The Easy Nut Allergy Friendly Ingredient Swap For Pesto

CORRECTION 10/17/22: A previous version of this article implied pine nuts are nuts. They are actually seeds, though people with nut allergies are often allergic to pine nuts and allergists generally recommend those with nut allergies avoid the ingredient.

Nut allergies run rampant these days, per Food Allery Research & Education, but that doesn't mean you must forego your favorite dishes that contain them. There is always a substitution and solution to get your nutty fix. 

Pesto is a simple sauce containing just a few ingredients, including garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and the main star, fresh basil. Traditionally made with pine nuts as the base, it's a no-go for anyone with a tree nut allergy. (It's worth noting pine nuts are actually seeds, but — according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology – many people who have an allergic reaction to nuts are also allergic to pine nuts.) There's also the cost factor; pine nuts are notorious for having a high price tag and are one of the most expensive nuts you can buy, according to Business Insider.

Omitting the pine nuts from your pesto is always an option, but then you miss out on the creamier, heartier texture and unique taste they provide to the topping. Whether you're on a nut-free diet or want to save some bucks, there is an easy way to solve this pesto-pine-nut conundrum.

A seedy solution

Ruling out pine nuts doesn't mean the end of your Tuscan summer dreams. MasterClass shares the simplest solution is to switch to sunflower seeds. Replace those pine nuts with raw sunflower or pumpkin seeds and retain the texture and savoriness of the otherwise herbaceous condiment.

If you're not such a pesto purist and open to out-of-the-box alternatives, a fun twist Dr. David Perlmutter recommends is unsweetened shredded coconut in lieu of pine nuts. The coconut will provide thickness and a similar mouthfeel to the traditional version of the sauce, plus a hint of nutty sweetness.

The Pioneer Woman also offers some unconventional ideas, recommending white beans or edamame. Although they won't have the same texture that a more solid substitute would provide, they will lend a welcome creaminess. And there is also always that option to forego the pine nuts and skip a replacement altogether for a more fluid consistency; perhaps just add more parmesan cheese, please?