It’s time you put some spice into your life
This could well be the slogan for encouraging farmers to grow spices and consumers to promote the use of spices in their cooking . Local market base is needed to enable our spice industry to gain a share of the world market for spices. By increasing our spice production, we can also lessen the amount of spices that we import.
Spices are any vegetable product or mixture, in whole or ground form whose significant function is to flavour, season and preserve or impart color and aroma to foods. The Philippines is a net importer of spices. From 1991 -1996 , the country imported an annual average of 1,400 tons of spices reaching almost 2000 tons in 1996 and valued at 3.4 million dollar while exports had an annual average of 150 tons at 0.2 million dollar. The bulk of these exports are pepper. The feasibility of producing locally some of the imported spices such as sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) have not been looked into.
Sweet basil is a popular savory herb used to impart a fragrant, warm and sweet flavour with pungent and clove-like notes to dishes and drinks. The leaves complement many soups, salads, and vegetable dishes. Sweet bsil is also often used along with tomatoes. In Italian cooking, the leaves are used in pizzas , pasta, chicken and cheese dishes; in France , in omelettes and soups. The leaves are a source of essential oil and oleoresin mainly applied in industry to flavour baked goods, sauces, pickles, vinegar and meat products and to modify flavour of some liquors.
Sweet basil is adaptable to wide range of conditions favourable for vegetable production and grows spontaneously. It is propagated through seeds or cuttings. It is sown evenly at a depth of 2-10 millimeters in germination boxes on a previously moistened medium consisting of equal parts of compost or farm manure, garden soil and river sand. Watering is done gently using a hand sprayer. It needs at least five hours of daily direct sunlight and 12 hours of artificial light if grown indoors and grows best on fertile, light and well-drained soils since it has a relatively high nitrogen and water requirement. Once established, sweet basil seedling grow rapidly. When plants have reached a height of 50-70 cm branching starts. Pinching out its tip encourages vegetative growth . It is best harvested prior to the start of its flowering or 3-4 months after planting.
In harvesting, sweet basil is cut 10-15 cm above the ground to ensure regrowth and subsequent harvests after 15-20 days. Yield is estimated at seven tons per hectare of fresh leaves per harvest. Before processing , sweet basil leaves and branches are washed and dried at temperatures not exceeding 35 degrees Celsius and are chopped to specific sized and graded.
Sweet basil is produced in small quantities in Cavite and its market is limited to first-class hotels and specialty-food restaurants. But its popularity is growing as health food, including its use for pastas and Italian foods. These are the in thing nowadays thus offering new opportunities for farmers who want to diversify their agricultural produce.
Source: BAR TODAY April June 2001, Maria Rowena Briones
(de Guzman C. C. And J.S. Siemons (ed.) Plant Resources of South East Asia. Leiden the Netherlands: Backways Publisher, 1999)