pesto sauce healthy sauceShare on Pinterest
Kasia Pohl/EyeEm/Getty Images

Pesto and chimichurri are both herby, green sauces with a fair amount of olive oil—but they’re not as similar in flavor as they might appear. So how exactly are they different?

If you look at the hierarchy of roles in the traditional kitchen—as codified over a century ago by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier—the saucier, aka the senior-level chef in charge of the sauce station, is among the most revered and important. Oftentimes the make or break element on a dish, sauces are a challenging, technically demanding art. “The marriage of craftsmanship and consistency,” wrote Escoffier. Even among the best of chefs they can take years, if not a career to perfect.

Which is why, when you come across a sauce that requires little-to-no effort to make, like say pesto or chimichurri, you really should take a minute and appreciate the bone that’s being thrown your way. Taken at face value, the two could practically be twins. And while they do share several key similarities—both are blended, herb-based, no-cook sauces that have a variety of diverse culinary applications—they’re more fraternal than identical twins.

For one (big) thing, the herbs that give them their green are different. Pesto, which traces its roots back to Genoa, the capital city of Italy’s Liguria region, is made with basil.

Chimichurri, meanwhile, is of Argentinian descent, and is typically a blend of parsley and oregano. Cilantro is often in the mix.

Both include garlic, but as for the liquid that gives them their saucy texture, there’s a bit of an oil and vinegar separation—literally. Pesto calls on olive oil to bind together the classic combination of basil, garlic, parmesan and pecorino cheeses, and pine nuts. Chimichurri also uses a little oil (either vegetable or olive), but, crucially, adds in white vinegar to give the sauce its signature puckery tang.

Both are easy to riff on (pesto in particular is often modified to sub in greens like kale and arugula or swap walnuts for pine nuts) and play nicely in a wide range of recipes. Here are some of our favorites, from the traditional (chimichurri and grilled meat; pesto and pasta) to the more creative (no spoilers, keep reading).

Check out chimichurri recipe variations for starters, and then see more creative ways to use them:

Classic Argentine chimichurri and grilled meat are like, total ride-or-die BBFs. The bright, textured parsley and oregano-based sauce is the perfect partner to grilled steak or chicken, both of which can be repurposed the next day in tacos. If meat isn’t your jam, this versatile salsa is also pretty sensational with grilled seafood (think thicker-cuts like salmon or swordfish, or juicy jumbo shrimp) or on grillable veggies like corn on the cob. Get our Argentine Chimichurri Sauce recipe.

Most often, the sandwich side of the love affair between beef and chimichurri results in a lot of steak sandwiches. And no hate of course, but how dare we overlook the OG of beef sandwiches: The burger. This drool-worthy rendition features a double patty design that is bound together with a chimichurri compound butter that oozes out as it cooks. Get the Argentinian Chimichurri Butter Burger recipe.

Think ‘chimichurri’ and ‘breakfast’ and your brain immediately goes to tacos (at least mine does), but as this recipe proves, it’s not the sauce’s only morning meal application. Here the herb-driven sauce is mixed with savory mushrooms and hearty kale to create good-for-you base for runny-yolk baked eggs. This has Impressive Brunch Menu written all over it. Get the Kale, Mushroom, and Chimichurri Baked Eggs recipe.

Well, whaddya know, chimichurri is as good on carbs as it is on protein (actually not surprising given that it’s classic pairing with empanadas). Instead of using the sauce for dipping, the tangy-fresh mixture is drizzled over the top of homemade fries alongside crumbled gorgonzola. Get the Fries with Chimichurri and Gorgonzola recipe.

The chimichurri in this quick chicken salad subs out the traditional oregano for cool mint, which works especially nicely with the pieces of juicy, sweet peach. Get the Chimichurri Chicken Salad with Peaches recipe.

And here you thought there was barely any time or opportunity for chimichurri to play with veggies. In this clever vegetarian take on a crudo, paper-thin slices of mixed beets are lightly marinated in the vibrant, zesty sauce. Light, healthy, no-muss starters don’t get easier or tastier than this. Get the Beet Crudo with Chimichurri recipe.

You can experiment with pesto too, but see a classic basil version and delicious things to do with it below:

It may not have the A-List celebrity status of marinara, but pesto is still one of the most iconic Italian sauces. A delightfully simple combination of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan, it’s got that great little black dress quality that gives it the ability to go with just about anything. Tossed with pasta, slathered on pizza, schmeared on toast, mixed in with soup or rice or even eggs: The possibilities are endless. Guess it is easy being green. Get our Easy Basil Pesto recipe.

Pasta is pesto’s most frequent culinary companion. For years, my go-to dinner party dish has been to toss it with spaghetti and garnish with crispy roasted potatoes and fresh green beans. It’s equally fantastic in less obvious pasta applications like lasagna, too. But when the weather heats up, I prefer the pungent, aromatic sauce as the base for picnic-perfect pasta salads. Like this one, which add in sweet cherry tomatoes and chewy pieces of mozzarella. Get our Classic Pesto Pasta Salad recipe.

The classic deviled egg (aka everyone’s favorite, poppable summer barbecue snack) is a perfect blank canvas kind of dish—easily adaptable to whatever culinary inspiration strikes you in the moment. For example, if you wanted to take it in a Mediterranean-French Provençal direction: you could blend garlicky basil pesto into the yolk mixture and garnish with ratatouille. Get our Pistou Deviled Eggs with Ratatouille recipe.

Vibrant pesto replaces the typical tomato sauce in this light, healthy (as healthy as pizza gets, anyway) summer pie featuring sliced seasonal squash, red onion, and fresh mozzarella. Get our Summer Squash Pizza recipe.

The gauntlet has been thrown, ladies and gentlemen, this is what it looks like when your brunch dish game is on point: Savory, fluffly dutch baby base, bold pesto, torn pieces of salty prosciutto, creamy burrata, crisp strips of shaved asparagus, and baked eggs. Boom. Get the Dutch Baby Pesto Breakfast Pizza recipe.

The classic Italian rice dish is reimagined in this recipe with a non-traditional pesto that adds walnuts, kale, chives, and parsley to the typical basil-parm-garlic base. And of course chopped pieces of crisp, salty, fatty bacon are mixed in, because, why not? Get the Risotto with Kale Pesto and Bacon recipe.

Chicken soup takes a detour through Italy with this comforting, flavor-rich soup that improves upon the basic concept by adding in savory Italian sausage, punchy-herbaceous pesto, zucchini, and creamy cannellini beans. Get our Pesto, Chicken, and White Bean Soup recipe.