one time in olive oil).
I didn't find these cubes easy to use in the past - they seemed to be a one-shot wonder good for only marinara or pasta sauces (and since I usually have this amazing roasted sauce in the freezer, I hardly make it from scratch in the winter).
What I liked about this version of the method (again from a comment I found) were the differences from my previous tries:
- Wash, dry & slice basil leaves.
- Divide among ice cube tray sections (no blanching needed).
- Add either water or broth to cover leaves.
- Freeze until firm and place in labeled freezer bags (or use ice cube trays with covers and store them in the trays).
The leaves kept good color in both the water and broth.
Although there is slightly more time involved with cutting and pouring, it's easy to transfer the cubes to baggies and easy to use cubes in soups and stews.
This was another WIN for us as these cubes have proven to be a lot more versatile than smaller cut basil or oil-covered basil.
I also find the cubes add nice basil flavor to curries and other saucy dishes where the liquid is absorbed.
Is it better to freeze basil in water or oil?
From the last two tests, it's clearly better to freeze chopped basil leaves in water (or broth) versus oil. The leaves are brighter green frozen in water and are more versatile to use in recipes.
What are the best ways to freeze basil?
After testing all of these methods, the clear winners in ease of preparation and best results were:
- Unblanched, straight into baggies (or other containers).
- Chopped (unblanched) in liquid cubes.
After testing these 6 ways to freeze basil how will I regularly preserve our garden basil?
You guessed it!
After making the amount of freezer pesto our family needs for a year, I now preserve the remaining basil leaves unblanched straight into baggies.
I also try to make a set liquid cubes in both broth and water, too, for our favorite winter soups, stews, and curries.
It's so great to know I can preserve our basil abundance and have the best flavor.
Oh, and also to know simpler is often better in regards to basil, too!
Freezing Basil Leaves FAQs
In our manual defrost freezer (see here why this is the best kind of freezer for storing food, even though it's more work), frozen pesto lasts for up to two years and frozen basil leaves for 8 months to a year. After 8 months, the leaves may start to degrade a bit, but I still usually use them (it's a quality issue, not a safety issue).
I always take the leaves off the stem since it makes them easier to use after freezing. If there are small, tender stems near the leaves, those would be okay to freeze.
If the basil in olive oil were at room temperature, yes, that would be dangerous. But freezing basil in oil is fine.
As dry as possible - blot with a paper towel to remove more if possible. Or run through a salad spinner.
No you don't unless it's dirty from harvesting or something (I don't usually). Totally up to you!
The blanching is supposed to stop the enzymes that continue to mature the produce. Most preservation guides will say this also creates a better product when frozen - better texture and maybe longer freezing quality. It's not necessary or a safety issue - just a quality issue. Once I found out with green beans that we like the texture better without, I started testing the non-blanching theory with everything.
Yes! A commenter made pesto with the frozen basil and said "it worked out fine! (With) so much flavor, more than expected from freezing."
To make it easiest, measure the basil before freezing (according to your recipe) and label the bag with the amount and "for pesto" so you remember.
Have you used any of these methods for freezing basil? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments!
More Freezing Produce Methods To Try:
This article was updated in July of 2022 to include frequently asked questions and clearer formatting.
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