Basil is one of the most common pizza seasonings around the world. It’s in the sauce, sprinkled on top of the cheese and sometimes added as fresh leaves. But when should basil be added to a pizza?
In a home oven, fresh basil should be added to pizza after its baked. In a wood-fired oven, fresh basil should be added before the pizza is baked. Dried basil, on the other hand, can be added before or after baking the pizza at any temperature.
Let’s go over how it works.
When To Add Fresh Basil To Pizza
If you watch a Neapolitan chef make pizza, you’ll see them add fresh basil before baking the pizza. By contrast, other pizza makers add fresh basil after taking the pizza out of the oven. It can be confusing, but not if you understand the affect baking has on fresh basil.
Fresh Basil Goes On Pizza Last In A Home Oven
Fresh basil should be added after baking at lower temperatures, like in a home oven. This is because home oven pizzas take longer to bake – sometimes as long as 10 minutes. Cooking fresh basil for that long in a home oven will ruin the texture and give your pizza an overpowering taste of basil.
This happens because the high heat disintegrates the leaves while all the flavor from the basil infuses into the sauce and cheese. While such an intense flavor of basil may be nice for some, I find it to be too much.
Fresh Basil Goes On Pizza First In A Wood Fired Oven
Fresh basil should be added first when baking in a wood-fired oven. This is because wood-fired ovens bake pizza much more quickly and at a much higher temperature. As a result, the fresh basil is only in the oven very briefly and doesn’t get a chance to dehydrate or change the flavor of the pizza.
This is precisely why we see pizza makers in Naples adding fresh basil leaves to their pizza before putting it in the oven. Their ovens can reach temperatures of up 900F and finish cooking a pizza in under 90 seconds.
Dried Basil Can Be Added To Pizza Whenever
Dried basil, the kind that comes ground up in a bag at the supermarket, is not the same as the fresh basil I described above.
For one, dried basil is completely dehydrated so a lot of the intense basil flavor and aroma is already gone. As a result, dried basil doesn’t really change in texture or taste no matter how long you bake it in the oven.
Dried basil, therefore, can be added to your pizza whenever you feel like it. You can sprinkle some on the sauce before the pizza goes in the oven, or sprinkle some on the cheese after it comes out. You can even do both for the best of both worlds, it really doesn’t make much of a difference.
With dried basil, it’s much more about quantity than timing. So add a lot if you really like the taste of basil or add less if you don’t.
American style pizza, especially Detroit style, are known for using lots of seasonings, including dried basil, in a precooked sauce. Americans generally prefer a pizza with a more intense taste than Italian style with fresh basil.
When to add basil to your pizza ultimately comes down to personal taste, but remember that less is more as a general rule of thumb.
The less time in the oven, the better your fresh basil will taste. So if you’re making pizza at home, that means 99% of the time you’re going to want to put the basil on last.
And as for dried basil, while it might be tempting to sprinkle loads of it on because you like the taste, most of the time it’s going to overpower each bite. Instead, opt for less dried basil and let it compliment the other flavors rather than compete with them.
Check my homemade Neapolitan pizza recipe for an example of using fresh basil. For dried basil, check out my Detroit pizza recipe where I precook it in the sauce along with other seasonings.
What’s your favorite way to use basil on pizza?