I recently made some pesto from scratch and my end result, while delicious, was overpowered by a strong garlic flavor, and not entirely in a good way. I'm talking about that sharp, spicy flavor that garlic sometimes imparts.

I would have added more basil if I had it on hand, but I used all of my stash in the first go-round.

What else could I add to lessen the flavor? Is there a general purpose ingredient for this situation?

13 Answers 13


For the next time you make it, a common way to take out the "bite" of raw garlic is to roast it first. Chop off the top of the unpeeled head, drizzle in olive oil, sprinkle some salt, wrap in tin foil and pop in the oven. More details and pictures covered here and here.

A quick search for roasted garlic pesto came up with a bunch of recipes as well. I've used this trick with numerous recipes when I want lots of garlic, but want to take out the bite (from salsas, to guacamole, to just a straight garlic spread for bread).

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    a quick view of the top recipes that google offers for "roasted garlic pesto" all use "roasted garlic" to be added to the pesto. Since OP can't un-ring the bell on putting the garlic in the pesto are you suggesting 'roasting the pesto"? – Cos Callis Aug 30 '11 at 19:14
  • Good point... I guess this would be more a note for next time. – talon8 Aug 30 '11 at 20:30
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    Roasted garlic pesto sounds pretty good; I'll give it a try next time. – rageear Sep 1 '11 at 14:34

I know this is a bit of an old question but I came along it on my own search so thought I'd share my solution.

I figured the problem with the excess garlic is that it's raw so I sprinkled some parmesan on top of my pesto and baked it in the oven for 5-10mins. Stirred through the now melted parmesen with the semi-cooked garlic and it tastes so much better. Still a little garlic-y for my liking but hey, we can't all be perfect.

Oh, I was making my pesto in a glass mixing bowl so just chucked the whole thing in the oven but make sure whatever you have it in is oven safe before whacking it in. Enjoy!


I had this exact same problem when I first made homemade mojo... It would snap your head back when it was fresh! I had made it a day early for a party the next day and by the time the party came along, it was perfect!

Could you try this and let all the flavors marinate for a day or two before serving?

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    I had some more of the pesto about a day after making it and the garlic flavor did get reduced, but was still stronger than I liked. – rageear Aug 31 '11 at 17:36
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    hmmm... I had one more thought, but didn't want to risk it as my answer: Lemon juice will instantly take garlic smells off your hands, but i'm not sure what it would do to the taste of your pesto or if it would cut the taste of garlic. – Rikon Sep 1 '11 at 0:24

Pasteurization or freezing should cut the spiciness of garlic somewhat, since they reduce the flavor of whole cloves. Pesto generally freezes well, so give that a shot first. Heating the pesto briefly to a high temperature may affect the flavor, but will reduce garlic's role. The shorter the period at heat is, the less it'll affect non-garlic flavors.


If you didn't pre-roast your garlic and need to fix it after the fact... Throw your pesto in a saute pan with a little olive oil and cook it very lightly; that will help mellow the flavor. Also, are you using lemon juice in your garlic? I find that helps temper it while adding some much needed acid. Finally, make sure you are cutting out the "sprout" piece from the center of each garlic clove as that usually has the strongest, most unpleasant flavor.


If you are willing to end up with something that is 'not pesto' but rather 'pesto cheese spread' you can mix your pesto with cream cheese, butter, sour cream (etc..) to dilute the garlic over a larger volume. The dairy product will help take the edge of the pesto and will give a delicious dish, just not the one you were planning.


The more the membranes in walls of raw garlic are bruised or torn, the spicier/stronger/more bitter it will taste. Cutting fewer walls (instead of smashing which tears many of them) results in less spiciness especially when cut with an extremely sharp blade. So if you're goint to use the garlic raw, chop or slice it rather than smashing if you don't want that extra pepperiness.To get the skin off easily, a little bit of smashing with a knife blade won't affect things too much. Cooking garlic makes it almost "sweet" though and removes that "hot" spicy taste, which is very different.

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    While you are correct, I'm not sure if this advice can be related to pesto as well, since the garlic will end up in very very small pieces... – Mien Apr 25 '13 at 9:48

Had the same problem and used a little dry mustard. Seems to blens the garlic not the rest of the sauce.


My hunch is that the answer is quite simple: mix your pasta into your pesto immediately after draining it, before it has time to cool. This will cook the garlic just enough to take the zing out. (Adding a bit of hot pasta water will help as well, as is often recommended in pesto recipes to thin the sauce out.)


In Uganda some people don't like garlic at all but we all know the importance of garlic and some foods are just tasteless without garlic. So as a training chef I put a small pinch but for the times when I put a little too much of it, I use lime, oranges or lemon.


To make it less "garliky" you can add more pine nuts (finely chopped), this doesn't change it's flavor and makes it more crunchy. If you are out of them, add more freshly grated parmesan cheese (again, do not process). Real italian pesto is not processed. All ingredients are hand chopped (use a very sharp blade for basil so it won't turn black!). The idea is to distinguish the different textures of all the ingredients (it's not supposed to be a paste like we usually see it!).

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    Not so sure about the note for "real Italian pesto". It was originally made by grinding with a mortar and pestle, and if you want a really good pesto, that is still the way to do it. – Adam Jaskiewicz Aug 31 '11 at 12:31

Boil the garlic in milk and drain the milk. Repeat this process 3-4 times and you will be able to remove the strong bitter flavour.

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    The question is about reducing the flavor after the pesto is made, not before. – rumtscho Apr 25 '13 at 13:04

I realized I did not have enough salt so added French sea salt. This was for green bean casserole I made from scratch without a recipe. Used a garlic infused broth in the cream sauce and was too much garlic. Wow. So with the salt, I think it is tempered. But will see tomorrow on holiday if it marinates well and is fine. If not, I may try a teaspoon of balsamic or coconut vinegar, a hint at a time and hope that helps. Thanks for the advice on this, gave ideas.

  • Not sure salt is an effective way to cover up garlic; if anything it generally brings out flavors unless you make things really salty. – Cascabel Nov 26 '15 at 4:29

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