What's the best way to freeze basil leaves so that they remain as fresh as possible and are easy to use in recipes throughout the winter? Here are six different ways put to the test!
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I've always believed that freezing basil to preserve it through the winter is best accomplished through making pesto. And it's great to have it so convenient to use for bread toppings 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 wrote about 22 other ways to preserve basil. Because using up is a good thing. But while I was searching for ways to preserve basil, I came across a number of different ways 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 leaves?
Can it really be done and still have that great basil flavor? 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, of course you can guess I'd have to test this with basil, too.
So I gathered six different methods, tested them all on one day, froze them for a week, and took pictures along the way to share with you. There was a clear winner for me - and a second method that surprised me. Each method is pretty easy to do, though, so you can choose any one you think looks best!
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.
I love, love, that again the easiest method proved to be a good one - and the best one for me.
But there are still two more popular Pinterest methods to test, 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 c. of leaves to 2 TB. 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 learn that this was another of my least favorite methods since it seemed to be so popular.
6. Chopped in Liquid Cubes
I've read about this method many times 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 - 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 (again from a comment) was the differences:
- Wash, dry & slice basil leaves.
- Divide among ice cube tray sections.
- 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 I see these cubes being a lot more versatile than smaller cut basil or oil-covered basil. The cubes would even be a way to add basil flavor to curries.
So, how will I be preserving our garden basil?
I will be preserving the rest of our basil leaves unblanched straight into baggies and I'll make sure to have a few liquid cubes, too, for our favorite winter soups and stews.
I'm happy to have these tested ways to keep the basil flavor all winter- along with lots of pesto, of course.
Have you used any of these methods for freezing basil? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments!
Other Freezing Preserves To Try:
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