Easy Vegan Pesto

Jump to Recipe
Classic basil pesto made vegan! This versatile herby sauce comes together in just 10 minutes, is packed with fresh, nutty and bright flavors, and is so versatile. Use this vegan pesto with pasta, pizza, sandwiches, salads, grain bowls, and more!
Prep 10 minutes
Total 10 minutes
5 from 20 votes

Pesto is one of my absolute favorite sauces.

Luckily, it’s easy and delicious when made vegan. This homemade vegan pesto couldn’t be simpler to make, and it will jazz up nearly any weeknight meal. Use it as a pasta sauce, sandwich spread, turn it into a salad dressing, or dollop over roasted vegetables and grain bowls.

And if you’re feeling creative, there are lots of ideas in this post on how to customize pesto so you can make it with whatever herbs and nuts you have on hand.

Table of contents:
1. Why I love vegan pesto
2. Ingredient notes
3. Step-by-step instructions
4. Tips for making this recipe
5. Variations
6. How to use vegan pesto
7. Frequently Asked Questions
8. Recipe card with notes

Overhead view of a small glass jar with pesto and a spoon in it.

Why I love vegan pesto

The perfect everything sauce

Basil pesto hails from the northern Italian state of Genoa, and typically contains basil, pine nuts, parmesan (and pecorino), garlic, salt, and olive oil. It’s always been one of my favorite sauces for its simplicity and perfect combination of richness with fresh flavor. 

Since going vegan, I’ve relied quite a bit on pesto as an “everything sauce”—the flavorful condiment that brings the whole meal together.

If you make a batch of vegan pesto on Sunday, you can pair it with pretty simple staples like beans or tofu, grains, and roasted vegetables to make a hearty yet wholesome and delicious weeknight-friendly meal. 

ad for meal plans program with picture of woman with button

I typically always have at least two homemade condiments or sauces like pesto in my fridge at any given time. Other popular options in my fridge include some sort of cashew cream, tahini sauce, hummus or beet hummus, yogurt sauce like raita or tzatziki, and queso

More flexible than you might think

Classic basil pesto is best in the summer, when basil is at its peak freshness and flavor.

When basil is not at its peak, I gravitate towards other herbs like cilantro, parsley, and even non-herb ingredients like kale and the greens from carrots, beets, and radishes. 

While it might not be traditional, it does make pesto even more versatile to use with all kinds of meals, as you can use the herbs (and nuts) you have on hand! Skip to the Variations section for more ideas!

Overhead view of pesto pasta with tomatoes in a bowl on a grey table.

Ingredient notes 

Basil pesto ingredients in various glass bowls on a white tile table.


This fragrant herb with sweet and slightly spicy notes of anise is the star here. If you can find a basil plant at your farmer’s market and grocery store, it should last several weeks if you water it daily and leave it near a window. Basil will be at its peak in summer, but you can find it at many supermarkets year round. 

Tip: Make a lot of pesto during the summer, then freeze it! Check out the FAQ section for how to freeze pesto. 

Pine nuts

Pine nuts (aka pignolias) are the second main ingredient in a traditional basil pesto and make pesto truly amazing. Their buttery texture is smooth enough that they can be easily pounded with a mortar and pestle (not as easy with other nuts).

Substitute: I get it, pine nuts are pricey! The best pine nut substitutes in this recipe are walnuts or pistachios. Or, you can split the difference, and use half pine nuts and half walnuts. If nut-free, use pepitas or sunflower seeds.

Tip: You MUST toast your nuts. This is non-negotiable for flavor. 


Fresh garlic is key in any good pesto. It brings a punchy sharp flavor and zippy kick. But since garlic cloves vary in size, start slowly so you don’t overpower the pesto. Then taste it and add more as needed.

Extra virgin olive oil 

Since pesto is raw, the quality and taste of the olive oil will shine through. So this is the time to use your best-quality extra virgin olive oil with fruity, grassy notes (save the less expensive stuff for actual cooking).


Salt is crucial, as it draws out the flavor from the basil and helps break down the herbs. If you have good-quality sea salt, now is the time to use it! 


Classic Genovese pesto does not contain lemon, but I’ve always found that a little lemon zest and juice bring a welcome fresh zing to vegan pesto. Traditional pesto can be a bit rich with the generous amount of olive oil and cheese, so the lemon adds a nice brightness and fresh flavor. If you’re a purist, feel free to skip the lemon. 

Nutritional yeast

Traditionally, basil pesto is made with lots of parmesan cheese. But I find that if you make pesto with really good-quality ingredients (in-season basil + a nice fruity extra virgin olive oil + toasted pine nuts), you won’t miss the cheese.

But, if you want to try and replicate the savory cheesy notes of parm, a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast is helpful. Or, if you have vegan parmesan cheese, you can use that (just be sure you love the flavor before using it). 

Overhead view of pesto covered spaghetti on a white plate.

Step by step photos 

In a food processor, pulse the toasted pine nuts and garlic until they’re in tiny pieces.

Add basil, half the lemon zest, half the lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and nutritional yeast.

Blend until a paste forms, scraping the sides down.

Stream the extra virgin olive oil into the food processor while blending. Scrape down the sides and continue streaming in the oil until smooth and thick.

For ideas on how to use this flavorful sauce, check out the How to use vegan pesto section below. Enjoy!

Pasty textured pesto in the food processor after olive oil is added.

Tips for making this recipe

Mortar and pestle vs. food processor 

While you will get the best consistency with a mortar and pestle, I know most folks don’t have one of those (or one large enough to make a batch of pesto). Plus, it’s more time consuming. 

That’s why I rely on a food processor. When using a food processor, it’s best to (1) pre-chop any tougher ingredients (e.g., garlic) and (2) to pulse the tougher ingredients first (e.g., nuts and garlic) first before adding the other ingredients. This ensures the best possible texture.

If you are interested in using a mortar and pestle, check out this pesto guide on Serious Eats

Toasting the nuts is essential  

If you want the best flavor in your pesto, take the 5 minutes to toast the nuts. Toasting releases the nuts’ volatile oils and awakens otherwise dormant flavors (like those rich nutty flavors). 

You can toast pine nuts on the stovetop in a dry pan, or on a sheet pan in the oven. 

Stovetop: heat a dry frying pan over medium heat for a few minutes. Then add the pine nuts. Toast for about 4 minutes, until fragrant and golden brown, tossing occasionally. Remove immediately from heat

Oven: Preheat to 350°F/175°C. Add pine nuts to a sheet pan in a single layer and toast in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring once.

Keeping basil pesto green

If you’ve made basil pesto before and noticed it turned brown after a day or two, that’s because when basil is exposed to air, it oxidizes and browns. Depending on the quality of your basil, this may or may not happen to you. 

Pesto made with fresh, in-season basil tends to stay green longer than pesto made with out-of-season basil. 

To avoid this potential outcome, you can blanch your basil leaves in boiling water for 5 to 15 seconds. As soon as it’s done boiling, immediately transfer the basil to an ice bath or rinse under cold water to stop cooking.

Benefits of blanching: Smoother sauce + pesto will stay greener for longer. 

Drawbacks of blanching: Raw basil has a heavenly aroma and intense fragrance, so you lose some of that when you blanch it.

If you’re planning to consume all the pesto in a day or two, use raw basil. 

Or, another way to slow down the browning process is to pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before covering with a lid and refrigerating.

Don’t skimp on the olive oil

Sorry, folks, pesto is pretty oil-rich. If a recipe says you can replace the oil in pesto with water, they’re lying. You’ll end up with basil sauce, which is fine, but it’s not pesto. 

That said, if you do get your pesto to the oiliness that you like, but it’s not quite smooth enough, you can add a spoon of water to help bring things together. But I’m talking just a spoon or two of water because pesto should be thick, saucy, and oily, not watery.

Vegan pesto and heirloom tomatoes on two halves of a piece of toast.


While basil pesto is my favorite during summertime, I also love experimenting with different herbs, nuts, and flavor profiles to develop new iterations of pesto based on what’s in season and the ingredients I have on hand. 

Herb variations

Instead of basil, you can use other soft herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, flat-leaf parsley, mint, dill, or tarragon (don’t go overboard on tarragon though, it’s strong).

You can even use greens instead of herbs, like kale (as used in this meal prep video/blog post), arugula, spinach, or watercress. 

When in season, you can sub half or all of the herbs with the greens from root vegetables like carrots, radishes, or beets. 

Note: Some herbs or greens can be bitter (e.g., arugula, watercress), spicy (e.g., radish greens) or sweet (e.g., tarragon tastes like anise). I typically like to combine these ingredients with other milder, more neutral herbs or greens like basil, parsley, or spinach for balance. 

Nut variations 

Instead of pine nuts, you can use walnuts or pistachios, or even cashews or almonds. If allergic to nuts, try using pepitas or sunflower seeds.

Southeast Asian-Flavored pesto

Perfect over noodles or as a dipping sauce. 

  • Replace the basil with cilantro. Add in ½ to 1 cup of fresh mint leaves as well. 
  • Use ½ cup dry-roasted peanuts instead of pine nuts
  • In addition to the garlic, add ½” piece of fresh ginger (peeled and roughly chopped) and ½ or 1 small green chile pepper (for heat, optional).
  • Instead of lemon, use 1 large lime (half the zest, all the juice). 
  • For savoriness, replace the nutritional yeast with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • Replace the olive oil with a neutral-flavored oil; add 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil if you want a richer, nutty flavor. 

Carrot Top pesto

A great way to reduce food waste! Use as a pasta sauce, sandwich spread, or grain bowl topper. 

  • Replace the basil with 2 cups of carrot tops. Feel free to add in 1 cup of soft herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley or dill.
  • Blanch the carrot tops in a saucepan of boiling water for 2 ½ minutes, then immediately plunge into a bowl of cold water to stop cooking. Dry well before using. 
  • Use pine nuts, or replace with pistachios
  • Use more lemon zest and juice to brighten the flavor of the carrot tops. 

How to use vegan pesto

Pesto pasta (the obvious choice)! Pick a pasta shape with curves and grooves so the pesto can stick to it (e.g., gemelli, cavatappi, fusilli). Also great with pasta salad or even vegetable salads, like spiralized or shredded carrots and zucchini. 

A sandwich spread. I love topping my pesto bread with heirloom tomatoes, chickpeas smashed with lemon and salt or pan-fried tofu, and sliced avocado. Or, layer it into a vegan grilled cheese, or mash it up with avocado for an upgrade to avocado toast. 

As a dip with crudités or crackers. If you need more dip ideas, I’ve rounded up 30 Awesome Vegan Dips here. 

To jazz up other sauces/dips. Pesto is excellent stirred into creamy dips or sauces like cashew cream, yogurt sauces, creamy vegan aioli, or even a white sauce like a bechamel

Wrap spread. Spread pesto onto your choice of flatbread or wrap, top with lentils or sliced tofu, and whatever veggies you have on hand for an easy lunch. 

Everything sauce. Drizzle vegan pesto onto virtually any grain bowl, stuffed sweet potatoes, crispy smashed potatoes, or on roasted vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, fennel, or eggplant. 

Salads and salad dressings. Dollop pesto onto salads like this grilled corn salad, or use it as an alternative to a mayo-based dressing for potato salad. Or, thin out leftover pesto with lemon juice or a good-quality vinegar for a pesto salad dressing.

Pizza. Use pesto as an alternative pizza sauce to a traditional marinara.

Soup. Swirl pesto into soup for an instant flavor upgrade. Replace the gremolata with pesto in my creamy white bean soup, or stir it into my creamy broccoli soup to accent the basil flavors. 

Overhead view of pesto pasta with tomatoes in a bowl on a grey table.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I make vegan pesto without nutritional yeast?

Absolutely. If you’re using high-quality olive oil, toasted pine nuts, and good basil, the nutritional yeast really isn’t necessary. You can omit it entirely or you can add a few tablespoons of your favorite vegan parmesan cheese. Just be sure you love the flavor before using it, as some brands have an off-putting aftertaste. 

How long does vegan pesto last in the fridge?

Depending on the freshness and quality of your basil, classic basil pesto lasts about 5 days. When using other herbs, the pesto typically lasts longer, as basil is more delicate.

Can I freeze vegan pesto?

Yes! You can store this vegan pesto in the freezer for up to 6 months. The best way to freeze pesto is to pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes to a ziptop bag or container. 

When you’re ready to cook, no need to defrost them. Just add a cube to a hot pan or a hot dish while it’s cooking, and the heat will thaw it pretty quickly.

Watch: How to make vegan pesto!

MUST-TRY VEGAN PESTO | pesto 3 ways
MUST-TRY VEGAN PESTO | pesto 3 ways

Easy Vegan Pesto

5 from 20 votes
Classic basil pesto made vegan! This versatile herby sauce comes together in just 10 minutes, is packed with fresh, nutty and bright flavors, and is so versatile. Use this vegan pesto with pasta, pizza, sandwiches, salads, grain bowls, and more!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Course: Condiment, Dip, Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Diet Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Serving size: 8 (1 cup)


  • 3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (36g)
  • 1/3 cup (45-50g) pine nuts, toasted (see Note 1)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 medium lemon, zested and then juiced (optional, see Note 2)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon nutritional yeast, plus more to taste (optional, see Note 3)
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil


  • Toast the pine nuts: Heat a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the pine nuts and toss occasionally to prevent burning, until they are golden and release a nutty aroma, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the toasted pine nuts and garlic to a food processor and pulse repeatedly until you have a fine crumb (but not paste). Add the basil, half of the lemon zest, half of the lemon juice, salt, black pepper to taste, and nutritional yeast (if using). Blend until a paste forms, scraping down the sides as you go along. Push the paste into the middle of the food processor.
  • With the motor running, stream in the extra virgin olive oil to start to form a sauce. Scrape down the sides again, and stream in more oil as needed until you have a smooth yet thick texture. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt, lemon, garlic, or nutritional yeast as needed. If you’d like a smoother texture but have reached the right amount of oiliness, add a tablespoon of water and blend again.
  • Store in an airtight glass jar in the fridge for 5 days.


  1. If you need to substitute pine nuts, my favorites in this recipe are pistachios or walnuts.
  2. Lemon isn’t traditionally used in classic basil pesto, but I really like a little lemon zest and juice here. Feel free to omit or start with just a little bit.
  3. Add the nutritional yeast for a savory, subtly cheesy flavor. Or, if you have a vegan parmesan cheese you really like, add a few tablespoons (make sure you love the flavor of it though!).

Calories: 127kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Sodium: 74mg | Potassium: 96mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 0.3g | Vitamin A: 477IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 19mg | Iron: 1mg

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @rainbowplantlife and hashtag it #rainbowplantlife

Leave a Comment & Rating

If you enjoyed this recipe, please consider giving it a star rating along with your comment! It helps others discover my blog and recipes, and your comments always make my day :) Thank you for your support!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe

39 comments on Easy Vegan Pesto

  1. Kimberly

    5 stars
    This is so delicious. I used walnuts and lemon juice, zest and nutritional yeast. I had to use part avocado oil because I didn’t have enough evoo, but it still turned out great. My new go to pesto recipe!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re over the moon to hear you enjoyed the recipe, Kimberly. Thanks for your kind words!

  2. Kat Grausso

    5 stars
    This pesto was totally delicious, rich and smooth – better, more subtle than the parm version. Next time I’ll try it with walnuts, just because I like the nutritional value of them, but the pine nuts were so aromatic, and I do not have many recipes that make use of them.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re happy you found the recipe delicious, Kat! This white bean dip is a favorite use of mine for pine nuts if you have any extra you need to use up!


    5 stars
    My favorite pesto recipe! I made it a couple of times for friends and they loved it too!!! Very easy to make, easy instructions to follow.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Karen, Thank you so much for such a fantastic review! Appreciate you taking the time!

  4. Myrna

    5 stars
    This easy vegan pesto is delicious, I love the taste of the nutritional yeast, I will make it all the time thanks. This is my forever pesto. Any recipes for dill pesto and/or cilantro pesto?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Myrna, we are so happy you enjoy it :) There is actually a recipe in the blog post for a Southeast Asian-flavored pesto using cilantro! And in this chickpea tacos blog post, Nisha has a recipe for a different cilantro pest.


  5. Élla Virtanen

    Hello from Finland! Firstly, i love your recipes. Now i am wondering could pesto freeze?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Élla! Yes! This part can be found in the FAQ section of the blog post, but I’ll post it here for your convenience:

      “You can store this vegan pesto in the freezer for up to 6 months. The best way to freeze pesto is to pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes to a ziptop bag or container.

      When you’re ready to cook, no need to defrost them. Just add a cube to a hot pan or a hot dish while it’s cooking, and the heat will thaw it pretty quickly.”

      Enjoy the recipe!

  6. Catherine Schane-Lydon

    5 stars
    This was really really good! Thank you!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So happy to hear it, Catherine! You’re very welcome!

  7. Jonelle

    5 stars
    I made this with what I had on hand, which was arugula and walnuts. Very easy and tasty! I always appreciate the Notes and detailed Instructions of RPL recipes.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Sounds awesome, Jonelle! We’re glad you enjoyed it :)

  8. Cassandra J

    Add in step 3 technically, but in note 2 it says to start off with a little bit so once you make it a few times, you’d know how much juice and zest you’d need for your taste.

  9. Cassandra Jornitz

    5 stars
    Love it

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Happy to hear it, Cassandra!

  10. Lydie

    I really love the recipes I’ve tried, but I always need to leave out the oil. Do you have a recommendation for a good oil substitute?

    1. Kathy

      I found a recipe that uses 1 cup of water and 1 tsp of arrowroot powder. Heat the water and add the arrowroot. Stir until the arrowroot powder clears up. Let it cool and then use as a 1:1 substitute for oil in dressings, etc. It is not for cooking with.

      1. Lydie

        Awesome! I will give that a try!

      2. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Kathy, unfortunately there’s no good substitution for oil in this recipe as oil is needed for richness. We recommend using avocado instead.

    2. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Lydie, it makes us happy to know you’ve enjoyed the recipes you’ve tried so far! We haven’t tested an alternative for this specific recipe, as pesto traditionally contains olive oil. But avocado would be a nice substitute. I’d start with 1 large avocado for this amount of basil and nuts.

      1. Lydie

        Ok! I will give it a go and let you know! Thank you ☺️

        1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

          You’re welcome, Lydie!

  11. Barbara Anderton

    Hi, is there anything I can substitute for oil?
    If so, it looks like my kind of thing completely!

    1. Kelly

      5 stars
      I used aquafaba it was yummy!

  12. Kemi

    Looks delicious! However my kids are allergic to nuts. Could sunflower seeds work instead?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Kemi, yes pepitas or sunflower seeds work in place of the nuts. We can’t wait for you to try the pesto!

  13. Donna

    The instructions say to add half of the lemon zest and juice in step 2. When do you add the remainder of zest and juice?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi there Donna, sorry for any confusion! Lemon isn’t typically used in pesto, but we find it works really well here. As people have different preferences for level of acidity, the instructions say to add half the lemon zest and juice and only add the rest as needed once the pesto is blended and you’ve had a chance to taste it. Hope that makes sense!

  14. Paula

    5 stars
    This was lovely and so easy! We used it on a sandwich for lunch and a salad/grain bowl for dinner. Delightful!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re so happy that the pesto turned out well for you, Paula. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and for trying out the recipe!

  15. Neha

    5 stars
    Hi Nisha

    Thank you for your amazing website !
    I’ve started eating less meat thanks to your amazing recipes.
    Just made the recipe with the basil and couldn’t get 3 cups of basil with a weight of approximately 35gr . More then anything I got 1 cup for 35 grams . Where I’m wrong ☺️?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi there Neha, we are happy to hear you’re getting use from the website! We mention you should use loosely packed cups, so just weighing the basil should be fine! Enjoy!

  16. May

    5 stars
    My first time making pesto and it’s so fragrant and delicious!!! Quick question though – when I blanch my basil, it wilts a little (like spinach) so do you recommend adding more basil to begin with?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi May, wilting is fine, as it all goes into the food processor. No need to add more than the recipe calls for :)

  17. Sushma

    5 stars
    Never doing store-bought pesto again. This is delicious!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So great to hear, Sushma!

  18. Peggy Guerin

    I’m not even a practicing vegan and I absolutely love your recipes! These pesto variations (without parmesan cheese) are terrific. I’m especially keen on the carrots greens. Hate to waste such an interesting ingredient. Keep up the great work!

Development Alchemy + Aim