Can cashews be used as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto?

Introduction: Comparing Cashews and Pine Nuts

Pesto is a delicious Italian sauce commonly made with pine nuts, basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. However, pine nuts can be expensive and hard to find in some areas. As a result, many people have started to use cashews as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto. While cashews and pine nuts are both nuts, they have their differences in terms of nutritional value, price, flavor, and texture.

Nutritional Differences Between Cashews and Pine Nuts

Pine nuts and cashews have different nutritional profiles. Pine nuts have higher amounts of protein, fiber, and magnesium than cashews. However, cashews are a good source of healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are beneficial for heart health. Cashews also contain vitamin E, vitamin K, and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, and zinc. While pine nuts and cashews are both nutritious, they have different health benefits, and the choice between them comes down to personal preference and dietary requirements.

Cashews as a Cheaper Alternative to Pine Nuts

One reason why people use cashews instead of pine nuts in pesto is that cashews are cheaper. Pine nuts can be quite expensive, with prices ranging from $15 to $30 per pound, depending on the variety and brand. In contrast, cashews cost around $6 to $10 per pound, making them a more affordable option. Moreover, cashews are readily available in most grocery stores, while pine nuts may require a trip to a specialty store or an online order.

Flavor Differences Between Cashews and Pine Nuts

Another difference between pine nuts and cashews is their flavor. Pine nuts have a distinct nutty and buttery taste that adds depth and richness to pesto. Cashews, on the other hand, have a milder taste and a creamy texture, which can make pesto less assertive but more delicate. Cashews can also have a slightly sweet and salty flavor, which can complement the other ingredients in pesto. Some people prefer the flavor of cashews over pine nuts, while others find it less distinctive.

Texture Differences Between Cashews and Pine Nuts in Pesto

Texture is another factor to consider when using cashews as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto. Pine nuts are small, crunchy, and slightly chewy, which adds a pleasant contrast to the smooth and creamy texture of the sauce. Cashews, on the other hand, are softer and smoother, which can make pesto more homogeneous and less textured. To compensate for this, some people suggest adding some toasted breadcrumbs, almonds, or sunflower seeds to the pesto to give it some crunch and bite.

Making Pesto with Cashews: Pro Tips and Techniques

Using cashews instead of pine nuts in pesto requires some adjustments to the recipe and technique. First, it’s essential to soak the cashews in water for at least 4 hours or overnight to soften them and make them easier to blend. Second, it’s recommended to toast the cashews in a dry skillet or oven for a few minutes to enhance their flavor and aroma. Third, it’s advisable to use a high-speed blender or food processor to puree the cashews and other ingredients into a smooth and creamy sauce. Fourth, it’s essential to adjust the amount of oil and salt in the recipe to balance the flavors and consistency of the pesto.

Pine Nut Allergies: Using Cashews as a Safe Alternative

Some people may have allergies to pine nuts, which can cause symptoms such as itching, swelling, hives, and anaphylaxis in severe cases. In such cases, using cashews as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto can be a safe and delicious option. Cashews are not related to pine nuts and are generally well-tolerated by most people. However, it’s essential to check the label of the cashews to ensure that they are not processed in a facility that also handles pine nuts or other allergens.

Using Cashews for Vegan or Dairy-free Pesto

Cashews can also be an excellent choice for vegan or dairy-free pesto. Traditional pesto contains Parmesan cheese, which adds a salty and nutty flavor to the sauce. However, cashews can provide a similar taste and texture without the need for cheese. To make vegan or dairy-free pesto with cashews, you can substitute nutritional yeast or vegan Parmesan for the cheese and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Conclusions: When and Why to Use Cashews in Pesto

In conclusion, cashews can be a great substitute for pine nuts in pesto, depending on your preferences and needs. Cashews are cheaper, more available, and have a different flavor and texture than pine nuts. They are also nutritious, versatile, and suitable for various dietary restrictions. However, cashews may require some adjustments to the recipe and technique to achieve the desired taste and consistency. Whether you choose to use cashews or pine nuts in pesto, the most important thing is to enjoy the sauce and experiment with different ingredients and proportions.

Recipe: Cashew Pesto with Basil and Parmesan


  • 1 cup of raw cashews, soaked and drained
  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper


  1. In a high-speed blender or food processor, combine the cashews, basil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Pulse a few times to chop the ingredients.

  2. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add more oil if needed.

  3. Season the pesto with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the seasoning as desired.

  4. Serve the pesto with pasta, bread, vegetables, or as a spread. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to a month.

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Elise DeVoe

Elise is a seasoned food writer with seven years of experience. Her culinary journey began as Managing Editor at the College of Charleston for Spoon University, the ultimate resource for college foodies. After graduating, she launched her blog, Cookin’ with Booze, which has now transformed into captivating short-form videos on TikTok and Instagram, offering insider tips for savoring Charleston’s local cuisine.

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