Pesto originated from Genoa, Italy, and has its roots in ancient Rome. The word “Pesto” means crush. A thick green sauce that is now widely loved by all. The most common variety is pesto Alla Genovese. The traditional sauce contains fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts (pignoli). It’s the world’s second most popular sauce, known for its versatility. Nowadays, it’s far more common to use a blender or food processor to make homemade pesto.
Native describes the flavour of pesto as bright and intense, salty and garlicky. Many variations arrive with time. One such is using walnuts instead of pine nuts or replacing parmesan with Romano cheese. Though it is high in calories, it fulfils the nutritional part of your diet mixed with a hint of creamy taste that people love. As a result, pesto has a role in many dishes. Despite being high in fat and calories, it contains many nourishing ingredients. As with all good things in life, pesto is healthy when you eat it in moderation.
Nutritional Profile of Pesto
As per USDA, 100 grams of pesto holds the following nutritional value:
- Calories: 464 kcal
- Protein: 7.14 g
- Fat: 46.43g
- Carbohydrate: 3.57g
- Calcium: 214 mg
- Sodium: 786mg
- Vitamin C: 150 mg
- Vitamin A: 1429 IU
- Cholesterol: 18mg
- Iron: 1.29 mg
- Fatty Acids(saturated) : 7.14g
Note: The nutritional values depend on the following ingredients in pesto: canola oil, whole basil, parmesan cheese (pasteurised part-skim milk), cheese culture, salt, enzymes, water, Romano cheese (part-skim milk), pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, garlic (garlic water), and rice vinegar.
Grocery stores typically carry many kinds of pesto. Whereas pesto could be a vegetarian-friendly sauce, vegans can search for cheese- and dairy-free versions. Basil is the main ingredient in pesto. Some products contain alternative herbs in their place. To own additional management over the ingredients in your pesto, strive for a home-brewed formula that aligns with your dietary preferences.
Some varieties available in the market include:
- Sicilian pesto or Pesto Alla Trapanese uses almonds as opposed to pine nuts.
- Citrus Pesto has almonds in place of pine nuts and uses lemon or oranges, or both.
- Pesto Rosso is a version using sundried tomatoes and almonds to get a rich red colour.
Benefits of Pesto
Pesto is healthy food if you consume it in moderation and with the right ingredients. It offers several health benefits. For example, pesto contains high amounts of omega-3, reducing the risk of heart diseases and strokes.
Some potential benefits of pesto are:
Packed with Antioxidants
Antioxidants help reduce the risks of skin ageing, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Pesto is laden with antioxidants. In addition, garlic, basil, olive oil, and pine nuts are rich in antioxidants which contribute to a healthy body to protect against such risks. And a study shows that basil is a rich source of nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, and beta carotene.
Source of Calcium
Pesto contains calcium, which helps strong bone growth and overall bone health. Along with vitamin D, it helps absorb calcium and phosphorus.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFA’s) lower the “bad” cholesterol and raises the “good” cholesterol levels. As a result, the risk of heart diseases and strokes gets subsequently minimised. According to the American Heart Association, the fats in diets should be either mono or polyunsaturated. Hence the fat in pesto is considered “good” fats.
Another benefit of pesto is that it keeps your heart healthy due to the presence of olive oil and Omega-3. There are many advantages of olive oil, and the decreased danger of coronary heart sickness can be one of them. In addition, substituting different excessive-fat meals like margarine, butter, dairy, and mayonnaise with olive oil can decrease the danger of coronary heart sickness and the threat of stroke. A study shows that eating olive oil, precisely the extra-virgin variety in pesto, reduced the risks of cardiovascular disease.
Helps Lower Cholesterol Level
There are four particular forms of fat: saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat. Saturated fat increases your LDL levels of cholesterol. Whereas foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat like pesto can decrease LDL. It also boosts HDL (considered “good” cholesterol) levels.
Good for Skin Health
Tomatoes used in Pesto Alla Trapanese, a particular variety of pesto, are a rich source of vitamin A & C. These vitamins are beneficial for your skin. A study shows that they help with collagen synthesis and make your skin look healthier and younger. In addition, the traditional pesto uses basil which provides vitamins A, C & E that are beneficial for improving your skin health.
Potential Side Effects of Pesto
- Nuts are allergens responsible for the pesto-allergies. It can act as a possible trigger for a life-threatening reaction. (Caution)
- The packed Pesto sauce can be harmful as the persistent storage may hinder some nutritional content, as well as it can expire.
- It has high salt content; long-term continuous consumption can be dangerous for people with high blood pressure.
- Children love this sauce; due to its salty composition, the risk of developing strokes and heart attacks later in their life is very prevalent.
- Pesto can be high in fats and calories.
- Store-bought pesto will contain a large amount of sodium. Those following a low-sodium diet or taking any heart medications should discuss this with their doctor before adding the sauce to their diet. To regulate the quantity of sodium in your pesto, follow homemade pesto instructions that use less salt.
Pesto traditionally contains Parmesan cheese (a milk product) and pine nuts (a tree nut). The typical food allergen present in pine nuts is anaphylaxis. Therefore, an allergic reaction could occur in individuals allergic to milk products and nuts. Allergy reactions from milk products are not unknown. Most commonly, the α S1-casein protein in cow’s milk is the reason causing allergies. Symptoms of pesto allergies include hives, swelling, itching, shortness of breath, abdomen pain, vomiting, problem swallowing, and lightheadedness. Your health expert will do skin testing to determine which food allergens you are allergic to. Those who are allergic to nuts and dairy can also pick nut-free or dairy-free varieties of pesto.
How to Store Pesto Sauce
You can enjoy this herbaceous sauce year-round by freezing your fresh pesto. You can freeze a batch of pesto in ice cube trays and place the tray into the freezer. Then, once the cubes are frozen, remove the pesto cubes from the tray and put them in a freezer bag.
- Drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on top of the cubes. This extra layer of olive oil can help keep the frozen pesto from darkening due to oxidation. In addition, it helps maintain the green colour of your pesto.
- Transfer the pesto cubes to a plastic bag, label the date, and store them in the freezer.
- You can also use suitable airtight containers or small glass jars to keep pesto in the freezer. After preparing your pesto, pour it into these jars.
- Screw the lids on tight, then transfer them to the freezer.
Defrost the pesto in the microwave or a pot on the stove over low heat when you need to use them. You can use frozen pesto in place of fresh pesto for appetisers, entrees, and condiments.
How to Eat and Prepare Pesto Sauce in a Healthier Way
There are ways to make pesto healthier and reduce your intake of calories and fats at the same time. For example, pesto sauce gets traditionally eaten with high carb pasta. Try switching out pasta with a low carb option like vegetables. If you are going to eat pesto with pasta, be sure to use whole grain pasta. Instead of eating pesto with carbs like pasta, try it on tofu or chicken. Skinless chicken with pesto adds a low-fat, high protein punch to your diet. Alternatively, use pesto as a dip for cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes or broccoli.
You can also alter store-bought pesto by stirring in chicken or vegetable broth. Reduce the high-calorie ingredients and add more low-calorie alternatives if you’re making your pesto. For example, opt for more basil and garlic and reduce nuts, oils, and cheese. Or use half the amount of nuts and cheese. You can also substitute these ingredients with low-calorie alternatives like almond milk, avocado, and non-fat Greek yoghurt. They give the same creamy, nutty flavour. And as always, extra virgin olive oil is of higher quality than pure olive oil.
Pesto is famous for its unique taste and freshness or the health properties that other sauces lack. Pesto has made its name worldwide with minimum side effects and more nutritive segments. It is healthy for you as long as you eat it moderately. Traditionally, you can make pesto from extra virgin olive oil, basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, and pine nuts. However, every brand has a different mix of ingredients, which means each pesto sauce product has a varying number of calories, fat content and sodium. Always read ingredients labels to make sure you’re getting high-quality pesto. More than anything, be careful with servings. Measure out your pesto with proper portions and be mindful of what you add to it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is pesto the healthiest sauce?
A. While pesto has impressive amounts of nutrition, it’s still not the healthiest sauce. It would be best to eat it in moderation because pesto contains fats and calories from olive oil and nuts. Moreover, it is higher in fat and calories than most tomato-based sauces. Therefore, you can not consider pesto the healthiest sauce out there.
Q. What does pesto taste like?
A. Pesto has a salty and rich flavour from the cheese and pine nuts. It has a hint of garlicky taste with a grassiness of olive oil. Traditional thick pesto sauce tastes herby from the basil or parsley, with a subtle creaminess.
Q. Why shouldn’t you cook pesto?
A. pesto should never be “cooked”. First, the heat will cook the basil and turn it darker, destroying its aroma. Second, if you use cheese in pesto, it will clump after cooking.
Q. Is pesto healthier than tomato sauce?
A. There is no clear winner when it comes to this comparison. Pesto has higher fat content, but it is “good” fat compared to the saturated fat in the tomato-based sauce. Marinara is famous for its low calories compared to pesto, but the nutritional count in pesto is much higher. Tomato sauce is a good choice if you’re watching your calorie count, but pesto is best if you’re focusing on nutrients and fibre.
Q. Why does pesto taste minty?
A. In several variations of pesto, mint is added as a secondary ingredient which supplies that minty flavour to it. The mix of mint and parsley or basil in a pesto gives the green colour with a zippy, fresh mint flavour.
Q. Do you eat pesto hot or cold?
A. You can choose your style; it can be served cold after keeping in a refrigerator or added to any warm food item. For example, you shouldn’t heat pesto, but you can add it to any warm food for the taste. Directly heating the pesto sauce will change the fresh basil’s colour, taste, and texture.
Q. Should pesto be refrigerated?
A. Yes, pesto should be refrigerated. However, you can store it for a week at room temperature in a cool and dry area. You can also keep it in a freezer to increase the shelf life to 6 months. It would be best to keep homemade pesto in the fridge and seal it tightly. Add some olive oil on top before storing it in the refrigerator to retain quality for a bit longer.
Q. How much pesto should I use in pasta?
A. For four standard servings of pasta, you can use up to 350g of the pesto sauce. Or you can add pesto until the pasta takes a creamy green colour. You want the pasta to get highlighted by the pesto sauce, not overwhelmed by it. Therefore, add a modest amount to coat the pasta.
Q. Is homemade pesto good for you?
A. Yes, homemade is what makes its flavour shine. With the fresh ingredients, the richness, and the authenticity of pesto, you get the perfect feeling of something tasty yet healthy. Homemade pesto following the traditional approach of adding olive oil, pine nuts, fresh basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese is a healthy addition to any diet.
Q. Is pesto healthy for weight loss?
A. Pesto is high in calories and fats; while it’s somewhat a healthy part of the diet, it doesn’t aid in weight loss benefits. In addition, pesto might not be suitable for a low-calorie weight loss diet plan because its ingredients include olive oil, nuts, and cheese. However, the antioxidants and unsaturated fats in pesto have heart health benefits.