How Many Types Of Pesto Are There?

Four different types of pesto sauce.

Short answer
For many Italians, Genovese pesto is the one and only recipe that has the right to be called pesto. There are, however, hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of pesto for sale in all tastes and colours.

Long answer
Just like Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, people tend to pick their side and stick to it. For Roberto Panizza, President of the Pesto World Championship, there will only ever be one pesto recipe, the one we all know as Pesto Genovese. Others argue that the number of different pestos is limited only by one's imagination.

In 2005, Genovese basil was granted protected designation of origin (PDO) status after it was successfully proven that the variety, geography, and production techniques used within the region produce a product with unmistakable qualities. Some would like to see this extended further to give the sauce itself protected status.

Others, including us, believe it's perfectly acceptable to take the classic recipe as inspiration rather than the rule and experiment with all types of pesto. After all, what passionate cook isn’t interested in playing with ingredients to produce new dishes with intriguing twists? And anyway, pesto is essentially a modern version of the Roman sauce, moretum, so what's the difference?

As it happens, there have been plenty of Italians who have tweaked the classic recipe to include their preferred ingredients. While it’s impossible to provide a truly exhaustive list, there are some notable regional pestos that warrant a closer look.

Pesto alla Trapanese. This pesto hails from Sicily, where they adapted the classic recipe to include their revered tomatoes and almonds.

O’ pistu linusaru. The inhabitants of the tiny Italian island, Linosa, prefer a cheese-free sauce and include lots of tomatoes to produce a sauce that is exceptionally summery and refreshing.

Pesto Calabrese. Hailing from Calabria in southwest Italy, this pesto features chilli flakes and ricotta in place of the more traditional Parmesan and Pecorino.

Pesto agli Agrumi. This pesto features plenty of orange and lemon juice for an unmistakable citrus hit.

Poor Man’s Pesto (pesto povero) is a style of pesto that doesn't contain any expensive cheese but is bulked out with tonnes of affordable and plentiful fresh herbs.

Pesto rosso. Red pesto gets its name from the generous addition of sun-dried tomatoes, although it sometimes gets its colour from roasted bell peppers, which add a pleasing smokiness.

Pesto Cetarese. This exceptionally rich sauce hails from the Amalfi Coast and features anchovies, capers, and Colatura di Alici, which is Italy's answer to Asian fish sauce.

Pesto Pantesco. On the volcanic, windswept island of Pantelleria, cooks add capers, tomatoes, and almonds to their local pesto.

Pesto Modenese is probably the most interesting of all, as it’s nothing like the classic Genovese sauce. Made from just three ingredients: lardo (pork back fat), rosemary, and garlic. It's about as decadent as a condiment can get!

Pistou. Further afield, the French tweaked the classic recipe by removing the pine nuts and ramping up the garlic.

Shiso pesto. This "Japanese pesto" that features their favourite herb, shiso, is a great example of how other foodie nations have appropriated the basic recipe to use ingredients that are more common to their cuisine.

Other examples include breadcrumb pesto, a recipe devised by the Michelin-starred chef, Massimo Bottura. His pesto ditches the expensive pine nuts in favour of stale bread. Meanwhile, the Tuscans love their kale pesto. Further afield, who can’t see how much chimichurri, romesco, salsa verde, zhug, chermoula, and dozens of other sauces bear striking similarities to pesto?

UK supermarkets now stock a huge range of pesto sauces featuring all kinds of intriguing ingredients. The line-up includes everything from 'nduja to coriander to black olive, all of which are sold under the umbrella term "pesto."

That’s only the beginning, though. Hang out in as many farm shops as we do, and you'll find different types of pestos featuring onion, rocket, chilli, squash, aubergine, beetroot, and much more. There's even one that must get the proud citizens of Genoa crying into their pasta: vegan curried cauliflower pesto!