Best Substitute For Basil In Pesto

Best Substitute For Basil In Pesto

Cooking Tips

If you are yet to try basil pesto before, then you are missing out greatly. This is a delicious and rich meal that can help to replace many boring or bland recipes ranging from roasted meat to sandwiches to pasta and pizza. It is fancy and versatile and can be easily made at home.

You might not have basil or you don’t even like it, you may be looking at substituting it for another thing. There are lots of alternatives for basil to help create your delicious pesto. Either herbs like tarragon, sage, mint, or cilantro, or leafy greens like seaweed, watercress, arugula, kale, or spinach have been considered to be the best alternative to basil in your pesto. For better results, you may combine them.

Traditional Pesto Ingredients

Traditionally, pesto is an Italian meal and it is very specific when it comes to the ingredients. However, some families are likely to have their twist for uniqueness. The major foundation of the sauce is basil, preferably fresh, young chopped basil leaves that form the thick paste. Another important ingredient is olive oil. The olive oil should be extra virgin, be of high quality to add a tangy, rich flavor to the pesto. Serving as a complement for the previously mentioned ingredient is creamy pine nuts, fresh garlic, and aged parmesan.

The Best Substitutes for Basil in Pesto

Classified as an herb, basil has high nutrition and flavor content but it is leafy. You have lots of space to experiment and have a variety of options you can substitute it within your pesto. You can decide to use alternative herbs that each has its unique flavor and signature or use leafy greens. There are also options to combine the two to get a unique blend.

Check the chart below for some suggestions of the best substitutes for basil in pesto:

Herbs for your Pesto Greens for your Pesto
Tarragon Seaweed
Sage Watercress
Mint Arugula
Cilantro Baby Kale
Parsley Spinach


Using Herbs in Pesto

It is sensible to replace basil with an herb because it is an herb itself. It is a leafy herb but something such as rosemary will give your pesto the lovely flavor but you will not get the body needed. The herbs below will add wonderful flavors and uniqueness to the sauce and also fills into a proper spread or sauce.

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Tarragon Pesto

The leaves of Tarragon are smaller, you can combine it with other basil substitutions to get the best out of it. Its flavor is much licorice-like, not too obvious when compared with anise but it is noticeable. You can pair it with parsley as they enhance the flavor of each other nicely.

Sage Pesto

This herb will work in pesto perfectly because of the pine taste that will usually work with any kind of nuts. Sage has smaller leaves than other options, you can combine it with baby kale or spinach to fill the pesto better without the spotlight taken from it.

Mint Pesto

This is not a usual suggestion but you can try it most especially by blending it with a bit of squeeze of lime or lemon. It will also pair well with your parsley. It has an original bright and fresh flavor.

Cilantro Pesto

Most people either hate or love cilantro, it is a bit controversial. You will get addicted quickly to eating cilantro pesto if you are in love with cilantro. There is a nutty flavor associated with fresh cilantro and it is well hidden by its citrusy spice. Parmesan and pine nuts present in pesto helps to bring it to life.

Parsley Pesto

The most popular herb alternative to replace basil in pesto is parsley and that’s maybe because it is very common. A lot of people know how parsley tastes and will not think it is overwhelming when you abundantly use it in your sauce. When making parsley pesto, squeeze ½ or ¼ of lemon into your mix to tame the bitter edge and bring the flavors out.

Best Substitute For Basil In Pesto
Best Substitute For Basil In Pesto

Using Greens in Pesto

Strong flavors associated with herbs may be found overwhelming, you could try out leafy greens for your pesto. The plants are older and the flavors are less biting and more mellow though still very strong to help create the sauce especially when you enhance with olive oil, cheese, and nuts.

Seaweed Pesto

Using seaweed as a substitute for basil is very unusual and quite delicious. Seaweed has an earthy green and salty flavor that perfectly blends with rich olive oil or buttery pinenuts. If you want the best flavor, rather than trying to use raw garlic, use roasted garlic. There is no need to get dried seaweed soaked before using them.

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Watercress Pesto

Watercress in its raw form can be a bit spicy, it depends on how old it is and how it was grown much like radish sprouts or mustard greens. You could decide not to use only watercress as a replacement fully for basil, but you will still be left with a kind of spicy variation.

If you want to reduce the spice, blanch the watercress or cook it for about 5 minutes. After this, allow it to cool and use it for your pesto. Parmesan, olive oil, or pine nuts can also help take some edge off it but you will be left with a salty and hot dish if it is combined with seaweed.

Arugula Pesto

This leafy green is highly incredible and undervalued. It is spicy and it has all kinds of attitude and flavor. It can be used to substitute basil in your pesto, however, it will also leave its signature of peppery taste. Arugula can be substituted in the same measurement for basil in the pesto recipe. You can also combine arugula and spinach or any of the herbs highlighted above. Fresh cilantro that has a kind of citrusy flavor pairs specifically with arugula.

The almost citrusy flavor of fresh cilantro pairs particularly well with arugula.

Kale Pesto

You can also make pesto from kale but you will get an outcome that is bolder in flavor. This flavor will prominently shine more than when you use spinach. Simply chop your baby kale if you want to use it or get it processed as usual. If you, however, have dinosaur kale, older kale, or some other heartier varieties, massage or blanch it before you add it to the pesto.

Kale could be a bit tough and when added raw to a food processer, your pesto could be left stringy. You should blanch it to avoid this occurrence. What you will do to blanch it is to add the leaves for up to 2 minutes in your pot of already boiling water. Remove them and immediately soak them inside ice water so that the cooking process can be stopped.

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An alternative is to rip the leaves up by hand and add olive oil, massaging them for about 5 minutes before finely processing or chopping them. The fibers will be broken up and the leaves will be more delicate and less stringy.

Spinach Pesto

Spinach has the mildest flavor of all possible substitutes you will see. Spinach works best when you pair it with one herb such as mint or cilantro because these are the two most potent herbs. Fresh spinach from the garden can be used, regular spinach or baby spinach can also be used to get something that is silky smooth.

Compared to other greens, spinach is more watery, this makes it create a smoother, thinner pesto. For chunky pesto, use a sharp knife rather than a food processer to chop the spinach leaves, or don’t process it as long.


Simple Recipe of Basil Pesto

You can make a simple recipe of basil pesto by combining and blending some ingredients in your food processor until they are mostly smooth. You can use the simple recipe below to make your basil pesto:

  • Two to three tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin).
  • ½ cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
  • ¼ cup of pine nuts
  • Three to four cloves of garlic
  • A handful or one large bunch of fresh basil

Related Questions

Can you make pesto without garlic?

If you are sensitive or intolerant to garlic, you can make pesto without it. However, garlic is a very big portion of the pesto flavor. When you remove it, add another ingredient like a caramelized onion that has an amazing taste in pasta. You may also use minced or dried garlic if you don’t have fresh garlic.

What is a red pesto substitute?

Sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, basil, and garlic are used to make red pesto. If sun-dried tomatoes are not your favorite or you don’t want it red, use marinated or fresh tomatoes. Roasted carrots or roasted red peppers can also be used to add richness. You will also get a briny nice flavor from marinated artichoke capers or hearts though the red will not be gotten.

What is a good substitute for pine nuts in pesto?

The function of pine nuts is to add a creamy texture and buttery flavor to pesto. You need to replace it with something similar if you have to replace it. Get raw almonds, walnuts, or cashews. Pecans can also be substituted. Peanuts’ signature flavor is too much to be an excellent substitute. If, however, you can soak raw peanuts, then they will also work.

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