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7 Best Substitutes for Pine Nuts in Pesto

Pesto, that fragrant basil-based wonder, is the undisputed champion of the pasta sauce world. Creamy, herbaceous, and versatile, it’s the kind of simple pleasure that can transform a mundane meal into a culinary adventure. Yet, traditional pesto recipes slam on the brakes for one crucial ingredient: pine nuts.

For all their delightful butteriness, pine nuts carry a bit of a price tag. They can be on the pricier side, and for folks with nut allergies or specific dietary restrictions, they’re a culinary landmine. Here, I take you through seven stellar substitutes, each bringing its unique flavor, crunch, and charm to the pesto party.

Whether you’re out of pine nuts or simply looking to jazz up your pesto game, these swaps are your ticket to a pantry that’s always pesto-ready.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pine nuts can be substituted with a variety of nuts such as cashews, pistachios, almonds, pecans, walnuts, and sunflower seeds.
  • To achieve the best results, use unsalted nuts and toast them beforehand for added flavor.
  • Be creative and mix different nuts together for a unique and flavorful pesto blend.
  • You can also try a nut-free pesto recipe for those with allergies or dietary restrictions.

The World of Pesto Without Pine Nuts

Pesto is a traditional Italian sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. It’s made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. But as Italians traveled the world and introduced this beloved dish to new cultures, local ingredients began to take center stage.

Today, there are many variations of pesto based on what region you’re in or what ingredients are available. In fact, some regions have been using substitutes for pine nuts in pesto long before we even thought about it!

Why Substitute?

Aside from the potential price or allergy issue, some people simply don’t care for the taste of pine nuts. They can be a bit overwhelming and distract from other flavors in the dish. Plus, with so many delicious alternatives, why not experiment and see what else you can create?

So, let’s dive into the world of pesto without pine nuts! Here are seven substitutes that will elevate your pesto game:

1 – Cashew Nuts

Cashews, also known as “nature’s butter”, are a versatile and delicious nut that adds depth and creaminess to any dish. These kidney-shaped nuts have a rich, buttery flavor that pairs well with both sweet and savory dishes.

Known for their creamy taste and texture, bring a luxurious twist to pesto. They’re milder in flavor compared to pine nuts, complementing the basil’s freshness without overpowering it.

Opt for them when you crave a velvety pesto that’s gentle on the palate. To make the switch seamless, use a 1:1 ratio of cashews to pine nuts.

But bear in mind, cashews can cause the pesto to turn creamier and may require a little extra olive oil to balance the consistency.

2 – Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia nuts, affectionately known as “mac nuts,” are native to Australia and have a distinct buttery, slightly sweet flavor. These creamy nuts are a great substitute for pine nuts in pesto, adding richness and depth to the sauce.

To make the switch, use a 1:1 ratio of macadamia nuts to pine nuts and be prepared for a velvety smooth pesto with a touch of sweetness. Macadamia nuts are also a great option for those with nut allergies, as they are considered one of the least allergenic nuts.

Try toasting them beforehand in a dry pan to bring out their natural oils and enhance their flavor even more. Just be careful not to over-toast them, as they can quickly burn.

3 – Unsalted Pistachios

Pistachios may not be the first nut that comes to mind when thinking of pesto, but their slightly sweet and earthy flavor makes for a surprisingly tasty sauce. They also add a pop of bright green color, making your pesto visually appealing.

To substitute pistachios for pine nuts in pesto, use a 1:1 ratio and make sure to opt for unsalted nuts to avoid overpowering the other flavors in the sauce. If desired, you can add a pinch of salt yourself to control the seasoning.

You can also try mixing pistachios with another nut, such as almonds or cashews, for a unique and flavorful pesto blend.

4 – Almonds

Almonds are a popular and versatile nut that can be used in a variety of dishes, including pesto. They have a slightly sweet and nutty flavor that pairs well with herbs, making them a great substitute for pine nuts in pesto.

To use almonds as a substitute, opt for blanched or slivered almonds to achieve the same texture as pine nuts. You can also toast them beforehand to enhance their flavor.

If you prefer a smoother pesto, you can also blanch the almonds and remove their skins before blending them with the other ingredients. This will result in a creamier texture that is similar to traditional pine nut pesto.

5 – Pecan Nuts

Pecans, the star of many southern dishes, can also add a unique twist to pesto. They have a rich and buttery flavor with a slightly sweet undertone that pairs well with aromatic herbs like basil.

To use pecans as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto, opt for unsalted pecans to avoid overpowering the other flavors. Use a 1:1 ratio and feel free to toast them beforehand for a more robust flavor.

For an extra burst of flavor, you can also try mixing pecans with other nuts like walnuts or almonds in your pesto. This will add layers of texture and complexity to the sauce, making it even more delicious.

6 – Walnuts

Walnuts, with their distinctive crinkly shape and buttery flavor, are another great substitute for pine nuts in pesto. They have a slightly bitter taste that pairs well with the sweetness of basil, making them a unique option for your pesto sauce.

To use walnuts as a substitute, opt for unsalted ones to avoid overpowering the other flavors in the sauce. You can also toast them beforehand to bring out their nutty flavor even more.

For a creamier and smoother pesto, you can also blanch the walnuts before blending them with the other ingredients. This will result in a pesto that is similar in texture to traditional pine nut pesto but with a unique twist in flavor.

7 – Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds, the unsung heroes of the nut world, offer a surprising and delectable change to your pesto routine. When toasted, the seeds have a mild and nutty flavor that can easily replace pine nuts in pesto.

To use sunflower seeds as a substitute, toast them beforehand to release their oils and enhance their flavor. Use a 1:1 ratio and give your pesto a taste before adding salt, as the seeds may already be salted.

You can also try mixing sunflower seeds with other nuts like almonds or cashews for a more complex and delicious pesto blend. This will add texture and depth to the sauce, taking your pesto game to the next level.

Pesto Minus the Nuts Recipe

For the adventurers among us, a nut-free pesto is an extraordinary excursion. It’s uniquely fresh and vibrant, with a slightly different texture and flavor that’s equally fulfilling. This pesto is designed to enhance salads, pastas, and even meats without a second thought to nut allergies or dietary preferences.

  • Unleashing the Basil: Begin with 3 cups of tightly packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry.
  • Adding the Garlic Punch: Mince three cloves of garlic and add them to the basil.
  • The Cheesy Harmony: Grate half a cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into the mix.
  • Balancing with Acid: Squeeze the juice of half a lemon to balance the richness.
  • Mellowing the Texture: Pour in half a cup of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
  • The Grand Finale: Finish off with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.


In conclusion, we hope this guide on 7 best substitutes for pine nuts in pesto has been helpful to you. We understand that sometimes it can be difficult to find the exact ingredients for a recipe, but that shouldn’t stop you from creating delicious meals at home.

Pine nuts may be the classic choice for pesto, but there are plenty of other options that can work just as well. From almonds to sunflower seeds, each substitute offers a unique flavor and texture to your pesto sauce.

So next time you’re in a pinch and don’t have pine nuts on hand, remember these 7 substitutes and give them a try.


Nut-free Pesto Recipe

A fresh and vibrant pesto recipe that is free of nuts, making it perfect for those with allergies or dietary preferences. This pesto can be used to enhance salads, pastas, and even meats without sacrificing flavor.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Course Condiment
Cuisine Italian, Mediterranean
Servings 1 cup
Calories 1196 kcal


  • Food processor or blender
  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • Cutting board and knife for mincing garlic


  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  • Begin by washing and patting dry 3 cups of fresh basil leaves.
  • In a food processor or blender, add the basil leaves and 3 minced cloves of garlic.
  • Pulse until the ingredients are well combined.
  • Add in 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pulse again.
  • Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lemon and continue pulsing.
  • Slowly pour in 1/2 cup of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil while the food processor/blender is running.
  • Once all ingredients are well combined and a smooth consistency is reached, add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  • You can use the pesto immediately or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.


  • If you want a creamier pesto, blanch the basil leaves before adding them to the food processor/blender.
  • You can also mix in other herbs like parsley or cilantro for added flavor and freshness.
  • For a vegan version, omit the cheese or use a vegan alternative.
  • If the pesto is too thick, you can thin it out with a bit of water or more olive oil.


Serving: 1tablespoonCalories: 1196kcalCarbohydrates: 12gProtein: 21gFat: 122gSaturated Fat: 23gPolyunsaturated Fat: 12gMonounsaturated Fat: 83gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 809mgPotassium: 370mgFiber: 3gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 4201IUVitamin C: 44mgCalcium: 751mgIron: 4mg
Keyword nut-free pesto, substitutes for pine nuts
Did you make this recipe?Mention @CooksCrafter or tag #CooksCrafter!
5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating