Is Homemade Pesto Better Than Shop Bought?

Shopping trollies ready to pick up some store-bought pesto

Short answer
Both homemade and shop-bought pesto sauces have their advantages. If convenience is your top priority, then store-bought pesto is right for you, but if freshness is your main concern, then nothing can compete with making pesto yourself.

Long answer
Just like fresh pasta vs. dried pasta, both homemade and store-bought pesto have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Expense, convenience, and freshness are the top deciding factors, although there are several other things to consider before deciding which route to take.

Let's pretend for a second that you don't have any of the ingredients required to make a traditional basil pesto in your store cupboard. If you went to Tesco to buy them, then your shopping list would look something like this:

Ingredient Cost/unit
Pine nuts £3.50 (for 100g)
Parmesan £3.20 (for 200g)
Pecorino £3.15 (for 170g)
Garlic 55g (for 1)
Basil £1.50 (for one plant)
Olive oil £3.00 (for 100 ml)
Sea salt £2.25 (for 250g)

Obviously, you'll end up with plenty of leftover oil, cheese, salt, and pine nuts, but the trip would have cost you £15.80, compared to just £1.30 to buy a 190g jar of Tesco's own-brand basil pesto.

Ingredient quality
One of the many pluses of making a sauce from scratch is that you have complete control over the quality of the ingredients that go into it. Want to crack open your favourite £30 bottle of Riviera Ligure olive oil? Go for it. If you don't much care for posh olive oil and are perfectly happy using a £1.50 bottle of vegetable oil, that's fine too.

How long ago do you think those jars of supermarket pesto were bottled? Don't be surprised if they had been sitting around in a warehouse for a month or more before hitting the shelves. That's fine because they are designed to last at least 12 months unopened, but by pure definition, jarred pesto can never be as fresh as rustling up a batch at home and eating it for dinner that evening.

Nothing can beat the convenience of twisting a lid and stirring a few dollops of pesto through some freshly cooked pasta. That said, if you're going to the effort and expense of making it at home, it's easy to whip up a double batch and freeze half of it to ensure you have some little nuggets of pesto on hand whenever you want to pep up some mashed potatoes or a weeknight Bolognese.

This can either be a pro or con, depending on your personal preference. Manufacturers of supermarket food go to great lengths to ensure that batch after batch is completely consistent, so that their customers know exactly what they are going to get every time. We rather like the unpredictability of not knowing exactly how our freshly made pesto is going to turn out, but it's not for everyone.

There's nothing to stop you from adding extra ingredients like chilli, lemon juice, or extra garlic to store-bought pesto, but it's never going to be as customisable as making it yourself from scratch. Making pesto at home allows you to use seasonal ingredients and also provides a free rein to make it your ideal texture. Prefer your sauces rustic and chunky or refined and creamy? You get to decide.

Furthermore, it's impossible to take an ingredient out of a sauce once it has been added, so if you have a garlic intolerance, for example, you may find you have no option other than to make pesto yourself. Making sauces at home is also ideal for anyone on a low-fat or low-calorie diet. Pine nuts, olive oil, and cheese are all high in fat and calories, so dieters may decide to reduce the quantities of those and bulk out the sauce with more healthy ingredients.