Does Pesto Have Garlic? – All You Need To Know (Detailed)

Marria Beklavac By Marria Beklavac

Think of that classic Italian sauce – rich, tangy, and packed with flavor. The vibrant green of basil, the creaminess of pine nuts… and there’s that unmistakable, pungent note.

Yes, pesto absolutely does have garlic! It’s not just a supporting ingredient, it’s a cornerstone of pesto’s flavor profile. Garlic adds a savory warmth, a subtle sharpness, and a depth that perfectly complements the sweet basil and nutty richness.

Want to learn why garlic is essential to pesto’s flavor, how to balance it perfectly, and the secrets to making the absolute best version at home? Let’s get cooking!

The Essential Ingredients of Traditional Pesto

Pesto is actually a green sauce that was first made in Genoa, Italy.

The traditional version of this dish is known as “Pesto alla Genovese.” 

So, what does pesto actually mean?

Pesto = to pound or to crush

It reflects the original method of making it. 

Traditionally it was prepared by grinding the ingredients in a marble mortar using a wooden pestle. 

Now, let’s come back to the ingredients present in this dish.

Pesto is actually very simple to make and contains only a few ingredients like, 

1. Fresh basil leaves

Basil is the main ingredient in traditional pesto. This is where the sauce gets it rich green color from. The basil leaves add a fresh aroma to the sauce. When you taste pesto, you’ll notice basil’s sweet and slightly spicy flavor.

2. Crushed garlic

The next key ingredients in this dish is garlic. While modern pesto is made with garlic paste, the traditional recipe is made from crushed or minced garlic. It adds a bit of spicy flavor to the pesto.

3. European pine nuts

These are oval-shaped nuts that gives pesto its crunchy texture and nutty taste. You can add more nuts to the recipe to give it richer taste and flavor. 

4. Grated hard cheese (parmesan or pecorino sardo)

Another main ingredient in pesto is grated hard cheese. Now, you can use two different cheeses.

  • Parmesan: It is a granular cheese made from cow’s milk.
  • Pecorino sardo: It is a firm cheese made from sheep’s milk. 

Cheese will give the pesto a rich flavor and adds a creamy texture when mixed with the other ingredients. Depending on your preference, you can use any of these cheeses. 

5. Olive oil

You can blend all the main ingredients together by adding olive oil in the dish. It adds a silky texture to the sauce. 

6. Coarse salt

This is a type of salt with larger grains. You can add it to improve the flavors of the other ingredients in the pesto. But be careful not to add too much salt as it can ruin the taste. 

You can use all these ingredients to create a thick paste with smooth consistency. Once the sauce is ready, you can use it as a topping for pasta simply eat as a dip. 

How Much Garlic is Typically Used in Pesto?

The amount of garlic in pesto should always be in correct proportion to the other ingredients. 

So, how much garlic should you actually use?

  • 1 to 3 cloves of garlic for a pesto recipe serving 6 people. 
  • On an average, for 3 cups of basil leaves, use 4 cloves garlic.

The amount of garlic you use can vary based on personal preference and the desired level of garlic flavor. 

The math is simple –

  • If you want milder taste – use less garlic
  • And if you want stronger garlic taste – add more of it


Make sure you find the right balance to get a perfect pesto flavor without overpowering the dish.

Variations of Pesto and Garlic Content

Do you know what the best thing about pesto is? Its many different variations.

You can even create your own pesto variant by experimenting with different herbs, nuts, cheeses, and spices. 

Isn’t it a fun way to get creative in the kitchen? 

Here are a few popular variations of pesto and their garlic content.

Pesto VariationGarlic Content
Traditional Genovese Pesto2 to 3 cloves
Pesto Rosso (Sun-dried tomato pesto)1 to 2 cloves
Pesto alla Siciliana (Sicilian Pesto)1 to 2 cloves
Pesto Calabrese (Calabrian Pesto)2 to 3 cloves
Pesto Trapanese (Trapanese Pesto)1 to 2 cloves
Pesto di Rucola (Arugula Pesto)1 to 2 cloves
Pesto di Pistacchio (Pistachio Pesto)1 to 2 cloves
Vegan Pesto (No cheese)1 to 2 cloves
Spinach Pesto1 to 2 cloves


You can adjust the amount of garlic as per your liking in any of these recipes.

Garlic-Free Pesto: Is It Possible?

So, you don’t like garlic in pesto?

Luckily, you can make it without garlic as well!

People who don’t like the flavor, can opt for garlic-free pesto. 

To compensate for the taste, you can add other ingredients in the recipe like, 

  • Scallions
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro 

The absence of garlic won’t really affect the overall taste of the pesto and the other ingredients will still create a delicious sauce.

Share This Article
By Marria Beklavac Owner
Hey there! I'm Marria Beklavac, a barista by trade and a cook by heart. My culinary journey started at 12, inspired by my grandpa, who first introduced me to the wonders of cooking. His passion sparked mine, leading me to a life where each meal is an adventure. In Terra's Kitchen, I blend my love for coffee with my zeal for cooking to share my culinary exploits with you. This blog is my space to share the joys, discoveries, and lessons from my kitchen to yours. Welcome aboard – let's cook up some magic together!