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.
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.