What Does Pesto Taste Like?

Basil pesto in a pestle and mortar.

There are so many kinds of pesto available to buy that trying to describe what they taste like is something of a fool's errand. For the sake of this article, though, we're focusing on how pesto producers, food writers, chefs, and members of the public have described the taste of classic basil pesto.

Popular adjectives to describe the taste of pesto

Fresh Herby
Garlicky Nutty
Creamy Salty
Tangy Vibrant
Summery Aromatic

How producers describe what their pesto tastes like

Pesto producers are keen to stress how their sauces have the perfect balance of flavours. They tend to agree that basil is the undisputed star of the show, but they are also quick to tell you how the herb is balanced out by the other big flavours.

That's quite interesting, because the concept of balancing ingredients doesn't tend to be given much airtime in cook books and online blogs aimed at amateur cooks. Yet balance is the holy grail of expert pesto making, and the sauce's greatest creators are those who can delicately ensure that all ingredients are in perfect equilibrium.

"Our pesto has a delicate flavour and aroma of fresh basil, while cashew nuts provide a lush, creamy texture."

"Seriously satisfying, vibrant, and zesty Italian flavours."

"An unmistakable fragrance of summer."

"A savoury, umami-fresh taste with a balanced saltiness."
The Real Olive Company

"An intense basil flavour with a creaminess derived from the generous level of pine kernels and fresh basil leaves."
Le Conserve

"With its refreshing and zingy flavour profile, it adds a twist to dishes like pasta or salads."

How chefs and food writers describe pesto's flavour

As you might expect, food writers and celebrity chefs have been a little less reserved and a little more flamboyant than pesto producers when describing the taste of pesto. The overriding theme that occurs time and again is how the very best pesto should taste like summer.

That's no big surprise, because although basil is available year-round, just like tomatoes, it's at its very best between the months of June and September. This is traditionally when Italian households make pesto production one of their non-negotiable summer tasks, and many people make it in bulk and freeze it so they always have it on hand in the colder months.

"A pungent and heady sauce that has the summery essence of basil captured in its emerald depths."
Gennaro Contaldo

"Pesto adds such a refreshing, summery flavour to every dish."
Giada De Laurentiis

"Pesto is a mouthful of bright summer."
NYT Cooking

"Pesto tastes incredibly herby, very fresh, and has noticeable garlic undertones."
Cooking Classy

"Pesto should be absolutely bursting with fresh herby flavour."
Jamie Oliver

"A powerhouse trifecta of hearty toasted nuts, salty aged cheese, and grassy olive oil."
Bon Appétit

"Salty, zesty, flavourful."
Georgio Locatelli

"The taste of summer trapped in a jar."
Marcella Hazan

"Pesto is a pungent sauce; there's nothing mild about it."
Serious Eats

"Pesto is as comforting as it is intriguing."
Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi

"Fragrant, tasty, and very, very versatile."
River Cottage

"An Italian sauce that adds freshness and zing to pasta, meats, and bread."

"Peppery, tangy, creamy, and fresh-tasting; pesto has it all."
All Recipes

"An authentic Italian basil pesto should taste fresh, earthy, nutty, and a little cheesy."

"Pesto offers a flavour that can best be described as bright and pungent, with a basil-forward, herbaceous garden aroma suspended with delicate olive oil, enriched with pine nuts, and kicked into overdrive with Italian cheeses and garlic."

"Pesto is known for its rich and vibrant taste that combines the freshness of herbs with the creaminess of cheese and the nuttiness of pine nuts."
Casa De Sante

"A medley of bright, herby flavours from the basil, but with a richness from the nuts, cheese, and oil. And, of course, it has strong notes of garlic."
Real Simple

"It's like a vibrant garden party in your mouth. A complex, flavourful sauce that’s bold yet balanced, with each ingredient complementing the other."
Epic Taste Odyssey

"Pesto tastes bright and herby from the basil and salty and rich from the cheeses and pine nuts. It should be garlicky, with pleasant grassiness from good-quality olive oil."
My Food Book

"If the Garden of Eden had a flavour, it would be pesto: sweet, floral, salty, rich, herbaceous, with a slight tinge of bitter."
Eating Well

"Traditional pesto can be described as earthy, garlicky, rich, creamy, and a little bit salty."
Good Tasting Meals

"The pine nuts bring buttery nuttiness, and the cheese adds a salty finish. Meanwhile, the fresh basil is incredibly fragrant and lightens the dish with a herby punch."
Insanely Good Recipes

"Pesto is nutty, garlicky, a bit salty, and has lots of herbal overtones from the basil. They all join together to create a symphony of flavour that could never be achieved separately."

How consumers have described pesto's taste

You can't generally rely on Joe Public to give articulate reviews, especially for something as subjective as taste, but some of the better ones tend to agree with producers and food writers that the best example of pesto should be zingy, summery, and have a nicely rounded flavour profile.

"Great pesto tastes fresh, herbal, nutty, garlicky, and luxurious, all at once."

"Properly made pesto tastes fresh, zingy, and balanced."

"Each bite has a harmonious blend of savoury and herbaceous notes, making it a truly satisfying and memorable meal."

"A burst of fresh and aromatic flavours."

"A wonderful depth of flavour that adds much to many recipes."