Among Italian sauces, marinara and Alfredo have historically gotten most of the hype. In the past few years, however, pesto has finally been getting its due in the United States, either as a sauce to slather over noodles or as a sauce used to finish off a sandwich. The delicious blend of basil, parmesan, and oil is an excellent and flavorful alternative for those who are trying to avoid tomato and milk-based sauces alike. Pesto is also an excellent way to use up fresh herbs in the spring, especially if you manage to grow (or purchase) some cheap basil. But if you don’t have time to make your own, store bought is a perfectly understandable option. That’s why we decided to try six brands of pre-made pesto, all available online and in grocery stores. Here are our pesto ratings, from best to worst.
Mezetta Basil Pesto ($5.79 for 6.25 oz)
If you’re looking for a cheesy, basil-filled pesto with just the right amount of oil and ample garlic, Mezetta has you covered. This brand tastes nearly identical to our runner-up, but with half the sodium. Sure, you get a little less pesto than some of Mezetta’s competitors provide, but at least you’ll have quality pesto.
Classico Traditional Basil Pesto Sauce and Spread ($5.79 for 8.1 oz)
If possible, Classico’s sauce is even more garlicky than Mezetta’s, which already tasted like it was packed full of the aromatic. It’s also amply cheesy without the basil being overpowered. The drawback, however, is that the sodium content is 25 percent of the recommended daily value per serving. Flavor wise, this brand is definitely worth it, but if sodium is a concern, keep moving.
Best Vegan Pesto
Bitchin’ Sauce Pesto ($4.99 for 8 oz)
This pesto sauce looks a little different than the others; it’s tan to light green, instead of oily and forest-like, and it has a texture similar to hummus and other plant or nut-based dips because one of its principal ingredients is almonds. If you can get past the fact that it doesn’t really look like pesto, however, you’ll be in for a treat. This pesto tastes similar to the Buitoni Pesto, described below, but uses nutritional yeast to achieve the Parmesan flavor. The creaminess of the sauce is also nice. An additional bonus — a 7 percent of the recommended daily value per serving, Bitchin’ Sauce is also our best pick for low sodium diets.
Buitoni Pesto with Basil Pasta Sauce ($4.99 for 7 oz)
If you’re looking for a pesto that’s more Parmesan than basil, then look no further than Buitoni. Their pesto is so cheesy that it’s almost creamy, which may be a welcome texture change for those who don’t enjoy more oily pesto variations. Its smooth texture also makes it a potentially better choice for those who want to serve pesto as a dip, rather than as a pasta sauce.
Not Our Favorites
DeLallo Simply Pesto Traditional Pesto ($8.69 for 8.35 oz)
We’ll have to give DeLallo this: they weren’t kidding about this pesto being simple. It tastes of oil, basil, and not much else. Don’t get us wrong, basil is delicious and should be a prominent flavor in pesto — it just shouldn’t be the only flavor.
Barilla Rustic Basil Pesto Sauce and Spread ($2.99 for 6 oz)
DeLallo and Barilla should take a note of each other’s books, because each lacks what the other provides too much of. Just as DeLallo seems intent on selling oil loosely drizzled over a mountain of basil, Barilla seems intent on selling a jar of oil with a sprinkle of basil. Both of them lack the classic pesto taste and discernable Parmesan. Somehow, Barilla’s sin seems greater, however, because a heap of basil goes down far easier than several ounces of oil.