Our investigation found that pesto sold by some supermarkets contains a number of surprising ingredients. Do you add anything extra to your pesto to make it the… best-o?
Generally accepted as a Genoese invention, traditional pesto contains just basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil (as well as a pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon). However, our investigations team found supermarkets such as Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s have been adding extra ingredients.
Bamboo fibres, glucose syrup and cashew nuts were found in some of the pestos. And in others, pine nuts had been replaced with cashew nuts, olive oil with sunflower oil and Parmesan with cheaper Italian hard cheeses
Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s premium ‘alla Genovese’ pestos all contained vegetable or bamboo fibres as thickeners, as well as added sugar. And Morrisons Pesto alla Genovese also listed water as an ingredient. M&S’s standard pesto contained carrot fibres.
Asda and Waitrose did better – their products had the most authentic and traditional ingredients. You can read more about our pesto research results here.
Is pesto the real thing if it contains ingredients other than basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan? Some recipes substitute almonds for pine nuts – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall even goes so far as to say you can replace the nuts with breadcrumbs. And call me a pesto heathen (or maybe visionary), but I too play around with the traditional ingredients.
I made a wild garlic pesto this weekend which had no basil in it at all. The wild garlic – out in force in woodlands at the moment – gives it an amazing spiciness that’s still well balanced by the cheese and nuts. I also substituted half the pine nuts for walnuts because I like the bitterness (but I did stick to traditional olive oil and Parmesan – no shortcuts here).
I’m not sure what the Genovese would make of it, but wild garlic pesto has become a firm favourite among my friends.
But coming back to shop-made pesto, Nikki Stopford, director of research at Which?, advises to “check the ingredients list if authenticity is important to you, or if you are trying to avoid certain contents, such as added sugar… our advice is not to assume that all pesto contains the same traditional ingredients.”
Is my recipe as great a culinary crime as supermarkets adding bamboo shoots and vegetable oil into the mix? And do you have a similar non-conformist pesto recipe? Let us know your best-o ideas.