Capri, Filippo Berio, Claude 9, and More: Our Bottled Pesto Taste TestSeptember 3, 2018
The continuing popularity of Italian dishes and restaurants point to the cuisine’s all-time appeal among Filipinos. With that comes the love for pesto, the Genoan sauce-slash-condiment traditionally made with basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmigiano-Reggiano pounded together under a mortar and pestle. With its distinctive herby, pungent, and rich flavor, pesto amps up just about any medium and is especially versatile, working as a quick pasta sauce, soup or crostini topper, dip for veggies, and more. And though fresh is best, we turn to supermarket versions when time and resources run short. How do the different brands compare?
Said to be a product of Italy, Capri’s pesto comes relatively neutral-tasting and is the least salty of the lot. Though you do find extra-virgin olive oil in the ingredient list, a bigger portion of the mix consists of more neutral-tasting sunflower oil; still, the presence of mild cheesy tang (from Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano cheeses) and garlic underscoring the basil keeps the resulting pesto from being bland. On the consistency front, it carries a chunky character, with discernible herb and walnut bits you can chew. It can thus be difficult to mix into pasta, but the higher proportion of solids to liquids makes it easy to dollop on other dishes (e.g. crostini). The chunkiness also makes for a wonderful, textural condiment you can pick at by itself on a spoon.
Viscosity (1 being more liquified, 5 being thicker): 3.5/5 | Chunkiness: 4/5 | Herbiness: 4/5 | Cheesiness: 3/5 | Pungency: 3/5 | Saltiness: 1/5
This Pampango brand carries a more cheese-dominant, garlicky profile that can tend to overpower the basil, but makes for a lively mix and allows a little to go a long way. It has a straightforward ingredient list consisting of organically-grown basil, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese (it is unclear whether this refers to true Parmigiano or its pre-grated counterpart, but we do taste the depth of the former), and interestingly, pili nuts; the latter lends the pesto a unique buttery note and a slight sweetness that balances out the pungency of the garlic, before concluding with a slightly milky aftertaste. Consistency-wise it comes on the opposite end of the spectrum versus Capri, with a higher proportion of oil to solids which easily separate from one another, but are easy to re-emulsify by stirring as the solids appear to have been puréed to an almost-smooth, uniform consistency.
Viscosity: 1/5 | Chunkiness: 2/5 | Herbiness: 3/5 | Cheesiness: 3.5/5 | Pungency: 4/5 | Saltiness: 3.5/5
Doña Elena goes for a blend that’s distinctly sharp-tasting. It falls short on the fruitiness of olive oil, instead subbing in sunflower oil, but makes up for this with a strong dose of saltiness and tanginess from Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano cheeses. It’s also on the more solid- than liquid-heavy end of the consistency spectrum, but with smaller, more uniform solids that give it a smoother feel (the use of “potato flakes” as seen on the ingredient list may contribute to this). It finishes with a starchiness on the tongue we don’t dig, but which does not get in the way of its overall flavor.
Viscosity: 4/5 | Chunkiness: 3/5 | Herbiness: 3/5 | Cheesiness: 4.5/5 | Pungency: 3.5/5 | Saltiness: 4/5
Filippo Berio takes the tanginess up another notch with their pesto. The sharpness can get in the way of the basil, but it at least comes well-balanced with a good amount of creaminess from the combination of cashew and pine nuts in the ingredient list. The creaminess carries over to its consistency as well; here, oils and solids are better emulsified that the overall texture feels smoother than the other brands. It thus mixes great with pasta, infusing more equal amounts of each ingredient and their flavor easily onto just about any medium.
Viscosity: 4/5 | Chunkiness: 3/5 | Herbiness: 3/5 | Cheesiness: 4/5 | Pungency: 3/5 | Saltiness: 4.5/5
Perhaps due to Gourmet Farms primarily being an organic vegetable farm, their pesto puts the basil on the spotlight, flaunting a distinctly herb-heavy profile that it tastes close to homemade. There’s barely any saltiness—just enough to enhance the herb—plus a mellow zing of garlic to accentuate the freshness of the leaves. While it completely lacks cheese (as proven with a glance at their short-but-sweet ingredient list), the use of virgin olive oil gives it an olive-y fruitiness that melds well with the sweetness of the basil. And though it’s like Claude 9’s in that there’s a high proportion of oil to solids, the said oil is flavorful enough that it’s enjoyable even by itself (e.g., for dipping bread into—Italian food rules be damned).
Viscosity: 1/5 | Chunkiness: 2/5 | Herbiness: 5/5 | Cheesiness: 0/5 | Pungency: 3.5/5 | Saltiness: 2/5
This Italian brand’s take is flaunts a basil-heavy profile, with the addition of dried parsley that gives it a welcome zestiness and breathes life into any dish. The garlic doesn’t come through as strongly but the pesto comes at the mid-level of saltiness, backed up with creaminess from the cheese (they do not specify what kind exactly, simply saying it’s made with cow’s and sheep’s milk—plus a naturally sweet, buttery undertone from the combination of cashews and pine nuts. Consistency-wise Pastazara is also on the chunky side with chewable nut and herb bits, but it comes well emulsified with enough oil in the mix (a combination of sunflower and olive oil to be exact, with more of the former) that you can easily stir it into pasta and the like.
Viscosity: 3/5 | Chunkiness: 4/5 | Herbiness: 3.5/5 | Cheesiness: 4/5 | Pungency: 3/5 | Saltiness: 3/5
The Verdict: Capri
It’s a tough call as no one version scores perfectly on all fronts. In particular, we were torn between Claude 9 and Gourmet Farms, both local brands whose pesto veer slightly from tradition yet taste especially fresh; and Pastazara, which we deem the best among the more classic iterations. After much deliberation, we’ll hand it to Capri, at least through the lens of a classic pesto. With a great balance of rich, pungent, nutty, herb-y flavors, just-right saltiness (which you can always add more salt to as needed), and in-between consistency, it proves to be a most tasty jar to have around that’s versatile for use in just about any application.