What Does Pesto Taste Like?

Pesto is an Italian sauce that is thought to have originated in Roman times. Shocking in its bright green color, it sometimes looks unappetizing to the uninitiated. 

Generally eaten with pasta, pesto tastes mostly like basil, garlic, and salt with a nutty flavor. It’s a dish with few ingredients and together they make a fresh, bright, herby taste in your mouth. Ideally, pesto should have a slightly chunky texture.

Traditional pesto is made with only five ingredients. And while it’s often true that the fresher the better, in terms of ingredients, for pesto it’s almost a necessity. 

What is Pesto Made With

There are only five ingredients in pesto, and you can taste all of them. That means it’s important to use quality ingredients. 


If you were wondering what gives pesto its bright green color, basil is your answer. Basil is the main ingredient in pesto. It’s what tomatoes are to pasta sauce.

To make pesto, you need fresh basil. It’s the most important part of this dish. Thankfully, basil is easy to come by and easy to grow at home if you choose.

Basil on its own has a peppery flavor with some licorice notes. It tastes bright and fresh, with a minty flavor.

Pine Nuts

If you’ve never eaten pesto, there’s a chance you’ve never eaten pine nuts. It’s an ingredient that doesn’t seem to have a lot of culinary uses.

Pine nuts taste a little like cashews, only not as sweet. They have a nutty, buttery flavor.

Interestingly, pine nuts come from actual pine cones! They take a long time to mature and are difficult to harvest, leading to their high price tag. 

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However, they are part of what gives pesto its signature flavor.

Olive Oil

First note, not all olive oil is created equal. To make pesto you want extra virgin olive oil. 

Extra virgin olive oil means that the olives have been crushed and ground into a paste. They are then pressed to extract the olive. No heat is applied nor are chemical processes used.

This way you end up with nothing but the flavor of the olives. A good extra virgin olive oil should taste fruity and rich, with hints of pepper.

Parmesan Cheese

You know this cheese as the one you put on pasta or pizza. It’s a hard cheese that comes shredded or grated. For pesto, it generally doesn’t matter which one you use, since it’s all going in a food processor anyway.

Parmesan cheese has a wonderfully sharp, nutty flavor. 


Garlic is a common ingredient used in many dishes to enhance flavors. In pesto, the garlic flavor is powerful and easy to identify. 

Not Just For Pasta

While traditionally, pesto has been eaten with pasta, there are many other ways to enjoy it. Try it on different kinds of pizzas, flatbreads, chicken, or as a sandwich spread. The possibilities are endless.

With a bright, fresh taste, pesto is a treat with any meal.