What Is Cinnamon Basil? (with pictures)

Christian Petersen
Christian Petersen
Leaves of cinnamon basil.
Leaves of cinnamon basil.

Cinnamon basil is one of several varieties of the culinary herb basil, Ocimum basilicum and, like all basil, is a member of the mint family. One of a number of types of specialty basil, it is called cinnamon basil because it has a scent and flavor similar to cinnamon, which comes from the bark of one of several tree species in the genus Cinnamomum. It is used in cooking as a fresh herb and also as a dried herb.

Flavoring hot drinks is a common use for cinnamon basil.
Flavoring hot drinks is a common use for cinnamon basil.

Basil is one of the most popular herbs in cuisine today, especially in Italian and Asian cooking. Originating in India, basil occurs in more than a hundred varieties. Many of these are specialty basils, of which cinnamon basil is one of the most popular. Specialty basils vary from standard basil in one or more ways, including color, leaf shape, growth habit, scent, and flavor. Like all herbs, basil is an aromatic, and its scent is just as important to cooks as its flavor.

The cinnamon flavor and aroma of cinnamon basil come from the aromatic compound cinnamate and other related chemicals. Cinnamate is one of the same compounds that are found in the spice cinnamon and give it its distinctive flavor. Cinnamon basil may contain relatively high concentrations of these aromatic compounds.

Like all basil varieties, cinnamon basil is grown as a leafy herb and is an annual plant in temperate climates. In warmer areas, some types of basil are grown as perennials. Standard basil has broad, tender, slightly curled leaves that are usually a deep green, but many variations in leaf shape are known amongst the numerous basil cultivars. Leaf colors also vary and can include light green and purple. Stems will usually, but not always, be the same color as the leaves, and cinnamon basil may have green or purple leaves, though green is more common.

The distinct combination of flavors found in cinnamon basil make it particularly suited to certain dishes. It is most commonly used in fruit dishes, particularly those made from fresh fruit, but may be used to flavor savory dishes as well. Hot drinks are another popular use for this unusual herb although it may be used in any dish where a cinnamon flavor is desired.

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Discussion Comments


@burcinc-- I don't think that cinnamon basil is used as much as sweet Thai basil in Asian cuisine. Sweet Thai basil also has a spicy flavor with a hint of anise. Cinnamon basil has both an anise and cinnamon scent and flavor. The plants look fairly similar too, except the shape of Thai basil's leaves is a bit different.


@discographer-- I wouldn't quite say that cinnamon basil smells and tastes like cinnamon. It certainly has a sweet, spicy scent. I suppose it might remind some of cinnamon although to me, it just smells of spices. Sometimes the scent also vaguely remind me of peppercorns. This is probably why cinnamon basil is a good addition to savory, spicy dishes, like the ones in Indian and Thai cuisine. Some people prefer to use it with fruits or salads, I guess to counter the sweet and bland flavors of those dishes. It's really up to you how you want to use this type of basil.

Many nurseries and garden stores sell varieties of basil, including cinnamon basil during the right season. You could also buy the seeds and grow it yourself in a pot. I don't know if dried cinnamon basil is available, but I think it's better fresh.


So cinnamon basil has a cinnamon scent and flavor?! That's very interesting. I love basil and cook with it all the time but this is the first time I'm hearing of cinnamon basil. I must try it sometime, I'm just not sure where I can find it. Any ideas?

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    • Leaves of cinnamon basil.
      Leaves of cinnamon basil.
    • Flavoring hot drinks is a common use for cinnamon basil.
      Flavoring hot drinks is a common use for cinnamon basil.