Trader Joe’s Pesto and Quinoa

Trader Joe's Pesto and Quinoa

Yup, pesto and quinoa – that classic duo. Like ketchup and custard, salt and Dr. Pepper

Look, I know quinoa is enjoying something of a heyday, the likes of which has been unprecedented since the ancient grain was originally introduced as a staple of the human diet in 5,000 BC, but there are certain applications of it which are bound to make even the hippest vegetarian blink. I’ve calmly accepted quinoa in my salads, my “chicken”, and even in my sushi. But quinoa in my pesto? That’s a development that begs further inquiry.

Quinoa was originally cultivated in the Andes region of South America since the rise of civilization there. However, since it’s uptake by the incessant marketing machine in the mid 2000’s, quinoa has been trumpeted as a superfood for it’s many healthsome properties – some certified, some merely alleged – and introduced into practically any food product in need of a sales boost.

What is absolutely true is that quinoa is a gluten-free grain, and is relatively protein rich. Given that both these qualities dovetail nicely into the culinary trends of the day, its recent, widespread popularity should probably not be a surprise. It is notable however. Since 2006, the price of quinoa has tripled on the market even as crop production has nearly doubled world wide – and in 2013 no lesser body than the United Nations itself declared it the “International Year of Quinoa”. They had a logo and everything.

While the sudden rise of quinoa from obscurity to mainstay may sound unusual, it’s not alone. In fact pesto – yes the very pesto in this quinoa and pesto sauce – shares a very similar original story. Pesto may not have a pedigree that stretches back thousands of years, like quinoa, but it’s a lot older than you might think. The first bowl of pesto was found on the table of the ancient Romans who ate a paste of crushed herbs, garlic and cheese. As they conquested into northern Italy/southern France, the basil that grew there was introduced into the dish – resulting in the pesto we know and love today. And then nothing happened for two thousand years. Despite the fact that pesto took it’s fully mature form sometime before the birth of Christ, it was largely unknown out of the rustic Mediterranean regions where it sprang into existence.

Not until 1863 is the first recipe for pesto recorded, and it is not until nearly a hundred years after that, in 1946, that the first pesto recipe shows up in America. Even then, pesto continued to languish in relative obscurity until the 1980’s, when it started to be adopted into Italian cuisine on a wide scale.

So why combine these two long overlooked food items into one condiment? Why did Trader Joe’s bother to make Pesto and Quinoa?

When you try it, the first thing you’ll notice is that they might as well have called it pesto with quinoa, instead of pesto and quinoa. The point being that this is a pesto sauce, first and foremost, with the quinoa making a very meager impact on the overall dish.

Apart from the quinoa, this is a standad pesto recipe – filled with plenty of basil, oil and grated cheese. What it doesn’t have, however, is any pine nuts. In place of that crunchy nuttiness you get the squishy nuttiness of lots and lots of quinoa. This makes the pesto taste more or less like any other pesto you’ve had from a grocery store, even if it looks very very different. There’s so much quinoa in this pesto that it’s far and away the first ingredient. When you unscrew the lid you’ll see a load of quinoa, sprouts and all, staring back at you. If you can get over the somewhat unsettlingly different appreance, you’ll find that this pesto works just like the regular stuff – you can add it easily to pasta, chicken, fish or salads for that big sloppy kiss of savory basil. Just don’t expect it to spread quite like regular pesto. The quinoa makes it much lumpier than a normal pesto, and requires a little extra finesse on the part of the eater.

While that’s all well and good, it does make you wonder why Trader Joe’s bothered to make this stuff at all. There isn’t any real difference in the calorie or fat content between this and ordinary pesto. While I enjoyed it on a variety of meals, I didn’t enjoy it any more than I would have any other pesto. And with the slightly unappealing look and unweildly nature of the quinoa, there really isn’t any need to get it again. I’m glad TJ’s discovered a tasty Peruvian pesto, I’m just not so sure why they wanted to pas it along to all of us.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, I don’t think so.

Would I Buy It Again: Nope, no need.

Final Synopsis: Pesto with a bunch of quinoa in it tastes just like pesto without quinoa in it. So why bother?


16 Comments on “Trader Joe’s Pesto and Quinoa”

  1. Nancy says:

    Wow, you just burst our inquisitive bubble…pop!!!

  2. Laurie says:

    I just tried this on chicken and I LOVE IT! Great way to get a really good grain into a yummy topping. And not to be picky but you kind of contradicted yourself when you said, “The point being that this is a pesto sauce, first and foremost, with the quinoa making a very meager impact on the overall dish.” And then in the next paragraph, “There’s so much quinoa in this pesto that it’s far and away the first ingredient.”

    I will buy this again and again. YUM! Way to go TJs!

  3. Yay says:

    Why bother? How ’bout for those of us allergic to nuts? Now I can finally eat pesto without dying. This stuff tastes lovely, by the way.

    • Ah – nut allergies! Of course!

      I’m glad you can enjoy this, Mr. or Ms. Nut-Adverse Reader. It does taste pretty dang good – taste-wise it’s very similar to real pesto, so it has that going for it. If you don’t mind the texture it’s a very decent stand in.

  4. corinne247 says:

    AMAZING for people who have nut allergies! My friend thought she had to give up pesto until she tried this with the pasta dinner I made. Add artichokes and spinach + this recipe and you have an amazing dish!

  5. Lucia says:

    Try this with couscous and roasted vegetables, delicious! Add a touch of olive oil and lemon (already in couscous before adding pesto). I do not like pesto in general but picked it up after tasting it at the store with tortellini. Am definitely purchasing again.

  6. Mike says:

    It’s great. I’m loving it on spaghetti.

  7. Mara G. says:

    Our store in CT had only four jars left, and I wonder if it’s being discontinued for the very reasons you mention. I enjoyed it, though not as much as fresh pesto (the ascorbic acid gives it more tang than I care for), and with quinoa being this supergrain and all, I felt a bit more virtuous in its consumption. My critiques: it only lasts 5 days once opened, and my first jar had a faulty lid, which I didn’t realize until the even-more-sour taste led to an all-day sour stomach. That was a first for me with a T.J.’s brand item.

  8. Matt says:

    I don’t have a nut allergy but go to many potlucks and love to add additional flavors to things I make. I always was weary about using pesto because of the nuts so either made it myself or would attach a warning to the dish. This is much safer…

    It is less flavor packed than a regular pesto though so I take away points for that.

  9. Jess says:

    I just had this last night at my sister-in-law’s house, and I loved it! As a vegetarian, I am used to still being hungry after a meal at someone else’s house, but this on TJ’s goat cheese and sundried tomato ravioli was fantastic and very filling! I make my own pesto at home pretty regularly (I have several basil plants on the deck, and freeze it so I have it year-round) and I prefer mine for things like pizza or on bread, but this is great way to add some extra protein to pasta meals.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Wait what why bother? I love Quinoa pesto and it is my first favorite item from Trader Joes! I went to get it last night and they were all out! I use it on chicken with a little kosher salt and ground black pepper. In the oven for 30 minutes, It is amazing! It is also good in pasta! I ended up buying mango chutney and it was delicious also, I also bought olive tapenade and cannot wait to try that! I am in school so anything I can put on chicken or fish and stick in the oven when I get off work is perfect and easy for me!

  11. Vanessa says:

    I completely disagree! The Quinoa Pesto is my first favorite item from Trader Joes!! I have tried other pesto and no one in my family enjoys it quite like this one! I went to buy it last night and they were out. I was so disappointed! This pesto is an easy meal for me! I put some kosher salt fresh ground pepper and then put the pesto on chicken breasts and bake for 30 minutes! It is divine!!

  12. Maybe they updated the recipe since this article was written but it has no cheese in it.

    I am lactose intolerant and love love love pesto but unfortunately haven’t had it for 7 years or so because everyone has cheese, understandably. But I always look at the ingredients when I see a new brand. And gosh did a scream with excitement when I saw there was no cheese in this on!

    I put this on everything, I even throw a little bit of it in my scrambled eggs!

    So for dairy free and nut free eaters this is heaven sent!

  13. couldn’t disagree with you more!

  14. Angie says:

    It’s for people with nit allergies who can’t have pesto with pine or walnuts! So wonderful!!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    So wrong. Thus the word “and.” Is nifty stuff for varied uses. Roman history notwithstanding.

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