Quick Basil Question
July 21, 2021 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Will fresh-picked basil stay green in the fridge over several days?

We are heading out of town in a couple of days. However, my basil seriously needs to be picked (again) now, but I have no time available before we leave to process it into pesto. Ideally, I'd like to just pick it and toss it into the fridge and process it all when we get back. Those pre-packaged basil leaves you get in the supermarket stay nice and green for a good long time, so why shouldn't mine? Right?

Should I store it loose? In baggies? A large container?


(In case you're wondering, I don't want to wait until I get back to pick the basil because I'm afraid it might start flowering before then, which can sometimes make the basil bitter.)
posted by Thorzdad to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Nope. It goes bad fast.
I've had luck with placing fresh basil in a glass of water in the fridge. Buys a couple more days.

I think the pre-packaged stuff stays fresher because they usually come with roots (and sometimes soil) attached; I'm guessing that the leaves can get more moisture that way.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:58 AM on July 21 [7 favorites]

If you wash it gently and wrap it in damp paper towels and put it in a jar or baggie, that will buy you a few days.

Alternately, you can just stick it in the freezer as-is - it won't look pretty but it will still taste good.
posted by mskyle at 11:00 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]

We buy a lot of farmers market basil and I second Dr Wu.
posted by kerf at 11:07 AM on July 21

I went to visit a friend on Saturday. She gave me a big bunch of just-cut basil from her garden (I watched her cut it). Stuck it in the fridge. It was toast by Monday.
posted by cooker girl at 11:10 AM on July 21

If you have flower buds developing you can probably just pinch them off to keep it from bolting. Some ad hoc shade may help?
posted by mikesch at 11:13 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]

If you really have to pick it now, don’t store it in the fridge. Just in a cool dark cupboard. Might last a little bit longer.
posted by rd45 at 11:15 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

When I have stems with the leaves attached, I put them in water at room temperature as if they were flowers in a vase. They can last over a week this way, and sometimes start growing roots, though I suspect it helps if you change the water every few days.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:16 AM on July 21 [9 favorites]

Unless your house is very warm, skip the fridge. Just put the basil in a glass of water on the counter with a plastic bag loosely over the top. I've had a huge bunch of CSA basil on a vase on my counter for a week and it's just now starting to go soft.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:17 AM on July 21 [14 favorites]

You can pre-emptively pinch the tips to avoid flowers. Or, pick the tops, strip from the stalks, blend with olive oil, refrigerate or freeze. If you only harvest the top halves of the plants, you'll get a 2nd crop.
posted by theora55 at 11:29 AM on July 21

Freeze it in ice cubs if you want, but I would make it into some kind of a pesto now and store it in a cold fridge with olive oil.
posted by zaelic at 11:38 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]

Serious Eats recommends the approach mostlymartha describes, which is not what you'd do for most other herbs. I've gotten decent results from it.
posted by praemunire at 11:52 AM on July 21

Make basil salt.
posted by wicked_sassy at 12:19 PM on July 21

We've also had reasonably good results following mostlymartha's approach.
posted by sriracha at 12:22 PM on July 21

I freeze my crops with this method.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:00 PM on July 21

While I do preserve most of my basil in oil in the freezer, or freeze leaves in bags to deal with later, I also dry a few batches the Serious Eats way in the microwave. It's still very good and quite handy to have some on hand in that format.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:19 PM on July 21

I have about a thousand basil plants this year on my farm that I pick tips from. I generally pick one day ahead at most and only for customers that I know are processing it (instead of using it fresh). It just doesn't store well.

As others have said: fridge--definitely not, cool dark place is better, stems or whole plants in water even better. That's one farmer's market "trick". Whole plants are grown at relatively high density, bunched with the roots still attached and stored in water in a cool (say >60F) place. Then roots are cut off (or not depending on your customers) just before selling. This works with other Mediterranean herbs like parsley or cilantro as well. This is also how you get decent vase-life from ornamental basils in flower arrangements.

One storage tip I'd add is to make sure that the basil is completely dry and the same temp as your storage location before storing. Then make sure the container is slightly open or vented to keep condensation from forming. That will also quickly wreck it.

You can also just pack the whole leaves or tips in oil in a container and store that in your fridge or freezer. Then make the actual pesto later adding more leaves or oil as you need. This also works well to store roasted peppers in your freezer and have them in the winter.
posted by sevenless at 1:35 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]

Treat it like cut flowers you want to hang out, cut and put stems and all into a jar with water, put the jar with a Ziploc over it in the fridge. It will be fine.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:53 PM on July 21

Alternately, you can just stick it in the freezer as-is - it won't look pretty but it will still taste good.

This has NOT been my experience, just as a data point.
posted by babelfish at 1:55 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]

This is the serious eats herb-storage page.
I have relatively good experience with cleaning the basil, wrapping it in paper towel and storing it in a plastic bag or airtight container in the fridge for two-three days. Relatively because some leaves may go black. If you have rinsed it properly, there shouldn't be mold, but who knows... And I'm thinking that the whole proces may take the same time as running the leaves with the other ingredients for pesto in a blender. It isn't the same as a perfectly made pesto in a mortar with a pestle, but it is still damn good, and keeps just fine for a couple of days. Alternatively, I am known to drive across the country with my basil. My car is fragrant.
Or maybe make basil oil?
Or give your basil away? When I feel too ridiculous about the basil in my car, I give it to my kids and start again with a new plant.
posted by mumimor at 2:59 PM on July 21

You can also just dry it out in a low (toaster) oven, and then use your fresh and flavorful dried basil whenever you get back.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 7:02 PM on July 21

Based on this article I started putting mine in a deli container non-refrigerated but out of the sun. It usually last 4-5 days depending on the condition it was in when I got it.
posted by Shellybeans at 7:55 AM on July 22

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