I Tried 8 Jars of Pesto and Now These Are the Only 2 I’ll Buy

updated Dec 16, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

The bold and herby flavor of basil pesto can punch up almost anything including salad dressings, hummus, sandwiches, and roasted vegetables. But in the dead of winter, when fresh basil has disappeared from our garden beds and farmers markets, mixing up a batch of fresh pesto just isn’t going to happen. 

Most supermarkets offer refrigerated tubs of pesto, but they’ve got a short shelf life — especially once they’re opened. Shelf-stable jars, however, are usually a lot cheaper, plus you can keep them on hand in the pantry for when the craving strikes. 

The trouble is, jarred pesto doesn’t always look all that appetizing. The contents often look a bit murky. I’ve tried a few over the years and have been disappointed by the dull, cooked flavor. But they can’t be all bad, right? I figured it was high time for a test test.

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Most grocery store jarred pesto costs around $4 for a 6- to 8-ounces. (Refrigerated tubs, for reference, cost closer to $7 for 7-ounces.) I gathered up all the jarred brands I could find, cooked a big batch of angel hair pasta, called a few tasters to the table, and we put them to the test. 

We first tasted all the pestos on their own, noting the color — whether it was bright and appetizing or dark and murky — and the consistency. Some pestos were really thick with cheese, some really chunky with nuts, and some really thinned out with olive oil. We were also looking for pestos with real basil flavor. Most of the pestos we tried were heavier on salt and cheese than the actual taste of the herb. Some also had weird off-flavors, tasted flat and cooked, or even tasted of oregano instead of basil. After tasting them on their own we tried them tossed with equal amounts of cooked pasta. From there, a clear winner emerged.

Credit: Danielle Centoni
Pardon the oily label! We clearly made a mess in our excitement!

The Best Jarred Pesto: Rustichella d’Abruzzo Pesto Sauce

The color was darker than most of the others we tried, but this pesto was truly bursting with basil flavor, more so than the rest. It tasted the most like homemade pesto. It’s very salty because it’s a concentrate, so it’s recommended to dilute the pesto with an equal amount of olive oil. That means, technically, you’ll get about 8 ounces of pesto out of one jar. Complementing the basil flavor was a good balance of cheese, nuts, acidity, and olive oil. 

Buy: Rustichella d’Abruzzo Pesto Sauce, $10.50 for 4.5 ounces

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Note: We realize our winning pick is still a little pricey, so we’d like to also suggest a runner up, Barilla Rustic Pesto sauce. This version is available at most mainstream grocery stores and didn’t disappoint. This one has a more herby flavor than the other contenders, plus tart, bright notes that balanced the richness of the oil, nuts, and cheese. 

Buy: Barilla Rustic Pesto Sauce, $2.46 for 6.3 ounces at Walmart

Do you have a favorite jarred pesto sauce? Tell us about it in the comments below!