When Was Pesto Invented?

La Cuciniera Genovese by Giovanni Battista Ratto

Short answer
The earliest incarnation of what we recognise today as the precursor to pesto was called moretum and invented by the Romans in the 1st century AD. The very first printed use of the word "pesto," though, can be traced to the late 1800s.

Long answer
The history of pesto is fascinating. The question of when the sauce was invented is a bit of a misnomer because the sauce wasn’t so much “invented” as developed and honed over many centuries. What we can say with certainty is that the word “pesto” was published for the first time in 1863 when a recipe by Giovanni Battista Ratto appeared in the book La Cuciniera Genovese.

The mixing of herbs, cheese, salt, and oil into a tasty paste can be traced back to Roman times, when they enjoyed a sauce called moretum. The Genovese simply adapted this concept to utilise all the amazing ingredients that grew in the hills around them.

The Sicilians did the same by including their world-class tomatoes and switching the pine nuts for almonds in a sauce we know today as Trapanese pesto. The French have their own version too, called pistou, which is practically identical to Genovese pesto but with a little more garlic but no inclusion of pine nuts.

When you look into other cultures and cuisines, you’ll discover plenty of sauces that contain many of the same ingredients you find in the classic basil pesto recipe. Our aim here at GO! Pesto is to realise them in a way that no producer has done before.