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What is a good pine nut substitute for pesto?

Pine nuts are very expensive here. I'm wondering if I can substitute any of the following:

  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds

Would any of these be appropriate in a pesto sauce?

  • 2
    try cashew/lemon zest/raisons
    – michael
    Sep 10, 2011 at 19:01
  • I commonly see walnuts used instead of pinenuts in commercial pesto.
    – KatieK
    Sep 11, 2011 at 20:43
  • @michael You add lemon/raison to pesto? What is zest? Sep 12, 2011 at 1:30
  • @gunbusters363 "lemon zest" is the rind of the lemon. It has a lemon flavor that endures longer than the juice. cashews + lemon zest + raisons + olive oil makes a delicious sweet pesto.I particularly like it with chicken.
    – michael
    Sep 12, 2011 at 12:08
  • I thought lemon skin is very bitter? Sep 12, 2011 at 12:50

8 Answers 8


First, I'm assuming by "pesto" you mean "Pesto alla Genovese", given your question about pine nuts. Basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and cheese is a delicious combination, but it's only one of many "pestos" (peste, actually), since pesto refers in general to any sauce which is made from crushed or pureed ingredients. Mix and match to your heart's content.

Walnuts are actually a traditional alternative to pine nuts for Pesto alla Genovese; pine nuts have always been scarce, even in early-20th-century Italy. As a caution, though, you need to get good, fresh walnuts and make sure to get all of the skin off the nuts, or the pesto will taste bitter and rancid.

Almonds could also work, although I'd think they'd be rather bland. The herb pastes which traditionally have crushed almonds -- such as Romanesco sauce -- include some hot pepper. Again, freshness and getting the skin off is important.

I'd think sunflower seeds would be kind of odd and oily, but you don't know until you try. If you do, post a comment to let us know!

  • 1
    (Just as an anecdote) I've used almonds many many times in basil pesto; as long as you toast them properly first, they are delicious (though not the same as pine nuts, of course -- not nearly as fatty, for one thing).
    – jscs
    Sep 12, 2011 at 5:56
  • Well said. Cashews are a common alternative in commercial pesto
    – Ray
    May 15, 2012 at 12:43

Of course they would be appropriate, the taste wouldn't be the same though.

Have done a bit of experimenting with pesto. Have used pistachios instead of pine nuts. Parsley instead of basil is good too. Expect that many of the green fresh herbs would make interesting pesto.

From Wikipedia:

The name is the contracted past participle of the Genoese word pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means to pound, to crush, in reference to the original method of preparation, with marble mortar and wooden pestle.

I vary the proportions of herb/olive oil/garlic/nuts to taste as I make it. Fun to mess around with when the new herbs are in.

Have always wanted to make pesto with tarragon, haven't though.

Have fun.


To my personal taste, you could even go without nuts completely and still have a great sauce.

Walnuts and almonds are absolutely ok: there are many forms of pesto (the most famous being of course the Genovese), and they employ a variety of herbs and nuts.

Pesto alla trapanese (named after the city of Trapani, in Sicily), for instance, uses almonds and includes tomatoes. Pesto alle noci (noci means walnuts), another great sauce, is made with walnuts and celery. A quick check on google tells me that pesto with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds is not unheard of, lots of recipes are available. Others I know of: pesto with arugula, pesto with green beans and potatoes and probably many other obscure variants.

Another option, but it depends greatly on your physical location, is to just collect pinecones by yourself - time consuming, but could make for a nice sunday activity (it certainly did for me when I was a kid)

  • 1
    Agos, you know, I've never seen how to identify and open the right pine cones for pine nuts. If I posted that as a question, could you answer it?
    – FuzzyChef
    Sep 11, 2011 at 18:43
  • @FuzzyChef I'd be glad to!
    – Agos
    Sep 11, 2011 at 19:37
  • @FuzzyChef, did you ever post that question? I was not able to find it
    – Ray
    May 15, 2012 at 12:47

this question has also been asked here What is a good pine nut substitute for pesto? although with a different focus (his problem is not money but allergy).

Walnuts would probably taste good, but it is not Pesto alla Genovese if there are no pine nuts.


Cashews are the simplest replacement, many people don't even notice the difference

Commercially Cashews are used in many packaged products sold as Pesto or Pesto + something (roasted peppers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes etc.). It is usually a filler to make up for a low pine nut percentage

For home made pesto it is a bit more obvious unless your really processes it down to a smooth paste. I personally like my pesto very chunky so don't like using cashews

  • 1
    cashew is also expensive~ Sep 12, 2011 at 1:32
  • @gunbuster363 They are a third the price of pine nuts though
    – TFD
    Sep 13, 2011 at 2:04
  • No cheap here in Hong Kong though Sep 13, 2011 at 6:35

by all means use walnuts in pesto sauce. As earlier posts have recommended, choose walnuts that are fresh, in other words, very pale in colour. Darker walnuts are bitter. If you can shell them, so much the better. I also use lemon juice in my pesto. And use a hand blender so that the sauce is grainy rather than pureed. Walnuts are great in any sauce, try roasted egg-plant, tomato paste, garlic and walnuts, all blended. Mmmm.


I use almonds frequently as my husband detests the taste of pine nuts (and can detect them in things at 40 paces). I prefer to use raw ones; make sure to blanch them so you don't have the skins in there. While Walnuts are common, they have a stronger flavor. I've converted several friends to "almond pesto".


There are many Pesto variants out there. It's basically a matter of taste. See, for example, recipe and suggested variations here:

  • A common change to the recipe is to replace some or all of the pine nuts with sunflower seeds, walnuts, pistachios or almonds.
  • The pine nuts can be replaced with an equal quantity of sun-dried tomatoes.
  • You may change the taste by changing the base of the pesto from basil to other easily obtained herbs/vegetables. Some variations include using cilantro (coriander, for a more aromatic taste) or spinach (more "bang for your buck", as spinach is much cheaper than basil, yet still has its own distinct flavor).

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