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The 9 Best Similar Substitutes for Basil in Pesto

One of the best substitutes for basil in pesto is parsley. Although it tastes less strong than basil, it can add a beautiful, green color to the final result. Vegetable leaves, oregano, thyme, mint, and kale are other options that can replace basil and give your pesto a different flavor. 

This article will explore in more detail how each of the above ingredients can replace basil and how to use them to make a delicious pesto. 

Jars of basil pesto

Can You Use Parsley Instead of Basil in Pesto?

You can use parsley instead of basil in pesto. It is the most common substitute for basil in pesto, as it has a fresh, herby flavor that is subtle and leaves room for other ingredients to stand out. The result will be a lighter green pesto than basil pesto, but it will have a similar texture. 

Parsley is rich in nutritional values like vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and D, iron, magnesium, and calcium. Your parsley pesto will be very healthy in addition to being tasty. 

To make parsley pesto, you can substitute basil with pesto in the same amount, following the same recipe you usually use to make basil pesto. 

Since parsley has a more subtle taste, you can add a little lemon juice (not more than half a lemon) to bring out all the ingredients’ flavors. It is recommended to use parsley stems along with the leaves, as they can have a more full-bodied taste, which is much needed in this case. Its herby flavor brings out the taste of other ingredients (like Parmesan cheese and pine nuts).

Parsley pesto tastes slightly different from basil pesto. However, it is delicious. It is best paired with vegetables and especially fish and seafood. 

Apart from parsley, you can use many other ingredients instead of basil in pesto. Let’s explore them!

1. Vegetable Leaves

Some vegetable leaves like beet, carrot, broccoli, and lettuce leaves make a tasty pesto. The most similar substitutes for basil in pesto are beet and carrot leaves, which have a parsley-like flavor. On the other hand, lettuce and broccoli leaves have a stronger, more dominant flavor. 

Next time you use these vegetables in your kitchen, make sure not to throw away their tasty, nutritional leaves. Differently from parsley, these greens’ stems tend to be more robust, which could make your pesto less creamy. Hence, try to make the vegetable leaves pesto using the leaves only. 

When making this pesto, make sure to add an equal amount of beet and carrot leaves as the recipe requirements for basil. On the other hand, you can use the lettuce and broccoli leaves more sparingly, as they have more robust flavors. If you don’t want the lettuce or broccoli flavor to overshadow other ingredients, you can mix them with spinach or carrot leaves.

This pesto is an excellent match with spring vegetables, providing a fresh, earthy flavor to your dishes. It goes well with poultry as well. 

2. Mint 

Fresh mint is a surprisingly great substitute for basil in pesto. Even though it has a strong flavor, its cool and peppery essence would give an exciting twist to your pesto. It would look the same as the basil pesto but with a bright, robust, and cool flavor. 

A bunch of fresh mint

Rich in nutritional value and low in calories, mint is a favorite taste in a large number of sweet and savory dishes. Spearmint is more favored for pesto recipes compared to the more potent peppermint. 

When replacing the basil with fresh mint in a recipe, remember to add about half the amount of basil. If you don’t like its consistency, try to mix the mint with milder-flavored ingredients like spinach. 

Mint pesto is best paired with goat cheese and grilled meat.

Related The Key Differences Between Basil and Sweet Basil.

3. Oregano 

Oregano can be used instead of basil in pesto. As this herb is strong, bitter, and peppery, your pesto will have an authentic, aromatic, Mediterranean touch. Keep in mind that you need less oregano to replace basil in a pesto recipe. 

Oregano is nutrient-rich, known since old times for its medicinal benefits, like antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also rich in calcium and potassium. 

Due to its strong and bitter flavor, oregano must be used more sparingly in a pesto than milder alternatives like basil, parsley, or spinach. Some recipes provide that the amount of oregano should equal the amount of Parmesan cheese to balance the spicy and creamy flavors. In addition, make sure you remove the stems, as they will make your pesto taste bitter and can change the pesto’s consistency. 

Oregano pesto tastes lovely with most Mediterranean cuisine, especially pizzas. 

4. Thyme 

Thyme is an herb that can be used instead of basil to make pesto. Due to its strong flavor, thyme can overshadow all other ingredients if not mixed with other herbs to make pesto. It is often combined with milder-tasting herbs (like parsley or spinach) to achieve a similar texture to basil pesto.

Known for its healing and antiseptic properties and distinct spicy flavor, thyme is an exciting alternative to basil in pesto, even though the taste differs.

Thyme pesto has a fresh, clean taste that gives an interesting twist to a lot of dishes. Use half of the basil amount, as thyme has a stronger flavor. Since it is recommended not to use the thyme stems for the pesto, it does take a while to strip all those little thyme leaves. 

Chicken, beans, and eggs will look and taste more sophisticated paired with a rich, aromatic thyme pesto. 

5. Spinach 

Spinach is one of the more similar and safe substitutes for basil. It makes a mild, sweet, fresh pesto preserving the typical green color and smooth texture. It can be paired with other herbs (like cilantro, oregano, or mint) for a more pungent taste or can stand alone for a neutral-tasting pesto. 

A bowl of fresh spinach

Since spinach is an excellent source of potassium and sodium, your spinach pesto will come out as healthy as it is tasty. Use baby spinach leaves instead of large, darker ones for a sweeter and less bitter taste. 

An advantage of using spinach to substitute basil is that you can find fresh spinach in any season. In addition, almost everyone would enjoy a spinach-based pesto, as it has a manageable flavor and taste. 

You can make spinach pesto using the same recipe for basil pesto and substituting the basil with the same amount of spinach. You can choose to add even more spinach if you like a more potent spinach touch. 

This pesto is an excellent match for almost any dish, especially pasta, vegetables, etc. 

6. Sage

Sage pesto is another option to substitute basil pesto. It is rich in a combination of musty, bitter pine flavors. Sage can be used alone or paired with milder greens or herbs, like spinach or parsley. 

Even though sage may not be the first choice to substitute basil, it is definitely an interesting alternative. Its potent taste may overshadow other ingredients, so it is advisable to combine sage with milder herbs or greens. Sage is rich in vitamin K, zinc, and magnesium. 

However, if you want to use sage only, ensure the amount used does not exceed the amount of basil needed for the same recipe. Otherwise, your pesto may come out bitter and with an overwhelming taste. 

Some recipes that use sage pesto include vegetables, chicken, and salmon. 

7. Fresh Cilantro 

Cilantro is a more risky choice when used instead of basil in pesto, as some people like the fresh and citrusy flavor, whereas others think it has a soapy taste. The pesto’s flavor will be different and more potent, even though it will have a similar appearance regarding color and texture. 

If you enjoy the fresh, sharp, citrusy flavor of cilantro, then this pesto is for you. It can level up many dishes and give them a spicy twist. Additionally, cilantro is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. It has been used since ancient times for its medical benefits, including body detoxification

Use cilantro in the same amount the recipe requires for basil. Your new pesto may feel more potent in flavor. However, it is not too spicy or overwhelming. Fresh cilantro flavor will give the pesto its peppery twist without overshadowing the creamy, aromatic taste of parmesan and pine nuts. 

Cilantro pesto is the perfect match for most Mexican food (especially tacos) and Asian, particularly Chinese cuisine. 

8. Celery Leaves 

Celery leaves have an herby and earthy taste that is milder than celery stalks. Make sure to use only the leaves to make a celery pesto similar in color to basil pesto but with more earthy tones. Use the bigger, darker celery leaves for a bolder taste. 

Celery pesto will have all the nutritional and medicinal values celery has been praised for since antiquity. It helps reduce body inflammation and digestion issues. 

When making celery pesto, if you are using the smaller, lighter green celery leaves, use the same amount of leaves as the recipe requirements for basil. On the other hand, if you are using the bigger, dark green leaves, you can use about two-thirds of the basil amount. To achieve the same texture as basil pesto, you can add some spinach, which has the mildest taste and will not overshadow celery leaves. 

Use celery pesto with many dishes that include cheese, eggs, poultry, etc. 

9. Kale

Kale has been recently praised as a proud substitute for basil in pesto. Make sure you use only the kale leaves for a strong, not overwhelming taste. Your kale pesto will have an earthy, slightly bitter flavor and an attractive, deep green color.

A small wooden bowl of kale

Besides providing an exciting alternative to your table, kale is a treasure of nutrients, like different vitamins, potassium, copper, manganese, etc. Kale pesto may look like spinach pesto due to its beautiful deep green color. However, whereas spinach is one of the milder substitutes for basil, kale provides a more overpowering taste. 

The amount of kale you need for a pesto should equal the amount of basil you use. If you are not a fan of kale’s bitter taste, try the following:

  • Rinse the fresh kale leaves two or three times, as part of their bitterness will be rinsed out.
  • Use more lemon juice than the basil pesto recipe requires.
  • Add salt to neutralize the bitterness. 

Kale pesto has many uses in Mediterranean as well as Asian cuisine. It makes great dips, delicious pasta sauces, and beautiful pizza toppings and is even added to soups. Its peppery, earthy flavor will spice up most dishes.

Related 6 Substitutes for Black Pepper to Spice up Your Cooking.