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I know that washing basil weakens it's flavor significantly. I often buy it from local supermarkets where everyone can touch it, that's why I just have to wash it. But even when I buy organic basil, I still feel the urge to wash it. How do you deal with that? Is there any way to 'wash' the basil without weaken it's flavour?

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How do you wash your basil? –  ElendilTheTall May 16 '12 at 20:46
    
I put it into a small strainer and rinse it with lukewarm water. After that, I dry it with paper towels. –  Sven May 16 '12 at 21:08
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Well, in that case you may as well not wash it at all. Lukewarm water is a germ's best friend, so it's doubtful whether you're cleaning it much, let alone sterilising it. Besides, just because everyone at the supermarket can touch it, it doesn't mean they have. –  ElendilTheTall May 16 '12 at 21:11
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Note how people have all touched, bought, and eaten basil at markets for millennia, and it is not considered a health risk in any way, which is why it is not forbidden. Germs that can spread by (dry) contact will get to you anyway unless you don't ever meet people who leave the house. The only such germs I can think of are colds and the flu, and you'll get those on you anyway (whether or not you develop any symptoms). If such contact had been dangerous, there would be some kind of scientific proof. –  Cerberus May 16 '12 at 22:42
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Where did "I know that washing basil weakens it's flavor significantly" come from? I have never heard of that. –  rumtscho May 17 '12 at 14:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

People generally wash fruit and vegetables (organic or not) to remove surface contamination ,and the bacteria it may host, from the farm and supply chain

This includes soil (ground based animal faeces), compost (rotted vegetable matter), airborne dropped bird faeces, road dust (often high in animal faeces), and other surface contamination that can host bacteria

A short and simple wash by hand in a bowl or sink of cold tap water will remove large amounts of these surface contamination from most fruit and vegetables. Some may require light brushing or scrubbing. And for best results rinse in running cold tap water after washing. Shaking water off usually works better than trying to blot it off with a tea towel

Gentle washing will NOT remove any significant flavour or aromas. Think about what happens when it rains :-)

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Thanks for clearing that up! –  Sven May 17 '12 at 8:28

Washing basil (or indeed, anything) in lukewarm water is going to do very little to remove germs; in fact, you're probably just giving them an excuse to party.

Basil is easy to grow in a pot on a warm windowsill, so perhaps you could grow your own and avoid any misgivings about the hygiene aspects that way?

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I thought washing produce was more to remove dirt, fertilizers, and pesticide than to reduce bacteria count. –  Sobachatina May 17 '12 at 1:25
    
@Sobachatina: I'm not so sure about that. I very quickly found several sources saying that washing removes bacteria; for example, the FDA says it does. I believe this is partially because a substantial amount of the bacteria that might be there will be living in the (possibly invisible) dirt that's on the surface, not just on the vegetables itself. (The bit about bacteria growing in room temperature water is the reason you wash right before using.) –  Jefromi May 17 '12 at 2:21
    
Do you have a source for your claim that washing in lukewarm water will do little to remove germs? That seems counter-intuitive. –  Flimzy May 17 '12 at 17:28
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I think the confusion here is over the fact that washing meat is generally useless. It's different for produce because of a combination of the other comments here - most of the bacteria and other nasties you might find on produce live in/on the soil. Wash the surface, get rid of the soil, and it's generally safe to eat afterward. –  Aaronut May 21 '12 at 3:07

If you feel the urge to wash it before using, then wash it. The stress of not having washed it is not worth it.

I used to work in the Adelaide Central Markets, and having seen what some people did before touching the produce, I habitually wash goods that were within reach of the public before I use them. When you've seen customers stick their hand in their pants to scratch their butt and straight afterwards pick up the fruit, you get a bit paranoid.

I accept that most of the time, I don't need to wash the produce. I also accept that that does not matter to my brain what I tell it, if it wants me to wash the stuff before using it, it's not worth arguing.

When I do wash my ingredients, I don't dry them immediately. Instead, I leave them in the dish drainer on the sink while I do another part of meal preparation. Most of the water will drain away without having to put in any effort, and what's left can be shaken off or blotted, depending on how fragile I feel the ingredients are.

The other way you can deal with feeling the urge to wash produce before using it is to grow your own, or acquire it from a friend or relative. I get my basil from my Dad, who always grows about ten times as much as my parents will use.

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+1 for growing your own or getting it from a trusted source. –  Callithumpian Jun 4 '12 at 3:15

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