This vegan pesto recipe supports heart and immune health

Vegan Pesto: A Delicious Recipe Without Dairy

The signature look and taste of fresh pesto can add a pop of flavor and color to almost any dish, and this delicious Italian-inspired sauce is surprisingly easy to make! With fresh basil, fresh garlic, olive oil and nuts, it also boasts a surprising array of health-supporting nutrients—in non-dairy and vegan form! The fresh garlic in this vegan basil pesto works similar to a garlic extract, helping the body fight oxidative stress and supporting immune health. The nuts are also a great way to get healthy fats into a balanced diet.

What is vegan pesto?

Vegan pesto is an amazing, green spread that is full of flavor and healthy ingredients. It can be used in place of mayonnaise on a sandwich, as a sauce for pasta and pizza, or as a vegan spread for bruschetta or crackers. Vegan pesto is intensely flavorful, delicious and versatile, and this pesto recipe is easy to customize according to your taste and nutritional preferences.

Like most pesto sauces, fresh basil is the "base" of the recipe. Those healthy green leaves are then blended with garlic, olive oil and nuts. This vegan sauce is easy to make—and the possibilities for its enjoyment are boundless.

What is the difference between vegan and regular pesto?

Regular pesto is made by combining basil with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. The cheese makes it not vegan-friendly (nor a good choice for anyone seeking to avoid dairy). But making your favorite pesto recipe vegan is simple. We just omit the parmesan and instead add nutritional yeast and lemon juice, which replicates the distinct umami flavor. Once it is all blended together, it looks and tastes very similar to classic pesto but it is dairy-free and vegan.

This vegan pesto recipe is so full of flavor that you will hardly notice the difference in the taste or appearance. The nutritional yeast is one swap that most non-vegans would not even know or care about. My family didn't notice when I made the switch.

Is vegan pesto healthy?

With beneficial garlic and leafy green basil, vegan pesto can be a very healthy food choice, depending on the recipe. It is important to pay attention to the portion size because some vegan pesto recipes have a very high oil content.

Because this recipe swaps nutritional yeast for the parmesan, the fat content is lower than the classic recipe. Also, this recipe has added spinach for extra fiber and vitamins. I chose almonds instead of other nuts because of their high antioxidant, protein and fiber content. While this vegan pesto sauce can be higher in fat than some other spreads, heart-healthy fats from nuts and olive oil are actually good for you.

Vegan pesto you can make at home

Ready to try this go-to recipe for yourself?


  • 2 cups basil, washed, leaves only
  • 2 cups baby spinach, washed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ cup raw almonds

Step-by-step preparation

  1. In a food processor or high-speed blender, add basil leaves, spinach, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, almonds and salt.
  2. Blend on high until it is smooth and creamy. The almonds should not be gritty at all once they are blended properly in the food processor.
  3. Transfer to an airtight container and store covered in the refrigerator for 5-7 days for best quality. You will know when it has turned by the change in color—pesto will begin to turn brown with oxidation.

Pro tip: Make a double batch and freeze the extra pesto sauce in a closed container or ice cube tray with a cover for up to 3 months.

Nutritional Values

This recipe makes 1 ½ cups of vegan pesto. The serving size is 2 tbsp per person, so it makes 12 servings.

Calories: 102
Carbohydrates: 2 g
Protein: 2 g
Fat: 10 g
Sodium: 183 mg
Potassium: 110 mg
Fiber: 1 g
Sugar: 0.3 g
Vitamin A: 628 IU
Vitamin C: 4 mg
Calcium: 20 mg
Iron: 1 mg

All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods and portion sizes.

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Tips for Success

There are many possible variations with this vegan pesto recipe!

  • Go oil-free. If you want to make an oil-free vegan pesto for your salad or pasta, it's easy. Just omit the extra virgin olive oil and add in extra liquid using water or additional lemon juice to make it blend smoothly. I like using an avocado instead of the water or lemon, as it will taste more like the original recipe. Just be aware that an oil-free vegan pesto will not last as long as the version with olive oil, especially if you use avocado.
  • Go green. Try using arugula in place of or in addition to basil. Arugula has such a delicious and peppery flavor, which you might have noticed in salads. It blends well with basil or kale in a food processor. Blending greens like kale into your basil pesto is a great way to get more leafy greens in your diet to support skin and hair health.
  • Go red. Instead of a green pesto, make a red pesto! Swap sun-dried tomatoes for the basil and roasted red peppers for the spinach. This makes for an incredibly flavorful pesto that is as pretty as it is tasty. It is also full of antioxidants!
  • Go nuts. Try substituting other nuts for the almonds. I have used cashews, walnuts, pine nuts and even pecans to make pesto. If you eat a nut-free diet, try it with hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds. You can even add crunch to your pesto by sprinkling whole seeds on top. It will be delicious.

How to eat your pesto

One of the easiest ways to eat pesto is to make a pesto toast. A nice piece of crusty Italian bread with pesto and some sliced tomatoes makes a great bruschetta for breakfast or lunch. This pesto recipe also goes great on a sandwich, salad or pasta with fresh tomatoes.

When adding pesto to a pasta, be sure not to cook the pesto by adding it too soon to hot pasta. Add the pesto at the end when you are about to serve the dish and the pasta has cooled a bit, otherwise it will lose its gorgeous green color.

How to store your pesto

The best way to store your pesto is in a sealed, refrigerated container. My best tip for keeping pesto fresh is to take a piece of plastic wrap and press it onto the actual surface of the pesto to form a seal. This way the air cannot get to the pesto and start turning it ugly brown. After sealing the surface with plastic wrap, put on the container's cover so that it has a double barrier from air. This will keep your pesto vibrant and beautiful.

How long does vegan pesto last?

Vegan pesto will last 5-7 days when stored properly. The color of the pesto will tell you if it is OK to eat. If it is still a bright, vibrant green, that means the garlic and olive oil have done a great job of preserving the pesto. If the pesto is brown all or most of the way through, do not eat it. You can freeze pesto in a sealed container for up to 3 months.

Are you getting enough garlic in your diet?

Garlic is easy to add to your diet through plant-based dishes like pesto pasta, but standardized extracts are the best way to ensure consistent support for immune health and cellular health. Garlic supplements support immune and health heart, and they make it easy to avoid any gaps in nutrition.

If you aren't sure how to best support your immune system, Life Extension's health needs quiz can help pinpoint nutrients that address your personal concerns.

About the Author: Sara Tercero is the chef behind the popular food blog BetterFoodGuru and the author of the cookbook Plant-Based Diet in 30 Days. Her specialties are veganized Indian-inspired curries, giant rainbow salads, and healthier Mediterranean and Mexican-inspired dishes. It is Sara's mission to prove that plants are delicious and to help others cook and eat their way to health and happiness.