Can You Freeze Pesto?

There’s some leftover pesto in your fridge, and you don’t have any plans of using it anytime soon. Can you freeze pesto?

The good news is, you can freeze pesto, both homemade and store-bought, and they both freeze well.

If you want to get all your pesto-related questions answered, this guide is for you. In it, we talk about how to freeze pesto, ways to defrost it, and then using it. There’s also an FAQ section at the end that answers any questions you might be left with.

Interested? Read on.

Pasta with defrosted pesto plated up close
Pasta with defrosted pesto plated up close

Can You Freeze Pesto?

One of the most common pesto-related questions is can you freeze pesto. The good news is, yes! You can freeze both homemade and store-bought pesto, and both freeze just fine.

The freezing process can be super simple if you go with containers or jars, or a bit more hands-on if you want to freeze your pesto using an ice cube tray. Both work great, and you choose one over the other based on your circumstances. More on that in the how-to section.

Here’s how my defrosted pesto looks like after thawing and stirring:

Defrosted pesto after thawing and stirring
Defrosted pesto after thawing and stirring

It looks pretty much the same as the just-prepared pesto you can see below.

Now, you might want to know if there are any differences between freezing homemade and store-bought pesto. Let’s discuss that.

Homemade Pesto

Homemade pesto freezes well, and freezing is the easiest way to store homemade pesto for a prolonged period. That’s great news if you’re not into canning.

If you google any basil pesto recipes online, you will surely find that most of them mention that you can freeze the leftovers. The idea here is simple: you make a big batch of pesto, use what you need within the next 3 to 4 days, and freeze the rest.

Of course, if you happen to have a surplus of fresh basil, it also makes sense to turn it into basil pesto and freeze it. That’s what I did.

This way, you don’t need to line up two or three pesto dishes within a few days to use all of the pesto you prepped.

Homemade just-prepped pesto
Homemade just-prepped pesto

Store-Bought Pesto

You can freeze store-bought pesto, and it freezes just as well as the homemade variety.

The main difference here is that store-bought pesto comes canned and keeps unopened for a year or even more. Because of that, it only makes sense to freeze the leftovers once you open the jar.

How To Freeze Pesto?

There are two ways you can go about freezing pesto:

  • freezing it in containers or jars
  • using an ice cube tray

Containers or jars are great if you know exactly how you’re going to use the pesto so that you can portion the dip accordingly. The idea here is that each container has enough pesto for a single dish, and there aren’t any leftovers.

This makes the freezing process super simple, and you can do everything in one go.

But if you don’t yet have planned how you’re going to use that pesto, going with an ice cube tray is the optimal option for you. It allows you to have the pesto divided into multiple tiny portions, and each time you need some, you can defrost exactly as much as you need.

Choose one that better fits your circumstances, and let’s get that pesto frozen.

Drying basil for pesto
Drying basil for pesto

Freezing Pesto in Containers or Jars

Here’s how to freeze pesto in a container or jar:

  1. Portion the pesto into containers. Plan how you’re going to use the pesto you want to freeze and figure out the amounts that make sense. Then pour each portion into a separate container or jar.
  2. Seal the containers. Add labels with name and date if you find it helpful. Suppose you have a couple of different portions. In that case, it might be beneficial to label them with volume or how you plan to use that particular container (e.g., “pesto for pizza,” “pesto for pesto quinoa salad,” or what have you).
  3. Place everything in the freezer.

That’s it. The whole thing takes a couple of minutes tops, and you do everything in one go.

Frozen pesto
Frozen pesto

Freezing Pesto in an Ice Cube Tray

Here’s how you freeze pesto using an ice cube tray:

  1. Pour the pesto into the tray(s).
  2. Place the tray(s) in the freezer until cubes freeze solid. It usually takes 3 to 4 hours until the cubes are solid enough to be extracted from the tray. Or you can leave them in the freezer overnight just to be safe.
  3. Transfer the frozen cubes into a freezer bag. If you have a couple of different-sized ice cube trays, consider labeling that bag with the volume of a single cube. That’s helpful if you’re sticking to precise measurements in whatever you’re cooking, and eyeballing it isn’t good enough.
  4. Put the bags in the freezer.

And that’s a wrap. The only downside of this method is that you need to wait until the cubes freeze and cannot do everything in one go.

Once you have your pesto frozen this way, it’s super easy to jump in, grab as many cubes as needed, and return the rest to the freezer.

Tips for Freezing Pesto

Topping pesto with olive oil

I’ve seen time and again that people drizzle olive oil on top of the pesto to prevent browning. It works.

If you want to prevent your pesto from darkening, leave a bit of headspace in each container, jar, or compartment in the ice cube tray, and pour a bit of olive oil on top.

Of course, this is entirely optional, and you might as well skip it. For example, I don’t do it when I freeze my homemade pesto, as browning doesn’t seem to be an issue. But if yours darkens easily, go ahead and do it.

Browning is a result of oxidation, so the less surface area in your pesto, the slower the oxidation process. Because of that, drizzling olive oil on pesto makes more sense if you’re freezing it in an ice cube tray than in a container.

Pesto closeup
Pesto closeup

Mixing the methods

Say you have a ton of pesto to freeze (e.g., you made a big batch or bought a large jar). The best approach for you might be to mix the two described methods.

You pick one or two dishes you know you want to do with that pesto, and you freeze the appropriate amounts in small containers. Then you pour the leftover pesto into an ice cube tray and freeze it in cubes.

How To Defrost Pesto?

There are two options to defrost frozen pesto:

  • in the fridge
  • skip defrosting and use it frozen

The first option is probably ideal because you can add some extra olive oil, more herbs, or stir in the cheese once you thaw the pesto. In other words, you can adjust the taste or consistency of the pesto before using it.

The only downside is that you need to remember about defrosting the pesto ahead of time. And that might take between 2 and 8+ hours, depending on how it’s frozen and how much you have to thaw.

That’s where the second option shines, as it skips the defrosting process entirely.

Its main downside, as you might imagine, is that it works only in cooked dishes.

It’s great if you’re, for example, cooking a pasta and chicken dish on the stove. You can just throw in the frozen pesto, and it will melt in no time. But if you need that pesto to top your homemade pizza before baking it, it’s no good.

Frozen pesto cubes are much better if you want to skip defrosting.

Let’s talk about both methods in more detail.

Defrosted pesto
Defrosted pesto

Defrosting Pesto in the Fridge

Place the frozen pesto in the fridge the night before you need it so that it’s fully defrosted in the morning.

To jumpstart the thawing process, place the container or bag in a bowl with lukewarm water. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Defrosting pesto in cold water
Defrosting pesto in cold water

The defrosting process will take anywhere between 2 hours for a small amount and 8+ hours for a large container. Since most of us freeze small amounts of pesto, it will be near the lower end of the spectrum, in most cases.

Once the dip is defrosted, stir it so that everything is incorporated and looks like a freshly made pesto.

Using Pesto Without Defrosting

Skipping defrosting works great if you want to use your pesto in a dish you cook on the stove. If that’s the case, you transfer the frozen pesto into the pot or pan you’re using whenever it makes sense and stir everything until it melts.

For example, if you’re cooking some chicken on a pan for a chicken pasta dish (like I did), you add the pesto once the chicken is cooked. Then, a minute or two and a bit of stirring, and you’re good to go.

Another option, a bit more versatile perhaps, is to defrost the pesto separately in a non-stick pan on low heat. Like with the first option, stir the dip often so that it doesn’t burn.

If you’re using a pan or pot that’s not a non-stick one, try adding a few drops of olive oil before adding the pesto. It should help prevent the frozen blob from burning.

Once the pesto is thawed, it’s ready for use.

Cooking pasta with frozen and thawed pesto
Cooking pasta with frozen and thawed pesto

How To Use Frozen Pesto

You can use frozen pesto exactly the same way you use fresh pesto. The differences between fresh and frozen and defrosted pesto are minimal, so there’s no reason to exclude any dishes.

That means that all pasta dishes, dips, pizza toppings, salad dressings, and everything else you can think of is on the menu.

To make some photos for the article, I prepped the pesto, froze it, and a couple of weeks later used it in a chicken pasta with pesto dish I make from time to time. Everything went just fine, and the dish turned out great.

Long story short, use frozen pesto in all the dishes you use fresh pesto. 99 out of 100 times, you won’t notice any difference.

Freezing Pesto FAQ

Below, you can find a couple of popular questions related to freezing pesto.

Can You Refreeze Pesto?

Yes, store-bought and homemade pesto can be refrozen if you defrost it in the refrigerator. Keep in mind that it can lose some of the taste and overall quality if you do this a few times, though.

It’s a common misconception that food products shouldn’t be refrozen. As long as you defrost the product in the fridge, you can freeze it again.

In other words, if you went for freezing pesto in containers and messed up portions, it’s okay to refreeze the dip. It should be okayish, but nothing to write home about.

Use refreezing pesto as your backup option and proper portioning or going with an ice cube tray as your primary approach.

Pasta with defrosted pesto plated
Pasta with defrosted pesto plated

Should You Freeze Pesto With or Without Cheese?

In most cases, it doesn’t matter all that much.

Pesto is most often made with grated parmesan or any other hard cheese (e.g., Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano), and cheeses like parmesan freeze well. But if you’re using another cheese that doesn’t freeze all that great, omitting it might help your pesto’s taste.

If you’re worried that the cheese you use in your pesto doesn’t freeze well, freeze a small amount of your pesto next time you make it and see what happens. In most cases, it will be just fine.

What’s more important, consider how you’re going to use the pesto. Some dishes call for cheese-free pesto, and if you plan on making one of those, skip the cheese.

Of course, you can always stir it in when you’re cooking the dish, if need be.

How Long Can Pesto Be Frozen?

Try to use your frozen pesto within 3 to 6 months.

While the opinions on the topic differ, you can’t go wrong with the three months. And if yours sits in the freezer for longer, like the mentioned six months, it’s still going to be pretty good.

What if it sits in the freezer for longer, you ask?

Well, it’ll probably taste a bit worse, but that’s about it. Like pretty much all food products, the quality of pesto gradually degrades when it sits in the freezer.

I recommend using your frozen pesto within 1 to 3 months of freezing. Not because it rapidly loses its quality afterward (it doesn’t), but because the longer it sits in the freezer, the easier it is to forget about it.

And unless it’s in your face when you open the freezer, at some point, you will completely forget that it’s there. And that’s how you end up with pesto that sits in the freezer for two years, or until the next time you clean your freezer.