Food and Nutrition
Food and Nutrition
Food and Nutrition
Food and Nutrition

Best Options to Substitute Pine Nuts in Pesto

Jump to Recipe3 bowls of pesto.

Whether you don't have pine nuts or you don't want to use them, there are many alternatives you can use in in a pesto. Pesto in traditionally made with pine nuts, but most of the flavor comes from the basil and other ingredients.

What is Pesto?

Pesto is a sauce originating from Italian cuisine. It is traditionally made by grinding together fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. The word "pesto" comes from the Italian word "pestare," which means to pound or crush, reflecting the traditional method of making the sauce using a mortar and pestle. However, nowadays, it is commonly made using a food processor or blender for convenience.

Pesto is a delicious pasta that is often used in savory dishes or as a pasta sauce.

The key ingredients of traditional basil pesto are as follows:

  • Basil: Fresh basil leaves are the main component of pesto and give it its distinctive flavor and aroma. The leaves are usually picked and used when they are young and tender.
  • Garlic: Garlic cloves add a pungent and savory taste to the sauce. The amount of garlic used can vary according to personal preference. Start with less garlic as raw garlic can be quite potent.
  • Pine nuts: These are small, edible seeds that have a mild, nutty flavor. They provide a delicate crunch and richness to the pesto. Below we will go over pine nut alternatives.
  • Parmesan cheese: A hard and aged Italian cheese, Parmesan contributes a salty and savory taste to the sauce. It also adds a creamy texture.
  • Olive oil: This is used to bind the ingredients together and create a smooth consistency. Extra virgin olive oil is commonly used for its distinct flavor.

Pesto is incredibly versatile and can be used in various ways. It is commonly tossed with pasta, spread on sandwiches or bruschetta, drizzled over grilled vegetables or meats, or used as a dip. It is known for its vibrant green color and fresh, herbaceous taste.

Pesto ingredients in a food processor.

Testing Pesto Variations

To see the difference in the types of nuts and seeds you can use in pesto, I used a base recipe and kept everything the same, except for the nuts. The recipe I used was a fairly traditional pesto. Here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup basil, packed (about 25g)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup nuts or seeds
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • black pepper
Pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
Pesto made with pine nuts, one made with pumpkin seeds, and one with walnuts
From the Left: Pine Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts

Pesto Nut Options

When testing the recipes I tried pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. There are plenty more you can try, I just found that pumpkin seeds and walnuts were the 2 most popular substitutions for pesto. I found that both of these are a good substitute for pine nuts. You can make a delicious pesto with all different types of nuts and seeds. Here is a break down of the different types of pesto nuts:

Pine Nuts

The traditional classic pesto is made with pine nuts. Pine nuts are a very soft nut with a large oil content. They make the pesto very creamy and rich in flavor with a soft texture. The main reason people don’t want to use pine nuts in their pesto is because they are harder to find at the grocery store and they tend to be more expensive than other options.

The pine nut pesto is almost a buttery texture. I would use a little less oil when making pesto with pine nuts.

Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)

The first substitution I tried was pumpkin seeds, also know as pepitas. Use raw pepitas that don’t have any seasoning. I really liked the flavor of this one, but the texture was fairly different than the pine nuts. Since the seeds have less oil content, the pesto turned out a little drier. I think if you are making pesto with pumpkin seeds just add in an extra tablespoon of olive oil to help thin it out. It does have a slightly different flavor as the classic pesto.

Walnuts

The other nut option I tested with was walnuts. I just used raw walnuts, you could probably use toasted nuts as well, but that would give it a stronger walnut flavor.

I found the walnut pesto to be in between pine nuts as pepitas in terms of texture. I was not as soft as pine nuts but not as dry as pepitas.

Walnuts was the best substitute in my opinion. They are fairly easy to find, they have a soft texture and blend into the pesto well. Walnuts have a similar texture to the pine nut pesto.

Pistachios

I have seen pistachio pesto before, but I’ve never made it myself. Pistachios have a nice green color that work well in a pesto. They are a soft nut that can blend in to the pesto well. Pistachios have a very strong and distinct taste so that flavor will come through more than other nuts. Make sure to use unsalted pistachios in your pesto so you can control the flavor.

Sunflower Seeds

Similar to pumpkin seed, sunflower seeds don’t have a ton or fat in them so they might need a little extra oil.

Other Nuts and Seeds

You could also try macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, cashew nuts as pine nut substitutes.

How to Make Pesto

To make delicious homemade pesto you want to blend together all the ingredients. You can do this in a food processor or a mortar and pestle. It is best as a fresh pesto but you can also store it in an airtight container in the fridge to use later.

Variations of Pesto

  • Kale Pesto - This is a great option if you are looking for something with more greens.
  • Roasted Red Pepper Pesto - This has a completely different flavor than a basil pesto but you can use it in a similar way.
  • Vegan Pesto - Instead of using parmesan people may skip it all together or replace it with nutritional yeast to give that cheesy flavor to the pesto.

How to Use Pesto

Pesto is a very versatile sauce that you can add to different recipes. It is most commonly used in pasta dishes and savory recipes. Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

Products Showcased

Food processor

Cuisinart 14 Cup Food Processor

grey mortar and pestle

Mortar and Pestle

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