Basil Jelly

Prepare to have your gardening and preserving lives forever changed for the better with these two words: Basil Jelly.

Yes, that’s a mighty big promise to start out with, but you guys, this jelly is that good.  The aroma, the color, the taste–I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I made this batch of jelly on Monday.

It all started with a glut of garden basil.  The basil has been growing beautifully this year, but with a batch of fresh pesto already in the refrigerator and no ripe tomatoes in sight yet, I was stuck trying to come up with some other options to use it up.  I was contemplating making up a batch of basil syrup, when I started to wonder if it would work to make a basil jelly.  With thoughts of a beautiful pale green, lemony basil jelly occupying my mind, I was on a mission to find a recipe.

Finding the right recipe took a little bit of time.  I looked through about half a dozen variations, but nothing jumped out at me as exactly what I was looking for, so I started to compare recipes, looking for the basic proportions of basil, water, sugar, acid, and pectin to use as a starting point.

The first task at hand was to extract the basil flavor and color for the jelly.  Most of the recipes I looked at called for combining the basil leaves and water in a large pot and slowly bringing it to a boil, but when I tried this method, I found that the basil leaves browned very easily as they came in contact with the hot metal and the resulting color of the liquid was more of a brownish green (the flavor was good, but it wasn’t exactly the aesthetic I was hoping for), so I tried I different approach with the second batch.  This time I prepared the basil and placed it in the bottom of a large glass bowl while I brought some water to a boil.  I then measured out 2 cups of boiling water and poured it over the basil in the glass bowl.  This time the basil turned a brilliant bright green (no browning at all) and the liquid was a much prettier pale green (not to mention, the kitchen smelled amazing afterwards!).
Once I had the liquid prepared, I added sugar and started to cook the jelly.  Again, most of the recipes I considered were in agreement, using vinegar for acidity, but I really had my heart set on that classic lemon-basil combination, so I substituted bottled lemon juice for vinegar (a safe substitution for canning recipes, but it is recommended to use bottled lemon juice, as it is more consistently acidic than fresh squeezed).  Per the basic formula I was following, I started with two tablespoons,  but after tasting it, I added two more tablespoons to make sure that both the lemon and the basil flavors were discernible. The results were pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself!
It’s worth noting that the intensity of the basil flavor will vary, depending on what variety you use (I am growing all Sweet Basil this year). Though the recipe below calls for 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice, you may want to start with a minimum of 2 tablespoons and add more to taste.
It’s been quite a while since I made jelly, and this was my first time making it all on my own without mom to coach me with any of her jelly-making wisdom, but I managed through, adding the liquid pectin, returning it to a quick one minute boil, and skimming off the foam before filling the jars.  All the while being mesmerized by the pretty pale green color and wonderful scent of basil and lemon!
The jelly set up beautifully, and has a great flavor and aroma.  I ended up with four half-pint jars canned, and one open jar in the refrigerator (which I’m not ashamed to admit that I regularly open, just to smell and sneak a little taste).  I’m definitely looking forward to finding some great uses for this jelly in the kitchen!
I’m also looking forward to making another batch of this jelly the next time the basil starts to get ahead of me – It’s definitely a new favorite and a seasonal must-make!  I’d also love to try different varieties of basil to see how they compare.  Note to self: plant more Lemon Basil next year for this very purpose.

Basil Jelly
2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
2 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
3 oz. package liquid pectin

Rough chop basil leaves and place them in a large glass bowl and set aside.  Bring water to a boil and pour over the basil; cover and let sit for 15-20 minutes.  After time has passed, pour liquid through a strainer to remove leaves and measure out 1 1/2 cups of the liquid.  

Combine liquid with sugar and lemon juice in a large pot and slowly bring to a boil.  When the boil is constant and cannot be stirred down, add the liquid pectin.  Stirring constantly, return to a rapid boil and boil for 1 minute and remove from heat promptly. 

Skim off any foam on the surface of the jelly and fill sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in hot water bath for 15 minutes. 

Yield: 5 half-pint jars

Recipe heavily adapted from several sources, but I depended most heavily on Renee’s Garden for method.

37 thoughts on “Basil Jelly

  • July 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm
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    Beautiful job! Thanks for sharing what you learned. I’m curious, did you make the jelly in a metal pan, or did you somehow cook it down in a glass pan to keep the color?

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    • July 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm
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      Great question, SJ! I used a regular stainless steel pot to cook the jelly. I only used the glass bowl for the basil leaves; once the liquid was infused with the basil, it did not change color as it cooked – it appears the basil leaves themselves were the issue in that regard.

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  • July 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm
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    This looks beautiful and sounds delicious! I love basil, and look forward to giving it a try.

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  • July 27, 2013 at 9:17 pm
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    This looks awesome! I will definitely be making some soon. We have a bumper crop of basil already, and still have pesto in the freezer from last year’s huge crop, so I’m looking for more uses. What do you do with the jelly once it’s made? I’m trying to think of ways to use it, and other than the typical cream cheese + savory jelly appetizer, I’m not sure what to do with something like this.

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    • July 29, 2013 at 6:33 am
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      Thank you! I think it could have a few good applications in both sweet and savory dishes. I plan to use it in some baking, paired with lemon or other citrus-y flavors. It would also be good as a base for a glaze for meat or fish or a vinaigrette!

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    • July 29, 2013 at 7:31 pm
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      Those are all fantastic ideas – thank you! I am definitely going to try this – our basil is already starting to try to flower, so I need to hack the tops off and do something ASAP.

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    • August 8, 2013 at 12:30 pm
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      I’m making this tonight – can’t wait to see how it turns out! It seems like it would be very tasty on that orange citrus-y olive oil cake…

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    • August 10, 2013 at 9:04 am
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      That sounds great – I’d love the link to that cake recipe!

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  • July 29, 2013 at 8:02 am
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    I have a crop of basil just begging to be used, and this looks fantastic! I’m going to give it a try this afternoon. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe!

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    • July 30, 2013 at 11:49 am
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      You’re welcome! It’s a great way to use up extra basil!

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  • July 31, 2013 at 7:45 am
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    I have been looking for a jelly recipe to use my cinnamon basil. I’ve found it! :) Thanks so much! I’ll be making this today.

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    • July 31, 2013 at 11:23 am
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      You’re welcome! I’d love to see how the cinnamon basil turns out!

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  • August 3, 2013 at 5:48 pm
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    FYI- This ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT WORK with Genovese basil. No matter what I do, I end up with brown liquid. But I can get a great color with Italian basil. So if you are going to use any other type of basil, run a small test first to make sure you get a color you can live with.

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    • August 5, 2013 at 5:17 am
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      Hi Nicole, I’m sorry to hear that you have had such a hard time with this recipe. I have not experimented with using different types of basil, so I can only share what I experienced using Sweet Basil – but Ellen’s advice in the comment below is good. I picked the basil and processed it immediately, and this makes perfect sense if you’ve ever made pesto with basil that’s been hanging out for a few days – it browns much faster than pesto made with fresh basil. I’m going to do some searching and see if I can find some additional information that might help you out and I will post anything I find that might be helpful. I appreciate you sharing your experience – thanks!

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  • August 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm
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    Nicole, I want to help you out. I am a farmer and the variety “Genovese” is an Italian Basil. For better results, rinse the basil before you strain your basil through triple folded cheesecloth. Also, for this particular variety, the basil MUST be fresh and not have been stored overnight in a refridgerator/cooler or outside where it can easily wilt or begin to die and dry out. I say try again. Hold your jar up to thr picture first posted here in the beginning of this blog. It should look very similar- also look at it in natural lighting. I learned all this tonit through trial and error, and thought it was too brown until I compared it. I really hope this helps you. Good luck!

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    • August 5, 2013 at 5:30 am
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      Thanks for sharing your advice, Ellen! I did use very fresh basil when making this jelly – I picked it from the garden in the backyard and went to work on washing and processing it immediately. It was also fairly new growth, so lots of smaller, new leaves in the mix, which might be another variable to try to achieve a more desirable color. Thanks again for sharing!

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    • August 5, 2013 at 8:13 am
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      The Genovese basil was fresh, rinsed, and grown organically. I picked it myself within hours of using it and did not put it anywhere near a refrigerator. No matter how I tried to steep it (put hot water directly on it in glass, heat it up slowly in enameled cast iron) the results were brown. I used a very small quantity of Italian basil for comparison and the results were always a brilliant green.

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    • August 5, 2013 at 9:24 am
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      It sounds like it may simply be that particular variety. If you follow the Renee’s Garden link at the bottom of the post, it does mention that color results will vary by variety, so it’s reasonable to assume that there could also be some variation with different types of “green basil.” I’m glad that you were able to find a variety of basil that worked well for you! Thanks again for sharing!

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  • August 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm
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    Question: My basil leaves were not nearly as large and lush as yours so I added extra basil – around 3 cups total. After finishing cooking the jelly, I tested a little bit and I can barely taste the basil due to all the sugar. Is it supposed to be so sweet, or is my basil really that lame?

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    • August 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm
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      Also…the jelly didn’t set. So, today I did more basil – this time fresher – with 1/2 cup of water; boiled for 10 minutes, added it to the failed batch that was reheating (squeezed the heck out of the basil to get every last drop of oil out of it), and put ANOTHER pack of pectin in with the whole thing. It still won’t set and it still just tastes like a sugary lemon gel. What. The. Heck.

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    • August 10, 2013 at 9:39 am
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      Hi Kristine, The jelly is certainly sweet – with basil being low acid, I stuck precisely to the basic ratio of sugar, lemon juice, and basil/water that I was seeing over and over again in other recipes to ensure that it was a canning safe recipe, and as a result, it is a sweet recipe. That said, I didn’t find it to be overly sweet with the balance of basil and lemon. I can definitely detect the basil flavor in my jelly – it has a really herbaceous quality to it. My best guess is that it’s a variable in the basil used – either a different variety or different growing conditions.

      As for the set, there are a number of variables that can impact that. Any slight change to the ratio of ingredients, cooking time, what temperature is being achieved during the boil, even the brand of pectin, etc. could make a difference. This is a link that might be helpful in trouble shooting: http://www.pickyourown.org/pectin.htm I achieved a really firm set with Certo brand liquid pectin, following the exact measurements above. I hope this helps – good luck!

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    • August 18, 2013 at 8:35 pm
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      Hi, I just made this jelly tonight, having loads of basil from my garden. I don’t like using artificial pectin, however, so I pulled out a cup of red currant juice (made using a juice steamer a few weeks ago), because currants have a lot of pectin themselves. I added water to the currant juice until it was 2 cups. I used juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed, and the jelly jelled nicely. It is very dark red and tastes quite amazing! Oh, total amount of sugar used was 400 g and most of my basil was lemon basil. This jelly should go well with cold cuts, quiches, and in fruit smoothies, mmmmmm can’t wait

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    • August 20, 2013 at 11:49 am
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      Sounds like a great adaptation! Thanks for sharing!

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  • August 22, 2013 at 11:43 am
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    I just made this – it is delicious and set perfectly! Everyone should try it.

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  • September 3, 2013 at 5:48 am
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    Can lime juice be substituted for the lemon?

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    • September 4, 2013 at 11:50 am
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      Absolutely! Lemon and lime juice can be used interchangeably in canning recipes.

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  • September 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm
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    Love it!!! The color of both of my batches was very different from your picture, but I tried a little bit of it and it tasted delish. I have more basil and might try another couple batches tomorrow. Going to give these as gifts!

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  • August 3, 2014 at 9:02 pm
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    I just made two batches, picked the basil right out of my garden, I have 14 plants, plucked off the leaves only, so no stem. Cut them with kitchen snips and packed them into the 2 cup measuring cup. I used a glass bowl, still an amber color, but that’s okay, I’m going to put colorful labels on the top.

    The first batch was so good I made another and added some chopped garlic to the seeping basil. I did use powdered SureJell because that’s what I have, add the SureJell to the seeped basil and lemon juice, bring to rolling boil, boil for 1 minute, then add sugar, stirring constantly for another 2 minutes. It’s delicious!! Thanks!

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  • August 26, 2014 at 5:15 pm
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    Thanks for this! I tried the recipe using my super-fresh, homegrown organic Italian basil as well, and it turned out brown. Also I can barely taste the basil, but it’s very lemony (I used the whole 1/4 cup). I’m thinking of calling it “Swamp Jelly.” Ha ha. It’s still good though. I’m going to try another batch with my cinnamon basil- hope it works! Next year I’ll try sweet basil. Sounds like the results really depend on the basil- not just variety maybe, but soil conditions, etc.

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    • August 27, 2014 at 7:53 am
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      You’re welcome, Lauren! Yes, there definitely appears to be a lot of variability with how the basil reacts to the process. I found an interesting article on some of the science behind it last winter… I will try to dig that up again!

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  • September 5, 2014 at 3:25 pm
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    Has anyone tried using a blender to keep the leaves in the mix? I know it wouldn’t be a clear jelly, but rather more like the red pepper Jelly. It would give a greener colour. I plan to try it this way myself..

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  • September 9, 2014 at 8:39 am
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    Wondering if since basil oxidizes so quickly after being cut, perhaps leaving the leaves whole would keep the infused liquid from turning brown? You may have to infuse longer if the leaves were whole vs. chopped.

    Reply

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