Is Pesto Vegan?

Swiss chard, sometimes used to make vegan pesto

Short answer
Sadly, classic basil pesto is not vegan because it contains Parmesan and Pecorino which are both cheeses made from dairy. However, there are plenty of vegan pesto sauces available, many of which use nutritional yeast to replicate the taste of cheese.

Long answer
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 a generic hard cheese, but they will almost always still be made from dairy and therefore not vegan.

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.

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.

Homemade vegan basil pesto recipe
Because we don't make traditional pesto sauces, we've got nothing to hide from pointing you towards the only basil pesto recipe you will ever need. Simply omit the cheese or replace it with nutritional yeast and you will end up with a vegan pesto that can rival the best of them.