Learn how to make the most incredible vegan pesto with just 5 ingredients! Easily customize it to your liking, and stir into cooked pasta, use as a dip or make pesto pizza. It freezes beautifully, too!

bowl of pasta drenched in pesto sauce, white bowl and background.

If there’s one recipe to keep in your back pocket at all times, this simple vegan pesto is it! Especially in summer when fresh basil is abundant.

Not only is pesto the best sauce to amp up pasta, pizza, or roasted vegetables, its herbaceous and fresh flavors make it a delicious and savory dip to enjoy with party-perfect potato wedges and zucchini fritters. All you need are a handful of simple ingredients!

This vegan version is made without any dairy or even the traditional pine nuts. It can be made light with just water or with olive oil for a smoother, richer bite. Lastly, I’m giving it a cheesy boost by blending cashews and nutritional yeast into the mix!

This pesto freezes well for months so you can easily have a batch ready to use with easy weeknight dinners, to drizzle on Cauliflower Steaks or Kale Salad, and to use as a quick dip for get togethers. The possibilities are endless, and I just know this will be your new go-to pesto recipe!

spoonful being taken out of a bowl with pesto in it, white background.

Is pesto vegan friendly?

The classic pesto recipe is, unfortunately, not vegan because it’s made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, oil, and parmesan cheese. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to make a delicious vegan pesto. Just remove the dairy and mix and match a few other ingredients. 

My favorite vegan pesto replaces parmesan cheese and pine nuts with nutritional yeast and cashews. This combination lends a buttery and cheesy flavor that pairs well with the zesty lemon juice and fresh herbs. It’s also much more friendly on your wallet when it’s made without pine nuts.

How do you make simple vegan pesto?

It really couldn’t be easier! Add all of your ingredients, plus ¼ cup of water and ¼ cup of olive oil (optional) to a food processor. Process until smooth and creamy, adding more water as needed.

ingredients for vegan pesto in food processor before being blended.

Tips & Substitutions

  • The pesto may thicken up in the refrigerator. You can thin it out by stirring in a little water or olive oil each time you use it.
  • Pesto goes bad once it begins to brown on top. To keep it fresh longer, make the recipe with olive oil to preserve the basil.
  • For a bright green pesto, blend the basil leaves last. According to Bon Appetit, this will help maintain the herbs green color and strong flavor.
  • Nut free pesto – Swap the cashews for sunflower seeds or pepitas instead.
  • Without nutritional yeast – I recommend using cashews if making this recipe without nutritional yeast so it still tastes a little cheesy.
  • Allergic to cashews? Use pine nuts or raw slivered almonds.
  • Olive oil – You can make this recipe with ¼ cup of olive oil in addition to the water if you’d like. This added fat will help the pesto taste smooth and satisfying.

blended pesto in food processor

What goes well with vegan pesto?

Vegan pesto pasta is an easy go-to meal you can make in a flash. Simply boil your pasta according to the package instructions and stir in some pesto after. When you’re done, top each bowl with vegan parmesan and fresh basil!

It’s also great in place of pizza sauce for pesto pizza, as a dip with vegetables or pita chips, as a salad dressing (thinned out with water), stuffed into jumbo shells, or spread on a sandwich. I recommend always having a batch ready in your fridge or freezer so you can amp up all of your meals!

Frequently asked questions

  • How long does vegan pesto last? Fresh pesto will store well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Keep a layer of plastic wrap pressed directly onto the top of the pesto so it doesn’t brown.
  • Can you freeze vegan pesto? Pesto also freezes well for up to 6 months. I like to make pesto cubes by freezing a fresh batch in ice cube trays, then popping them out and transferring them in a ziplock freezer bag or container.

small bowl of vegan pesto, leaves of basil in background

Want more easy vegan sauces?

square image of pesto with noodles in a bowl
4.96 stars (43 ratings)

Simple Vegan Pesto

Learn how to make the most incredible vegan pesto with just 5 ingredients! Easily customize it to your liking, and stir into cooked pasta, use as a dip or make pesto pizza. It freezes beautifully, too!
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
Servings: 6 servings


  • 3/4 cup raw cashews or pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil, packed
  • 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil omit for oil free
  • 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed

For pesto pasta

  • 8 ounces uncooked pasta of choice


  • To a food processor, add the cashews, garlic, basil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, olive oil (if using) and 1/4 cup water. Process until smooth, adding more water as needed for a thinner consistency. If not using the oil, you will likely need an extra 1/4 cup water.
  • If serving with pasta, cook the noodles according to package instructions, then toss with the pesto, adding more water or olive oil as needed until it coats the noodles well.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Pesto also freezes well for up to 6 months. I freeze it in an ice cube tray, then pop the cubes out and stick them in a ziplock freezer bag or container.



  1. This vegan pesto goes great with any kind of pasta, on pizza, as a dip with vegetables or pita chips, as a salad dressing (thinned out with water), or spread on a sandwich. 
  2. The pesto will thicken up in the refrigerator. Simply thin it out with water or olive oil each time you use it, as needed.
  3. Allergic to cashews? Use pine nuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds or raw slivered almonds.
  4. Switch up the pesto by using kale or arugula instead of basil, and maybe walnuts for the cashews. It's a very versatile recipe!


Serving: 1of 6 servings | Calories: 193kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 197mg | Potassium: 241mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 422IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 23mg | Iron: 2mg
Course: Entree, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Nora Taylor
Did you make this recipe?Mention @nora_cooks_vegan_ or tag #noracooks!

*This recipe was originally published April 2019 and has been updated with slightly altered ingredient amounts for a better outcome, after years of testing. As well as substitutions for cashew allergies. 

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  1. Soooo good! I used half the amount of cashew called for and it was still out of this world. Ate over pasta with chopped end of summer tomato. 

    1. Thank you! I don’t know the exact serving size, but if you divided the entire recipe by 6, that would be one serving. Probably about 1/3 cup.

  2. Oh my goodness!! This was amazing!!! I had lots of fresh basil from my garden and wanted to try pesto…so, so glad I used this recipe for my first try at pesto. My husband, who is not always a fan of vegan food, scarfed it down and gave it a two thumbs up!! I added corn and grape tomatoes to the pasta, and it was hard to stop eating it. Shared the recipe with my daughters.

  3. I will be making this all the time now. Definitely agree with Kiera, it is the best vegan pesto I’ve tried! Thank you

  4. Just made this.  Substituted mushroom broth for the water.  And used 3 cloves of garlic.  :-). Fantastic and I loved it!  Thanks so much!

  5. I made this dish with what I had on hand. I used walnuts in replace of cashews. I used limes instead of lemons. In addition to the basil, I added a handful of fresh spinach leaves. Otherwise I followed the recipe as written. It turned out great. Will definitely make again.

  6. I was so happy to finally find a pesto recipe that doesn’t use oil! This had so much flavor, I stuck it into the fridge after making it and before serving it in order to thicken it up. When I make this again I will probably add more basil to give it a greener color, other than that it was amazing!!

  7. Awesome recipe! I made a traditional pesto first with lots of oil and cheese and although I don’t eat cheese I tasted it for seasoning. This vegan version is so much better! Light and just as flavorful.  Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. AMAZING!!!! This is so easy and delicious! This will be my staple vegan pesto recipe from now on! I did make a tiny change since basil is not in season yet (plus I wanted to experiment): I used 1 cup basil and 1 cup baby spinach. Wow. So. Good. Thank you!

  9. Hi! You’re recipes are great. This sounds yummy. I’m not vegan- I was wondering why “raw” cashews or nuts are to be used. If I use regular cashews is there a big taste difference. I’m just unaware, thanks!

    1. Raw cashews are better because they are sort of buttery tasting, and mimic cheese and cream really well. Roasted cashews will work here, but you might detect more of a nutty taste.

    2. Made it tonite and it was so amazing and flavorful. Used real lemons and we added lemon zest and it really punched up the flavor. The family was so sad when it was finished! Can’t wait to make it again!

  10. This is so delicious and I’m so happy it is dairy and oil free! Amazing how much flavor there is, I’m a fan for life! Adding this with some spaghetti squash and roasted harvest tomatoes for dinner tonight. I’m sure it will be phenomenal! Thank you! ?

  11. Tried it. Not enough basil for me, I kept adding more lol. Then more water to compensate, but it still was a little dry for my liking. Not sure what everyone’s deal is with oil… a quality olive oil with minimal heat is healthy, so I think I’ll add it next time to give a better consistency. That being said, I love the use of cashews! Using just pine nuts is too bitter for me. The cashews gave a more mellow flavor, but I think an in-between would taste great, like 2/3 cashews and 1/3 pine nuts. So thanks for that great idea! The nutritional yeast was also a nice touch! 🙂

  12. Made it and really like it. Good to add to lots of different foods. You say it makes 6 servings. What is the serving size?

    1. I have never measured it exactly, you could divide it by 6 to know for sure, but I think about 1/4 cup is one serving.

  13. I’ve been experimenting a lot with vegan recipes and recently trying to cut oils out of my diet. I came across this recipe and thought why not try it. I will say I make amazing traditional pesto regularly, like at least 4/5 times a year so I do have high standards. Expecting this to be you know second rate okay pesto compared to my original. I was so pleasantly surprised as to how good this is. Like I’d say very comparable to the regular stuff that’s full of oil and parm. So to see how much less fat I can use and still make an extremely tasty pesto was really exciting. I love it, highly recommend this recipe

  14. Thanks for the recipe–its definitely a keeper. I’ve made it twice now and am playing with the quantities of basil, doubling it the second time around. I also made it in my Vitamix because I wanted a creamier sauce. That is a little harder to do than the blender because it requires liberal use of the tamper, but it did work and the texture of sauce was more to my liking.

  15. Where do you get your basil? We have a basil plant (that is small) and 2 cups FRESH BASIL is a lot… But we love pesto! So I’m trying to figure out how I can get my hands on that much fresh basil. Whenever I’ve bought it at the store fresh it’s always like 2 small sprigs…

    1. Trader Joe’s usually has large amounts of basil, but I’ve gotten it at regular grocery stores as well. Of course it’s easier to find in the summer for sure, and usually I grow my own and have plenty. It’s also 2 cups loosely packed basil if that helps!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this pesto! I know what you mean, I don’t like the extreme oiliness and olive oil taste of most pesto. Thanks so much!

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