Not just another pesto recipe – this Ultimate Vegan Pesto Recipe with Hemp is the best way to celebrate summer. Fresh and inexpensive, this pesto tastes great on everything from pastas to veggie burgers.
The internet does not need another pesto recipe, but what it does need is a little flair to the traditional basil pesto. I love using miso in my pesto, not only for that delicious umami flavour but also for the live-active cultures from this underutilized fermented food. Hemp is a sustainable source of protein, and a great replacement for pinenuts. Try this recipe for my Ultimate Vegan Pesto Recipe with Hemp on some Zucchini Noodles or on your favourite wrap.
“Umami is known as the fifth taste – after bitter, sweet, sour and salty. This taste can be found in high amounts in parmesan cheese, miso, gravy, mushrooms and tomatoes. The taste can be described as a ‘pleasant savoury taste’.”
Why I Made This Recipe
Health Benefits of Hemp
I’ve shared some of my favourite health-promoting benefits of hemp in my post Chia vs Flax vs Hemp – Which is Healthier and More Sustainable. One of the top qualities is the high protein content, with ~ 3.5 grams of good quality protein per tablespoon. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids (read more on How To Get Your Omega-3s for Vegans and Vegetarians), helpful gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and important minerals including magnesium and zinc.
Health Benefits of Miso
Miso is a great alternative to parmesan cheese because it also offers that distinct umami taste. Miso is made from fermenting soybeans and various grains and can enhance the nutritional profile of any dish by adding live active cultures. These healthy bugs have a role in gut health and can increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients (see my post 5 Tips On How To Improve Gut Health Naturally – Prebiotics, Probiotics and Fermented Foods).
Making a Vegan Pesto with Hemp
Miso is used to replace the savouriness of the parmesan cheese; I like using white miso paste which has a subtler flavour. Hemp hearts are a great alternative to pinenuts. Not only do they offer more protein, but they are smooth and creamy and grown right here in Canada.
Making a ‘Local’ Pesto
This pesto uses hemp hearts which are local, and apple cider vinegar is a great replacement for lemon. When basil is out of season, opt for balanced spinach or kale which have a longer growing season than basil.
Variations on This Vegan Pesto with Hemp
Pesto with Walnuts
Swap out the hemp hearts in this recipe for 1/4 cup of walnuts. Option to bake the walnuts in a preheated oven at 350° Fahrenheit for 8 minutes for a toasted walnut pesto.
Pesto with Almonds
Replace the hemp hearts with 1/4 cup of almonds for an almond pesto. Option to bake the almonds in a preheated oven at 350° Fahrenheit for 10 minutes for a toasted almond pesto. I like leaving some almond chunks in my almond pesto.
Red Pesto Recipe
To make a red pesto replace 1 cup of basil with 1 cup of roasted red peppers. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more olive oil until a consistency of your liking is achieved – more runny for pasta sauce, less runny for baking on protein.
Vegan Spinach Pesto
Make this a seasonal pesto by using spinach in place of basil outside of the summer months. No need to cook or blanch the spinach, simply replace baby spinach leaves for basil leaves in this recipe. Even better if you can do half spinach half basil!
Pesto Recipe No Nuts
Technically hemp hearts are not a nut, so this recipe is naturally nut-free. Other nut-free options include sunflower seeds, or pepitas (pumpkin seeds). I will occasionally make a pesto with no nuts or seeds, which goes nicely on top of baked fish or tofu.
Making Vegan Pesto with No Oil
You can make an oil-free pesto using water in place of oil. Using hemp hearts or cashews will lend a creamy texture that you would otherwise get from oil. Use equal amounts of water as you would oil.
Traditional Pesto Recipe
To turn this recipe into a traditional pesto recipe, use 1/4 cup of pinenuts in place of hemp hearts, 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese in place of miso and 2 tbsp of lemon in place of apple cider vinegar.
Tips On Making This Ultimate Vegan Pesto with Hemp
Blending Your Pesto
I have found that a food processor or Vitamix works better than a blender for making homemade pesto. If you are without, a chunky pesto can be made by hand. Chop the basil and garlic very finely with a sharp knife and then mix in the remaining ingredients until smooth.
Pesto stores well in the fridge for about a week. When storing pesto use a sealable glass jar. Drizzle just enough olive oil on top of the pesto so it doesn’t turn dark. Stir before using.
I love making big batches of pesto with the herbs are fresh and freezing it to use later in the season. To freeze simply freeze in desired portion container (consider how much you use at one time), and use within the year. I also like freezing my pesto in ice cube trays, transferred into a sealable bag, for single-serving uses.
Notes For Making This Ultimate Vegan Pesto Recipe
Make It Soy-Free
Traditional miso is made by fermenting soybeans with a grain. For a soy-free version use chickpea miso in place of regular miso.
Make It Gluten-Free
Make sure the miso is gluten-free, as some misos use fermented barley. I use Shiro miso for a gluten-free option. Serve the pesto with gluten-free pasta or black bean noodles.
Make It Seasonal
Use spinach or kale in place of basil in the winter, or try arugula or blanched nettles of something different.
Make A Pesto Salad Dressing
Pesto salad dressing tastes great on pasta salads, or a simple green salad. Simply add 1/2 cup of water to the ingredients before blending.
Want To Save This Vegan Pesto Recipe For Later?
My Favourite Pesto Uses
What do you put your pesto on? Here are some of my favourite ways to use pesto:
The Ultimate Vegan Pesto Recipe with Hemp
- Food Processor
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves packed
- 1 tbsp organic white miso*
- 2 tbsp hemp seeds
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar unpasteurized
- 2 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 clove garlic roughly chopped
- pinch sea salt
- Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor or Vitamix and blend to combine. I puree mine for at least 30 seconds for a nice smooth consistency.
- Taste and season with salt as necessary. Serve on pasta, zucchini noodles, on a quinoa Buddha Bowl, or as a sandwich spread.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Cover the pesto with additional olive oil to prevent browning.
Make it gluten-free: Make sure the miso is gluten-free - I use Shiro. Serve with gluten-free pasta or black bean noodles<p>
Make it seasonal: Use blanched spinach or kale in place of basil in the winter<p>
Make it into a salad dressing: Add 1/2 cup of water before blending
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.