What Is Purple Basil Pesto?

Purple basil used to make purple pesto

Short answer
Purple pesto is simply a traditional pesto that has had the usual green basil switched for a purple variety. The result is a sauce with a unique taste and visual appearance.

Long answer
In 2017, the restaurant chain ASK gave diners the chance to try a pesto made with a special purple variety of basil. The sauce was described as having a "punchy flavour" and a "more striking look" than the traditional green pesto that we all know and love.

A couple of other words cropped up in the PR blurb, which always rings alarm bells. The sauce was described as "gutsy" and "robust," which is normally just a polite way of saying "divisive" or "disgusting." Indeed, not everyone was a fan of the sauce, with many turned off by the pesto's strong notes of ginger, cloves, and liquorice. That helps explain why the sauce disappeared from menus almost as quickly as it arrived.

The exact variety of basil used was Ocimum basilicum var. purpurascens, which ASK sourced from a small producer in Italy’s Veneto region. As part of the PR stunt, any customer who ordered it from the menu was sent home with a packet of purple basil seeds to grow at home.

If you want to see what all the fuss was about, you may need to get hold of some of those seeds, as the chances are you'll struggle to buy purple basil plants here in the UK. For best results, simply follow the instructions for our ultimate basil pesto and switch the sweet basil for the purple variety.