Fresh basil is best-seller, growers say


Fresh herbs may have caught consumers' fancy, but just a few varieties make up the bulk of all supermarket purchases. By far, the most popular fresh herb is basil.

"The demand is greater than our ability to produce it," says Frieda Caplan, of Frieda's Inc. Five types of basil currently constitute about 50 percent of the Los Angeles-based company's herb sales. Ms. Caplan believes the popularity of Mediterranean cuisine, particularly Italian, is responsible for the rise in sales.

Mint is Ms. Caplan's second-best selling fresh herb, with rosemary and oregano following in that order.

Paul Friedman of the Green House says fresh basil is also his most popular cut herb, representing about 35 percent of the firm's sales.

"Basil doesn't overpower foods and there is virtually nothing that it doesn't go with," he says. "You can't ruin a meal with too much basil but you could with, say, too much oregano, which is so powerfully flavored."

Basil is followed by dill, mint and chives as the best-selling Green House products.

A recent survey of Southern California chefs by California Agriculture magazine, found basil was the most commonly used fresh herb in restaurants, with 79 percent reporting they used it regularly.

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