Pesto Processing

Following news of a food recall for pesto sauce with black truffles from Hungary due to Clostridium Botulinum contamination, it becomes apparent that there are considerable challenges when processing pesto. In this article I’ll examine these, then take a look at the versatility of this Italian sauce and its growth in the Italian sauces market.


Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy and traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, and European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk). Given that C. Botulinum is a soil based bacterium, traditional pesto sauce therefore requires thorough processing as the environment will not have large amounts of added acid or sugar  to prevent spore growth. With this in mind, it is also critical to properly store pesto sauce once opened at a temperature of below 3 degrees Celsius. To increase the shelf life of this product, it is hugely beneficial to pour over olive oil to coat the surface of the sauce, thereby preventing oxidation.

Pesto may have originated as a very late adaptation of Moretum, a cheese spread eaten by the Romans with bread, to which nuts were optionally added. As with Moretum, the name pesto derives from the act of crushing these ingredients for the spread or sauce with a pestle and mortar. Pesto only took the form recognised worldwide today after 1863, when we encounter the first mention of this condiment in La Cuciniera Genovese by Giovanni Battista Ratto. The first mention of pesto sauce in America dates from a canned import in 1944, but it has only achieved widespread appreciation since the 1990s. The French also have a version of pesto sauce deriving from Roman origins: called pistou, it comprises basil, parsley, crushed garlic, and optional grated cheese, with pine nuts omitted.

Basil, one of the key ingredients in the pesto mix, came from India where it has been domesticated for over 5,000 years and was not widely grown or indeed revered in Italy until much later. During the Medieval times, this herb was associated with poverty and hatred, believed to induce the growth of scorpions in the brain, and thought to be poisonous. It too has had only recent recognition for its usefulness as a culinary ingredient, with an author in 1956 proclaiming that is was grown by a “few adventurous gardeners”.

In the supermarket, with sales worth an estimated GBP365m in 2011, pasta sauces account for over half of the UK market for ambient cooking sauces. The UK market is dominated by products geared towards Italian dishes such as lasagnas and Bolognese, but face growing competition from pesto sauces, sales of which have been aided by the popularity of Mediterranean cuisine as the italian sauces market grows by +7% year on year. is growing 7% year-on-year .  Reflections of this in ready meals can be seen in launches of flavoured pesto lines, pesto pizzas and diverse pesto recipes available online. As yet, despite American launches this year including cod with sundried tomato pesto by Orca Bay, pesto is still a home cook’s ingredient. However, given the growing interest in italian sauces, the possibilities for organic, vegetarian and vegan pesto lines, now is the time to launch new NPD work using pesto bases for products.


Roboqbo, as seen in the video above, manufactures cook-cut-cool vessels in sizes from 15 litres for NPD work to 250 Litres, meaning that the process can easily be scaled up. The advantage to reduced cook times under vacuum is that the intense green of fresh basil can be perfectly preserved, making a jar visibly stand out on the shelf and benefiting from clear packaging. As the vessel is capable of storing recipe information and parameters, working with a Qbo unit is as easy as loading the ingredients, closing the lid and pressing a button to start the process. As you might have guessed, the other advantage to such a quick process time is that the flavour of your ingredients gets locked into the sauce, creating a vivid taste that could take centre stage on any plate.


For more information, please contact Holmach on or call 01780 749097.



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