Unsurprisingly, eating spoonfuls of straight pesto is less enjoyable than eating chunks of Cheddar cheese, as I discovered in this week’s taste test. Nevertheless, I do really love pesto. Even the student existence of pasta-pesto-repeat didn’t put me off the stuff. I love it stirred through pasta, spread on toast, mixed into sauces, drizzled over salads… sorry, what were we talking about?

Since I’ve started doing this taste test series, I’ve been getting a bit of ‘I’d never buy XYZ from a supermarket, I always make it myself!’ Mostly regarding houmous, in fairness, but I know people who make their own cheese too. So yes, of course, you could make pesto yourself, and houmous too. Let’s be realistic though: we are all busy people, and sometimes you don’t have access to a kitchen, or you’re missing a few ingredients, or you’ve had a long day at work and you’re tired and good God, you just want some pasta and if you have to get out a food processor and make pesto yourself then you’re going to kill someone. Yes, homemade pesto is delicious. But I do buy the stuff in jars too.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, five or six different types of pesto or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Pesto

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Pesto
per 100g
£*
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Aldi
0.52
345
32
9.0
3.5
4.2
1.4
Lidl
0.52
364
35.9
4.8
2.6
4.1
1.92
Sainsbury’s
0.53
347
35.1
1.9
2.0
4.8
1.43
Tesco
0.53
331
31.9
4.5
3.7
4.7
2.0
Waitrose
1.31
380
38.2
3.1
2.1
5.0
1.1

A – Waitrose – 7/10

  • The least separated, the firmest and most cohesive pesto. A vivid green, rather than being grey or sludgy. A herbaceous, almost grassy taste. Fairly good texture, able to taste Parmesan, but no obvious chunks of pine nut.

B – Tesco – 3/10

  • Quite minimal oil separation, thick pesto. A pale beige green, not as vivid as some of the others. Not a great flavour – a bit bland, quite salty.

C – Lidl – 3/10

  • Medium in composition, a little oil separation, soft but not too liquid. Very smooth. Less of a herb-y flavour than the others, no obvious basil or Parmesan, and a slightly odd aftertaste.

D – Aldi – 8/10

  • Strong green, a decent colour. A fair amount of oil coming off it. Good texture, decent flavour. Chunks of pine nut and a definite taste of Parmesan, as well as strong basil.

E – Sainsbury’s – 7/10

  • The most separated of all the pesto with a lot of oil coming off it. Quite green, not lacklustre and beige. Good strong taste of basil, pine nut, and Parmesan.

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Conclusion

There was obvious variation and a lot of visual differences between the various pestos. Tesco and Lidl’s offerings were both beige and lacking in colour, and both of these samples had less flavour than the others – you can actually see a difference between them and the other three if you look at the pictures showing all five jars. You wouldn’t normally eat straight pesto on its own, and doing so was interesting (if not necessarily totally enjoyable), because unless I was making pesto from scratch I wouldn’t normally eat it like that and I’d probably miss out on really thinking about the flavour. Although the Aldi pesto was my favourite, the Waitrose and Sainsbury’s offerings were a close joint second and I’d happily buy any of the three.

*Prices correct at time of writing.