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What Does Pesto Taste Like (And How To Tell If It’s Gone Bad)

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Made with just a few ingredients, pesto is one of the richest-tasting and most versatile sauces. But as it is often mixed into other dishes, identifying the true flavor of pesto is hard. 

What does pesto taste like? Pesto sauce has peppery notes thanks to the basil leaves used to make it. It is also creamy and nutty due to the crushed pine nuts. Olive oil, garlic, and cheese make the sauce complete and enrich the flavor of pesto. 

In this article, we will tell you all about the flavor and texture of this Italian sauce. You will also learn everything about the storage conditions, shelf life, and signs of spoilage of pesto.

What Is Pesto And How Is It Made? 

Pesto is one of the most popular sauces that you either love or hate. This Italian sauce takes its name from the word pestare which means “to crush”. Pesto is named so as its preparation includes crushing all the ingredients.

While there are numerous pesto recipes and variations, the traditional way of making this green sauce is using basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, olive oil, and salt.

The traditional way of making pesto is crushing all ingredients using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle. Garlic and pine nuts are the first ingredients to go into the mortar Once crushed to a paste, basil leaves and salt are added. 

Cheese is the last ingredient to go into the mixture along with virgin olive oil that helps improve the texture of the sauce. 

But making pesto is much quicker if you own a blender or a food processor. You can also buy pesto if you don’t have time to make it yourself. 

How Do You Use Pesto? 

The most common use for pesto is with pasta. However, there are many other ways to use this green Italian sauce. Being peppery, buttery, and salty all at the same time, pesto sauce is a great flavor enhancer to use in many dishes. 

Here are some ideas for using pesto.

  • Make breakfast eggs with pesto
  • Bake pesto bread
  • Use pesto sauce as a pizza topping
  • Make vegetable galette with pesto
  • Use pesto as a topping for roasted vegetables 
  • Make pesto crusted salmon
  • Use pesto as a sauce for chicken, steak, pork chops, etc.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to use pesto sauce. Aside from being versatile, pesto is also healthy. While it contains lots of calories, it is packed with nutrients, and you typically don’t have to use a lot of it. 

What Does Pesto Taste Like?

The flavor of pesto is quite complex. Though it doesn’t contain too many ingredients, all of them have pronounced flavor which makes the overall taste of the sauce very unique. 

Pesto has peppery notes thanks to the basil leaves used to make it. It is also nutty and buttery thanks to the pine nuts used in it. 

Garlic is another key ingredient that provides the traditional flavor of pesto. So, even if you don’t like garlic that much, we recommend you don’t skip it in pesto. 

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Sardo cheeses added to the sauce make it taste richer.

It is important to not oversalt the sauce as the cheeses are already salty. Adding a small amount of salt is all you need to balance the overall flavor of pesto

It is also important to use high-quality olive oil to make pesto sauce as it is what gives the sauce the needed grassiness.

Don’t be surprised if you don’t find your store-bought pesto to have any grassy notes. Many manufacturers replace high-quality olive oil with other cheap oils to reduce production costs. 

As mentioned earlier, there are many pesto variations. You can replace pine nuts in pesto with other nuts, including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan, and brazil nuts.

Non-traditional pesto recipes may also include such ingredients as parsley, avocado, ginger, coconut, etc. 

The flavor of the pesto sauce will change depending on the ingredients you use to make it. 

What Is The Texture Of Pesto?

The true texture of pesto sauce is something in between smooth and overly chunky. Making pesto uniformly smooth is a mistake easy to make when you are using a blender or a food processor.

So, if you want to get the texture just right, using a mortar and a pestle is a good idea

Your pesto can be thick and creamy or on the thinner side. In any case, you need to make sure you have added all components in proper proportions so that the flavor is balanced and rich. 

The texture of the sauce may be modified depending on how many nuts, basil, and liquid ingredients you add. The more liquid (olive oil, lemon juice) you add to the sauce, the thinner its texture will get

But no matter how much liquid you add to the paste, we recommend you do it slowly as it helps to make the texture of the sauce finer whether it is thick or thin. 

Can Pesto Go Bad?

Pesto, just like any other sauce, has a limited shelf life. Whether you have made it yourself or bought a jar from your local supermarket, pesto sauce will eventually go bad.

And sooner than other commonly used sauces and condiments, including ketchup and mayonnaise. 

The main ingredients in pesto – basil and pine nuts, are rather perishable. One of the reasons why pesto goes bad is the oils in it getting rancid.

How To Store Pesto

The storage rules for pesto differ depending on the fact whether it is homemade or store-bought, and if the jar has been opened or not

Commercially manufactured pesto sauce is more shelf-stable compared to its homemade version as it contains preservatives. But even then, how quickly the sauce will go bad ultimately depends on its storage conditions. 

Store-Bought Pesto

If you go to the nearby supermarket to buy pesto, you will find it in a tin or a jar in the unrefrigerated section, as well as in jars in the refrigerated section. 

If you still haven’t opened the jar, store it in the same conditions as in-store. When storing a jar of pesto at room temperature, make sure to keep it away from heat sources and direct sunlight.

The pantry or a cool and dry kitchen cupboard will work well for storing pesto sauce that doesn’t need refrigeration. 

Once you open the jar of pesto, seal the lid tightly after each use. Store it in the fridge whenever you are not using it

If the original container of the sauce is damaged or you can’t close the lid tightly, it is best to transfer the sauce into another jar or container. 

Homemade Pesto

Homemade pesto should always be stored in the fridge. Once you make the sauce, transfer it into a jar or a container with a tight sealing lid

Don’t transfer pesto into a container that is too big for it as the contact of the sauce with a lot of air will cause it to deteriorate sooner. 

Unlike store-bought pesto, homemade pesto doesn’t contain preservatives, it has a shorter shelf-life.

So, if you don’t need a lot of it for a specific recipe or know you won’t be eating it within a few days, make a small batch of pesto. Fresh pesto always tastes better than pesto that has been in the fridge for a few days. 

How Long Does Pesto Last?

You can find the “best by” date of unopened pesto sauce printed on the jar. If you keep the jar in proper conditions, pesto sold in the unrefrigerated section may keep a few weeks longer than the date indicated on the packaging.

This is because the latter is the manufacturer’s estimation of how long the product will retain its best qualities. 

Pesto sold in the refrigerated section has a shorter shelf life. It may keep only a few days longer than the date on the packaging indicates. 

Once you open the pesto, it will keep well for 5-7 days

Homemade pesto has a shelf life of around 5 days in the fridge. If your homemade pesto goes bad sooner, you have either left it at room temperature for too long or the ingredients you have used weren’t fresh. 

Can You Freeze Pesto?

Luckily, pesto freezes quite well. It does undergo some texture changes after freezing and defrosting the sauce.

For some dishes, defrosted pesto sauce may not work well due to its texture changes. But in dishes where you mix it with other ingredients, the sauce will work as well as the fresh variety. 

As for the taste, pesto sauce will undergo minimal flavor changes if you freeze it properly and when the sauce is still fresh. 

How To Freeze Pesto 

Freezing pesto is easy. However, before you do that, make sure to portion the sauce in a way so that it is convenient for future use. 

If you know you will be using the sauce for sandwiches, single portions of soup, pasta, etc., freeze it in small amounts.

But if you will be needing a larger amount for a pot of pasta or such recipes as stuffed chicken breasts, freezing pesto in larger batches is a better choice. 

To freeze pesto in larger amounts, transfer 1/2 cup of sauce into airtight containers or heavy-duty zip-top bags.

When freezing the sauce in a container, add a small amount of olive oil to cover the surface of the sauce. The oil will help prevent any oxidation of the sauce

As for freezing pesto sauce in small amounts, the ice cube tray method is the best. Transfer a few spoons of pesto into each compartment of the ice cube tray and put it in the freezer.

After a few hours when the sauce is frozen remove the pesto cubes from the tray and put them in a sealable plastic bag. 

Whenever you need to use the sauce, let it thaw in the fridge or defrost it using the microwave. Small pesto cubes can also go right into the hot dish as they will take only a few minutes to thaw. 

How Long Does Pesto Last In The Freezer? 

Pesto will last up to 6 months in the freezer. If the temperature of the freezer is stable, the sauce may remain safe for consumption past that time too.

However, the longer the sauce sits in the freezer the more its flavor and texture will deteriorate.  

How To Tell If Pesto Is Bad

If you have had the sauce for a few days, we recommend you inspect it closely for any signs of spoilage before eating it. Here’s how to tell if pesto sauce is bad. 

  • Color changes. If the sauce has lost its appealing green color and has turned brown, it is time to discard it.
  • Mold. Mold is one of the most obvious signs of spoilage. If you see specs of mold in the sauce or in the jar, don’t eat it. 
  • Off-putting smell. Discard pesto if it smells funny. As there is a lot of oil in pesto, it is also common for it to smell rancid when it goes bad. 

If the sauce has no obvious signs of spoilage and smells good, give it a try to make sure it is good. If the sauce looks good but you have had it for too many days, err on the safe side and discard it. 

What Happens If You Eat Bad Pesto? 

Eating pesto that has gone rancid won’t cause any health issues. And as it doesn’t taste very good, you are unlikely to eat so much of it that it makes you feel sick. 

As for eating moldy pesto by accident, you never know if the mold you have eaten is harmful or harmless.

In any case, the chances of suffering serious health issues as a result of moldy food, including pesto, are very low, unless eaten in large quantitites. 

What To Do With Leftover Pesto

If you have lots of leftover pesto, the best thing you can do with it is to freeze it.

However, as much as pesto freezes well, some people don’t like the flavor and texture of defrosted pesto. Or they simply don’t have any more room in their cold storage. 

In such cases, it is best to use pesto in recipes that require a lot of it. This is typically not the case with pesto recipes as a small amount of this sauce does the job.

You can also use pesto in more than one recipe if you don’t mind multiple appearances of the sauce on your dinner table. 

If you have half a jar of leftover pesto sauce, the easiest thing you can do is to spread it on a piece of puff pastry.

The best thing about this recipe is that you don’t have to spend time on making the dough as you can find puff pastry in any grocery store. 

Once you have spread the sauce on the dough, roll it up, slice it, and bake. How easy is that? And your leftover pesto sauce is gone and you don’t have to waste it.

If recipes that call for lots of pesto are not your thing, you can incorporate the sauce in various dishes and any meal of your day.

Make pesto sandwiches for breakfast, salad with a pesto dressing for lunch, and marinate chicken with pesto for dinner. After such a pesto-rich meal plan, you will hardly have any pesto left!

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