Preserving basil, and herbal oils and botulism.

Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 21:11:51 -0800
To: The Culinary Herbs & Spices List <HERBS.HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM>
From: Lynette Scribner <lscrib.GORGE.NET>
Subject: Re: Basil Preservation (was: Dill Preservation)

Hi Sherry!

>Thinking to the future a bit, it seems that my basil grows like a weed in the summer and I have all I can use. Then in winter, I look at the tiny bouquets of basil in the produce section of the grocery store that are marked at $1.95 and I just drool.

Something that worked for me was to puree the basil in a food processor with a little bit of water and freeze the puree into ice cube trays then pop the cubes into plastic freezer bags. The ones I froze last summer still smell fresh! I haven't actually made pesto out of it (I forgot it was in the freezer until about 2 months ago!), but I imagine if you drained water off the thawed basil in a very fine strainer it would work just fine. Great in soups and tomato sauces!

From: Fran <frich.TENET.EDU>

> Something that worked for me was to puree the basil in a food processor

If you plan on mainly using it for pesto, puree it with oil and freeze. Then you don't have to worry about the water. The ice cube/water method works great for adding to soups and such.

From: Jan Gordon <jrg14.CORNELL.EDU>

>Thinking to the future a bit, it seems that my basil grows like a weed in

On preserving basil: I chopped it up, put it in ziplock bags, and popped them into the freezer. As someone mentioned, it does turn dark but it tastes and smells like fresh basil.

I also pulled up a basil plant and potted it, set it in a southern window for the winter. It did just great, I had fresh basil all winter. what a treat! I did the same with chives, sage, oregano and thyme. The oregano and thyme didn't make it but everything else is still going strong. Jan, central New York

From: "Lisa A. Eller, N8PSF" <n8psf.MACATAWA.ORG>

>On preserving basil: I chopped it up, put it in ziplock bags, and popped

You could also dry it - using a dehydrator or an oven on a very low temp for a few days.

From: "Mary E. Hall" <IOMA2.AOL.COM>

It looks like lots of you freeze basil halfway to pesto--but it does freeze whole. I select prettiest leaves that are left when I finally give up at the end of the summer, and layer them between paper towels in a sealable container. (This year I might try wax paper or saran because the paper takes up more room in the freezer.) They turn black and won't be so pretty for salads anymore, but still look great embedded in the top of homemade bread or pizza. And in winter it'll amaze your friends! One warning: Put them in your deep freezer if you've got one, I don't but I want to get one, now more than ever. I've just found out that "frost free" refrigerator-freezers "cycle up" to warmer temps every day, which cuts the life of your frozen foods. THIS we pay MORE for!?

From: Doris Tuck <dlt.JAKE.HQ.INTERLINK.COM>

>Thinking to the future a bit, it seems that my basil grows like a weed in

Wash them and stuff them into a glass jar and put in the freezer. When you need some, open the jar and scrape at the frozen basil. Almost already minced for you, that way.

From: "Chris McElrath" <chrism.SMHSI-GW.SMHSI.COM>

I know lots of people have given their methods of preservation, but I wanted to add one more point. I chop my basil up fine, mix with olive oil, freeze in ice cube trays, put in ziplock bags, etc. like others. What I like about this method is that I can throw the cube (or 2 or 3) into my saute pan and do chicken or pasta or other oil needed.

From: Isaacs <isaacs.RMI.NET>

You have just inspired me to megabasil my garden. . .what a super idea! I've never thought about the oil - I've used only water to freeze the basil bits. I would think this could be accomplished with other herbs as well. . . cilantro and dill perhaps (maybe chervil)? I could see using the dill cubes during winter in making loaves of fresh herb bread.

From: Pat Patterson <PSP.LCE.OES.ORST.EDU>
Subject: Re: Storing Basil in oil

Please, please do not layer fresh basil in oil to store it. This is an excellent way to develop botulism toxins. Same for garlic. I would hate to see any of my friends on this list dead.

From: Fran <frich.TENET.EDU>

> Please, please do not layer fresh basil in oil to store it.

It's OK if you freeze it!

From: Sara Anne Corrigan <SaraAnneC.AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: Storing Basil in oil

Hello; I am "renewed" to this list after having somehow been dropped about a month ago. I am a food writer for a newspaper in Southern Indiana and a 15-year veteran herb gardener/preserver/cook.

I am not a food scientist or a dietician, but I talk to those kinds of people all the time. The best information I have is that while yes, storing garlic in oil can, over the course of a week or two, even under refrigeration, cause it to develop botulism, I have never heard this reference made to basil leaves. The only cautionary note is to keep the basil covered by the oil at all times, adding more if necessary, and keeping the whole thing under refrigeration. I would be very interested in some documentation on basil leaves in oil being a food safety hazard.

I do not, however, store basil this way.

I am a pesto lover and this is how I usually preserve most of my basil: I puree the leaves with olive oil, as the first step in making pesto, then I FREEZE this puree in ice cube trays. After about two days, when the cubes are rock-hard, I carefully remove them from the trays and wrap each cube in plastic wrap then pack these little packets into a Zip-Lock freezer bag. Each cube is about 2 tablespoons. I add cubes to soups or I thaw them out and add the pressed garlic, ground nuts and grated Parmesan cheese to finish the pesto recipe. I have been doing this for years and never have had a mishap. Plus which, the basil really does keep its fresh-from-the-garden flavor. I highly recommend this procedure.

It's good to be back on this list! So many neat recipes and good tips for growing our very favorite plants!

From: Pat Patterson <PSP.LCE.OES.ORST.EDU>
Subject: Re: Food safety

Gee, I hate to appear to be belaboring a subject, but I really do worry about oil preservation of herbs. I have been thoroughly brainwashed by the Food Safety department (especially Caroline Raab) of the Oregon State University and specifically checked with our OSU food agent on this point as I do not pretend to be an expert. This is the information I have.

Any low acid food cannot be safely preserved in oil for extended periods (this can be from over a week to over a month) without risk of botulism.

Obviously if no botulism spores are present, there will be no danger. Do you want to take that risk? People also waterbath canned beans and other low acid foods for years and that is very much condemned now. If only one person in 1000 dies, is that OK?? There are lots of great ways to preserve foods that are safe. Foods sold commercially preserved in oil either have special additives or are basically pressure canned. The high heat sealing destroys any botulism spores in the jar/can.

Well, I shall get off my soapbox now and promise not to mention this again. Each can make their own decision.

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