DIY pesto – to make or to buy?

Is it always worth making your favourites from scratch? Our DIY series puts shop-bought and homemade to the test – this time, pesto

Pesto in bowl

The ultimate standby sauce, pesto can instantly transform a tired pasta pot into a taste sensation and can give chicken dishes and comforting soups a new lease of life. Just a few small spoonfuls can unleash a gargantuan taste, meaning a small amount can go a long way. Always with a sealed jar in the cupboard, I've committed to giving homemade a try. Slightly skeptical it can't possibly be improved upon, I put both to the test.

The cost

Pesto with mortar and pestle
Cost of shop-bought classic green pesto:
Supermarket own brand – £1.50 (190g jar)

Cost of ingredients for homemade green pesto:
Ingredients – £4.50 (approx 260g)

The pesto recipe I used:
Classic pesto

The recipe I followed yielded more pesto than I got in the shop-bought jar, but the cost of pricey ingredients such as pine nuts and parmesan meant it wasn't better value to make my own.

If you have a bit of garlic and olive oil in your storecupboard and your own basil plants this would bring the cost of the ingredients down to about £2.25. Don't forget to make the most of any leftovers. Scatter a few pine nuts over pasta dishes, grate parmesan over creamy chicken and use basil to garnish your finished plates.

The making:

With just one step between my small huddle of ingredients and my very own pesto sauce, I was still pleasantly surprised as to how easy this was to make. It even reconnected me with my previously underused food processor, though the good old-fashioned pestle and mortar method would have done the trick with a little effort.

Some of the comments at the bottom of the recipe really intrigued me – suggestions of using cashews or walnuts instead of pine nuts and adding a bit of spice with some chopped chilli definitely sound like they're worth a try!

The taste:

Pesto pasta with toppings
Before even tasting it, the delightful smell of the homemade pesto was incomparable to shop-bought. I hadn't divulged I was making my own, but everyone recognised a difference in taste, texture and aroma. When I first tried it, the most notable flavour was the garlic, making me wonder if a little more basil and just one clove would provide a more balanced taste. There were no complaints though – homemade was a unanimous hit!

The verdict:

I was so surprised by how easy, quick and delicious the homemade pesto was. All the possibilities for different combinations and substitutions really appeals to me and I will definitely make my own again. Saying that, I can't imagine I'll be a devout pesto maker, the jar in the cupboard still has its place, for convenience and cost if nothing else.

Fancy having a go at making your own? Try the pesto recipe I used, or try a different version with almonds.

What are your top tips for making pesto? Do you prefer making your own or buying it in?

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.
Suet Dumpling
20th Dec, 2018
I have a garlic intolerance. Has anyone any suggestions as to what to use instead of garlic to make a decent pesto?
7th Dec, 2015
I love pesto and have tried at least half a dozen brands from our grocery store in hopes of finding a decent alternative to making a mess at home. The best pesto I have found is actually online from - it's amazing! I don't know if they ship internationally, but its 's good as homemade pesto and they use excellent ingredients. My family loves it!
TheEightHours's picture
24th Sep, 2015
Or if you fancy a change from the usual Pesto go-to then try our Kale & Cannellini Pesto, as Kale is one of the most nutrient dense ingredients on the planet it's packed full of benefits (plus it's easy to make and so tasty)
30th Apr, 2015
I have recently made it with spinach and walnuts which was delicious and much cheaper.
6th Feb, 2015
I love homemade pesto and have experimented with many different flavours but my favourite two are rocket and walnut, and roasted peppers and smoked garlic.I also have used lemon olive oil instead of plain, which is great.
19th Feb, 2014
Always make my own pesto when I can. But I usually avoid pine nuts. They're so expensive, when Pistachios are so much nicer. Even cashews or almonds make a fine replacement. Or cheddar cheese if your guests are vegetarian.
4th Feb, 2015
I always make my own too. I always use pine nuts. Must perhaps be more flexible. Just love the taste.
16th Oct, 2013
How long will home-made pesto safely keep (in the refrigerator?).
7th May, 2014
it will keep about 5 days. I have basil in the garden, heaps of it. I make pesto in large amounts and then freeze it. I either freeze it in ice cube trays and put them all in the same bag. Or, this year I've frozen small amounts in snap lock bags and then put all the small snap lock bags in one bigger plastic bag so they don't go lost in the freezer. I've kept pesto in the freezer until the next crop of basil with no loss of flavour.
29th Jul, 2014
I do not like shop bought basil. To me, it has a strange taste either fresh from the deli counter or from a jar. Basil is easy to grow from seed year round (indoors on a bright windowsill in winter) so no need to freeze. I do not like pine nuts, so use walnuts. Pesto is simple and cheap to make, and I love it with linguine.
3rd Mar, 2014
I usually make pesto to freeze for the winter. The best way to do it, is to puree the basil, olive oil and garlic. Then freeze. As I defrost it to use, I then add the pine nuts and cheese. After it sits overnight, is very fresh tasting.
3rd Mar, 2014
I occasionally use peanuts and cheddar cheese (being a vegetarian) and pine nuts are so expensive. Will defo try cashew/walnuts as per the other tips on this message board.
6th Aug, 2013
I love pesto! try using spinach, rocket or watercress in place for basil. also try with walnuts instead of pinenuts
22nd Jul, 2013
being a pesto fan, I always use cashews rather than pine nuts, it still tastes amazing!!! Shop bought is nice but nothing like the home made stuff.