Pesto Manifesto: It’s the 9 Best Jarred Pestos

I’ve made a lot of pesto in my life, and I’ve found that pesto is best when there’s an excellent harmony of ingredients. All of the components should create a perfect balance. Pesto shouldn’t be too oily, nor should it be too cheesy or garlicky. It should have a steady and flavorful taste that’s herby, tart, aromatic, and rich.

For this taste test, I ate a bunch of pesto off of a spoon. I looked for that perfect balance of flavor I mentioned, but also for high quality ingredients. Pesto shouldn’t have a dried basil flavor—it should taste fresh, earthy, and almost sweet. Pine nuts should add some extra butteriness and fragrance, and the parmesan should taste salty and add an extra layer of nuttiness, too. Certain ingredients are X factors. For instance, cashews may be substituted for pine nuts, and Pecorino Romano may be substituted for parmesan. Those swaps aren’t sins, and only change the flavor of the pesto ever so slightly. Overall, we want a smooth, rich, and fragrant sauce with a delicate and complex flavor.

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best jarred pesto

Best of the Best

Kirkland Basil Pesto

Kirkland pesto has a cult following online, and it lived up to the hype. It’s just so rich, cheesy, earthy, and sebaceous. The olive here reads as good-quality olive oil, so it’s got that nice bit of fruity bitterness to it. The flavor of the pine nuts really shines through, and the Pecorino Romano adds such a lovely sharpness, too. It’s not overloaded with garlic, which is a mistake a lot of people make when they make pesto. This just has a pure nutty, cheesy, oily, and herby flavor. It comes refrigerated, and it uses D.O.P (Protected Designation of Origin) Genovese basil and Pecorino Romano. Hard to beat Kirkland basil pesto. In fact, you can’t.

Credit: Merc / Costco

Rating:

9/10

Sporks

Best Vegan

Mantova Vegan Basil Pesto

This vegan basil pesto is amazing, and I think it has something to do with the fact that it’s made with potatoes and tofu. It’s just super creamy, herbaceous, and rich. The potatoes lend such a lovely starchiness to this pesto that makes it feel hearty and substantial. Without potatoes and tofu, this would feel too simple, light, and lacking. I really think this is genius stuff. Mantova Vegan Basil Pesto is closer to number one than you might expect, and makes a good argument for vegan food. Pesto absolutely doesn’t need animal products to be good. 

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

8.5/10

Sporks

Best Cashew

Seggiano Fresh Basil Pesto

Seggiano is goopy and thick and has a prominent cashew flavor. This pesto is made with a blend of pine nuts and cashews, but the latter’s flavor shines through the most. The cashew’s buttery nuttiness is the biggest strength of this pesto. It tastes cheesy and herby with a great amount of flavor from the cashews. They use fresh Ligurian basil that’s preserved in olive oil once it’s picked. The quality here is great.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

8.5/10

Sporks

Best Secret Ingredient

Mezzetta Basil Pesto

Mezzetta basil pesto is bright green and features chunks of garlic, parmesan cheese, and lots of olive oil. It also has rosemary extract in its ingredients, and you can really taste that herb on the back end here. To me, this rustic pesto begs to be spread on some toasted baguette points, or eaten with a sandwich. It has a bold, sharp flavor with some enhanced herbiness due to the rosemary. 

Credit: Merc / Walmart

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

Best Traditional

Cento Basil Pesto Sauce

This is a classic pesto made with olive oil, Grana Padano, parmesan, pine puts, cashews, basil, and garlic. It’s got such a traditional taste to it, and I love the addition of the mild-but-still-nutty Grana Padano. The flavor here is tart, but still quite luscious and delicious. Cento typically makes their products by the book, and they excel because of it. 

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

Best Creamy

Barilla Creamy Genovese Pesto

This may not be super high quality, but gosh darn is it delicious. It’s like creamy pesto butter; you could simply just spread this rich, creamy, and herbaceous pesto onto some crusty bread and go to town. Everyone here at Sporked really loved this for its rich, buttery, alfredo-like quality. Look, sometimes at home I make pesto with butter to enhance the luxuriousness of the spread, and this feels kind of like that. Barilla Creamy Genovese Pesto spread is more of a pesto sauce, not a pesto, but it’s great.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

Best Tart

Alessi Pesto

Alessi Pesto is really cheesy and tart, but still quite rich and herby. The secret ingredient here is white balsamic vinegar, which adds brightly acidic and sweet undertones. It’s salty without being too salty, and there is a lightness to this pesto since it’s not too bogged down with rich olive oil.

Credit: Merc / Instacart

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Best Italian Ingredients

Compagnia Sanremo Basil Pesto

I love the combination of ingredients used here: DOP Genovese basil, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, cashews, Grana Padano, and Pecorino Romano. Both cheeses are DOP, too, so the quality of ingredients here is stellar. The flavor isn’t as bold as I’d like, but the intensely fragrant basil is just excellent. I really wanted to include Compagnia Sanremo on this list because it uses great quality Italian ingredients, and the back of the jar says “do not heat.” That’s pesto 101, baby. If you’re cooking pasta at home, try adding the pasta to a bowl with cold basil in it, then stir it around. Basil is a delicate herb, and cooking it will only diminish and harshen its flavors, causing it to lose potency. Sanremo knows that, and I’ve got to give them major props for saying so.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Best Sicilian Style

Mantova Organic Red Pesto

Sicilian pesto, or pesto alla trapanese, is made with tomatoes in addition to basil. In addition to a bright red color, the tomatoes add a bitter, sweet, and acidic flavor that’s tart and delicious. Of the red pesto we tried, I enjoyed Mantova’s best. You can still taste the basil, and the brightness of the tomatoes is just wonderful. This would pair excellently with seafood or a seafood pasta. Maybe add some more garlic, but the overall product here is great.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Other products we tried: Classico Traditional Pesto, Barilla Rustic Basil Pesto, Private Selection Basil Pesto, Simple Truth Organic Basil Pesto, Freak Flag Tomato Pesto, DeLallo Simply Pesto, Rao’s Tomato Pesto, Rustichella D’Abruzzo Pesto Genovese, Whole Foods 365 Basil Pesto, Felippo Berrio Red Pesto, Legano Vegan Pesto, Stonewall Kitchen Basil Pesto, Trader Joe’s Pesto

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About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • Best store-bought in my opinion is definitely buitoni,, but that’s refrigerated so I don’t think it counts.

    Reply
    • refrigerated counts – we had Kirkland number one.

      I’ll add it to the list when we revisit these pestos. good catch. thanks!

      Reply
    • 100% agree. It is absolutely the best store-bought pesto!

      Reply
  • Have you ever substituted Pesto on pizza? If you haven’t than give it a try topped with feta and sun dried tomatoes 👨‍🍳 (chefs Kiss)

    Reply