You’re making pesto, you’ve got all the ingredients ready, and then you realize… you don’t have any garlic!
It’s not a dealbreaker, though—there are plenty of substitutes for garlic that’ll help you get your pesto on.
So, what’s the best substitute for garlic in pesto?
The best substitute for garlic in pesto is roasted leeks. Leeks are the perfect replacement because they have a garlicky flavor and can be roasted to add that bite you’re missing from the garlic. When pesto is made with leeks, you’ll still get that delicious, flavorful consistency you love.
If you don’t have leeks on hand, onion is a great alternative!
You’ll still get the garlicky taste, but it won’t be quite as strong.
15 Substitutes for Garlic in Pesto
Before you put your pesto dreams on ice for good, we have good news for you!
There are substitutes for garlic that work just as well—maybe even better—than the real thing!
Here are 15 substitutes for garlic in pesto:
1. Roasted leeks
If you have time to roast them, leeks are wonderful in pesto.
They add a similar texture and taste to the dish, though the flavor is more subtle than that of garlic.
They’re also very easy to store and can be kept in the fridge for several days if they’re wrapped well.
The downside is that they can be a bit pricey if you don’t grow your own, especially out of season.
Shallots are also an excellent choice.
They don’t require any roasting or other preparation before being added to pesto, so they’re a bit faster than roasted leeks, but they do have a sharper flavor than roasted leeks or garlic would provide.
If you want something that’s going to mimic the taste of raw garlic exactly, though, this isn’t it—it will give your pesto a taste all its own.
Shallots are also fairly inexpensive and long-lasting when stored properly.
3. Sun-dried tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes can add an interesting texture and a different flavor to your pesto.
In some cases, they may even be easier to find than garlic.
But they can be expensive and time-consuming to prepare.
The tomatoes are usually dried on the vine, which concentrates the tomato’s natural sugars, so they’re quite sweet already and don’t need much preparation.
They also have a chewy texture that gives pesto more of a bite.
4. Bell peppers
Another option for pesto is bell peppers.
Bell peppers add crunch to your dish and also give it a bit of sweetness.
They’re cheaper than sun-dried tomatoes and they keep well in the fridge too—so you can make multiple batches at once without worrying about them going bad before you have time to eat them!
They won’t give quite as much flavor as sun-dried tomatoes or garlic, but they still taste great.
When you mention garlic and pesto, you often think of strong flavors and intense aroma.
Onion is a great substitute for garlic in pesto because it offers a similar flavor profile and texture.
The onion still delivers the bite, depth, and pungency that garlic does but without the strong aftertaste.
Additionally, onion is easy to find at any store, as well as easy to store for future use.
6. Garlic powder
Garlic powder is a great substitute for garlic in pesto because it is easy to use, lasts a long time, and has a deep flavor.
Garlic powder is one of the easiest substitutes you could choose for fresh garlic in your pesto.
You can simply add a teaspoon of powder to your recipe when you’re ready to mix everything together, and you don’t have to worry about mincing or worrying about getting the little bits stuck under your fingernails.
Garlic powder also lasts quite a long time when stored properly, which means you can keep it on hand in larger quantities if you prefer powdered garlic to the real thing.
If you buy the kind that’s already been dehydrated, it will last even longer than fresh garlic would in your pantry. Just make sure you keep it sealed tightly so it doesn’t go bad!
Another great substitute for garlic in pesto is capers.
Capers offer a unique flavor that is difficult to replicate with other ingredients.
Capers are also low cost and can be found at most grocery stores with ease.
They provide a similar texture to the garlic while offering a new flavor to your dish that will be sure to delight your taste buds!
Chives have a similar flavor profile to onions and they’re just as easy to add to your pesto.
Whether you’re using fresh chives or dried, make sure they aren’t overpowering the dish before serving!
9. Lemon zest
If you’re looking for a more pungent substitute for garlic, try lemon zest instead.
It goes well with oil-based dishes like pesto, but keep in mind that it’s a strong flavor that should be used sparingly.
Believe it or not, horseradish can make an excellent substitute for garlic in pesto.
Simply mince a teaspoon of horseradish and add it to your pesto.
While the flavor may be very different, the pungent properties of horseradish can help in the same way that some people use garlic to kick up their pesto a notch.
If you’re looking for a slightly Asian twist on your Italian pasta sauce, ginger is a great choice for substituting for garlic in pesto.
Follow the same recipe as normal, adding 1/2 teaspoon of minced ginger per clove of garlic called for in the recipe.
12. Fennel bulb
Fennel bulbs are not just good as a delicious side dish, they also make great substitutes for garlic in pesto.
While their flavor isn’t quite as pungent or rich as garlic, it’s close enough that most people won’t notice the difference.
- To get started with fennel bulbs, all you need to do is slice open the bulb and remove its seeds.
- Then chop them into small pieces until they’re a texture and size that’s similar to minced garlic.
- Finally, add them to your pesto recipe!
13. Red Onion
Red onion has a very similar flavor profile to garlic.
It’s slightly sweet, but also has the same sharpness.
Red onion tastes more like garlic than other onions do because it has more sulfur compounds and less water than other onions.
If you’re looking for an onion substitute for your pesto recipe, red should be your first choice.
14. Green Onion
Green onion also has similarities with garlic.
It’s in the same family as onions, so it gives off a lot of the same compounds during cooking—without quite as much of the bite as white or yellow onions do.
Since green onions are mostly just greens and not bulb, they’re even milder than red onion—so keep that in mind if you decide to substitute green onion for garlic in your pesto recipe.
15. Garlic scapes
If you’re looking for a substitute that’s similar to garlic, but a bit milder, garlic scapes are the way to go.
Compared to garlic cloves, which are often pungent and spicy, garlic scapes offer that rich garlic flavor without quite so much bite.
To replace one clove of garlic with a minced garlic scape, simply swap them out 1:1 in your pesto recipe.
If you’re using larger amounts of garlic in your pesto, however, you’ll want to add in more than just 1:1 (garlic scapes have a much more mild flavor than cloves).
15 Substitutes for Garlic in Pesto
- Roasted leeks
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Bell peppers
- Garlic powder
- Lemon zest
- Fennel bulb
- Red Onion
- Green Onion
- Garlic scapes
- Pick any of the alternatives on this list.
- Prepare the rest of your pesto.
- Be ready to munch in no time!