Is Pesto Vegan?

Savoy cabbage.

Sadly, classic basil pesto is not vegan because it contains Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino cheese, both of which are made from dairy. However, more and more pesto producers are adding vegan pestos to their line-up, many of which use nutritional yeast to replicate the taste of cheese.

Dairy is just one reason pesto isn't vegan

Traditional basil pesto contains Pecorino Fiore Sardo and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, which are made from sheep's milk and cow's milk, respectively. Some budget brands substitute these expensive cheeses for generic hard cheese, but they will almost always still be made from dairy and therefore not vegan.

Never mind vegan, pesto isn't even vegetarian!

Interestingly, as well as not being vegan, pesto isn't vegetarian either, because for these cheeses to retain their protected designation of origin (PDO) status, European Union law dictates that they must be made using rennet, an enzyme found in a calf's stomach lining.

Cheese substitutes can be used to make vegan-friendly pesto sauces

With the rise of plant-based eating, more and more vegan pestos are hitting the market, some of which taste surprisingly like the real thing. Rather than simply omitting the cheese, they often contain tofu or nutritional yeast, which naturally has a cheesy, umami flavour and is packed full of vitamins.

How to make vegan pesto

Simply follow the instructions for our ultimate pesto recipe and replace the cheese with nutritional yeast. You'll end up with a vegan pesto to rival anything available in shops.