Which Basil is Best for Pesto? Choosing the Right Variety for Flavor

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If you are a fan of Italian cuisine, then you are probably familiar with the delicious and versatile sauce known as pesto. Pesto is a classic Italian sauce made primarily from fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.

The key ingredient in pesto is undoubtedly the basil, as it provides the sauce with its unique flavor and aroma. However, not all basil varieties are created equal when it comes to making pesto. In this article, we will explore the different types of basil and help you determine which one is best for pesto.

Sweet Basil

Sweet basil, also known as Genovese basil, is the most commonly used basil variety in pesto. It has large, tender leaves with a sweet and slightly spicy flavor. Sweet basil’s aroma is strong and unmistakable, making it a perfect choice for traditional pesto recipes. Its vibrant green color and balanced taste make it a favorite among chefs and home cooks alike.

Thai Basil

Thai basil is another popular basil variety that can be used in pesto. It has smaller leaves and a distinct licorice-like flavor. While Thai basil may not be the traditional choice for pesto, it adds a unique twist to the sauce. If you are looking to experiment with different flavors and want to give your pesto a hint of Asian influence, Thai basil can be a great option.

Lemon Basil

Lemon basil, as the name suggests, has a citrusy aroma and flavor. It adds a refreshing and tangy element to pesto, making it a great choice for those who prefer a brighter and zestier sauce. Lemon basil pairs well with seafood and can be a wonderful addition to pesto if you want to add a burst of freshness to your dish.

Genovese Basil

Genovese basil, also known as Italian large-leaf basil, is a variety that is specifically cultivated for making pesto. It has large, tender leaves with a strong and aromatic flavor. Genovese basil is the traditional choice for pesto in Italy and is favored for its robust taste. If you want to stay true to the authentic Italian pesto recipe, Genovese basil is the way to go.


When it comes to making pesto, the choice of basil can greatly impact the flavor and overall experience of the sauce. While sweet basil is the most commonly used variety, other basil types such as Thai basil, lemon basil, and Genovese basil can also be used to create unique and delicious pesto variations. Whether you prefer a traditional pesto or want to experiment with different flavors, there is a basil variety out there that will suit your taste. So go ahead, pick your favorite basil, gather your ingredients, and get ready to make a mouthwatering batch of homemade pesto!

Try our recipe for basil pesto made with sunflower seeds.

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