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I tried 8 store-bought pestos with a group of Italians and one said ‘ciao’ to the competition

Only one of these jarred pestos made us already nostalgic for summer.

As we begin to bid adieu to summer and surrender to an onslaught of pumpkin spice-flavored everything, I can’t help but mourn the impending death of my favorite herbs in warm-weather dishes. And nothing beats the sweet and savory bite of fresh basil, my all-time favorite green to top pastas, salads, flatbreads, caprese and practically anything that demands a touch of peppery brightness.

That said, it should come as no surprise that one of my go-to sauces is pesto, which I’ve made no less than five times over the past few months after trips to the local farmers market. But as we gear up for hibernation mode and months of Netflix and chilling, I was shocked to find jarred varieties that can really hold up to what I’ve been enjoying — almost weekly — since June.

“For a jarred pesto, you should be looking for a bright-green color that has little oil and looks emulsified and not broken,” recommends Chase S. Barrett, executive chef of Campiello restaurant in my hometown of Naples, Florida. “It should also have a great aroma and permeate throughout whatever you are cooking.”

With this advice in mind, I gathered my family and favorite Italian friends to taste our way through eight of the most popular jars you can find. Everyone was hyper-critical (and very loud, which was extremely on brand), but it helped to make these rankings easy. Of course, nothing compared to the homemade pesto found at Campiello (used for their signature sandwiches, chicken, pastas and even cheese plates), but there were a handful of options that really surprised us and had our bellies feeling all types of amore. Check out the results below.

8. Filippo Berio Classic Pesto

Filippo Berio boasts a wonderful variety of olive oils, vinegars and glazes that I use quite regularly in my kitchen, but the company really missed the mark with a pesto that my mom described as “farty.” We did appreciate the fact that it wasn’t too oily, but the mix could have benefited from more of its signature olive oil which would have given it a touch more flavor complexity (*sighs in Italian*).

7. Rao’s Homemade Basil Pesto

Rao’s smoked the competition in our jarred marinara taste test, so you can only imagine our disappointment when this sour mess of inauthentic ingredients tried to pass as pesto. Cashews before pine nuts? Sunflower instead of olive oil? Added sugars? Potato flakes? Dried glucose syrup? Make it make sense, Rao. Its only redeeming quality was the texture, which was delightfully gritty yet able to coat a plate of penne. Needless to say, our fingers were ma che vuoi-ing in frustration.

6. Legnano Organic Green Pesto

This was the cheesiest of the bunch, thanks to its use of beloved Parmigiano-Reggiano, but we had a slight problem with the sweetness level (thanks to the added sugar). Honestly, you’re better off using its better-testing vegan variety which makes up for in balance what it lacks in cheese.

5. Classico Traditional Basil Pesto

Classico’s pesto was a prime example of a love-hate relationship. Things we loved: It tasted like something we could eat in excess without feeling nauseated, which is difficult to accomplish with a sauce that is notoriously rich and decadent (next to an Alfredo, of course). Things we hated: its chunky texture and almost oregano-like taste. Also, where the hell were the nuts? Not even one of the aforementioned cashews could be bothered to make its way into this jar. Womp, womp.

4. Gia Russa Pesto Alla Genovese

Like Legnano, this tasted authentically cheesy, but it was ridiculously salty. This was not something that a lot of us minded (we’re a salty bunch, I guess), but if you suffer from high blood pressure, it may be a jar to avoid. Overall: not bad at all, but not the most memorable.

3. Barilla Rustic Basil Pesto

First and foremost, Barilla’s take on the Italian classic will appease any garlic lover. It was the most potent and sharp, which we actually appreciated. We weren’t sure what to make of the use of spinach, as well as some of the ingredients we scolded Rao’s for incorporating (potato flakes, cashews and sunflower oil), but its first ingredient, basil (shocking, I know), really shone and there was something to be said about that choice (shocking again, I know). Our family friend said it best: “It tastes like it came straight from the garden.”

2. Mezzetta Artisan Ingredients Basil Pesto

Thank you, Mezzetta, for actually relying on an extra-virgin olive oil for this sauce’s base. You’d think that would be a requirement, but alas: the demands of mass production. We also thought the use of almonds would be a bit off-putting, but this was a very solid option for anyone who needs pesto in a pinch. It was also the second place pick by the majority of the group, which further cemented why it’s deserving of this silver medal.

1. Alessi Pesto

Bingo! Alessi’s ultra-smooth pesto was the unanimous winner and the night’s saving grace. You could taste the purity of its ingredients (basil, EVOO, cheese, pine nuts, sea salt and garlic) and we had one of those “aha!” moments after reading the label and realizing it was, by far, the most authentic of the lot. This is proof that you don’t have to sacrifice quality or add unnecessary ingredients to achieve great taste. Looking at you, potato flakes. K bai (or ciao, rather).