The Food Haul

Where Do the Best-Tasting Pistachios Come From?

In our first installment of “The Food Haul,” writer Adam Roberts searches for the perfect pistachio.

April  3, 2023
Photo by Getty Images / Edgaras Bendikas

There’s never been a more exciting time to stock your kitchen—just ask food writer Adam Roberts, who’ll be diving into all things groceries in The Food Haul. This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

When it comes to nuts that are on trend, look no further than pistachios. Turn one way, and you’ll see them on a salad; turn another, and you’ll see them in a dessert. Even though they’ve been around for, well, a while (since 6750 B.C. in fact), pistachios have reemerged as the “it” nut of the moment. A recent headline from Eater staff writer Amy McCarthy, “The Pistachio Moment is Already My Favorite Food Trend of 2023,” makes it official: We’re in our pistachio era.

So, how do you shop for them?

Well, it depends on what you want to do with them. If you’re anything like my husband Craig, you’ll want to pick them apart with your fingers, in which case Wonderful Pistachios ($9.99 for a 16-ounce bag at Vons grocery store in Los Angeles) are the pistachios for you. Not only do they come in a variety of flavors (salt and pepper, sweet chili), they have an excellent work-to-reward ratio. Prying them apart is a cinch and the pistachios inside the shell are meaty and substantial.

For lazy folks like me, the same brand also sells pre-shelled, roasted pistachios ($12.99 for 12 ounces at Vons) in an even wider variety of flavors including chili roasted and BBQ. For research purposes, I focused on the unsalted, plain version and found them to check all the boxes of what I’m looking for in a pistachio: They’re crunchy, grassy, and a little bit creamy—plus, they’re generally easy to find at the grocery store or online.

By way of comparison, I also ordered some pre-shelled pistachios on the World Wide Interwebs. The no-shell raw pistachios from Oh! Nuts ($9.99 for an 8-ounce bag) are substantial contenders. These nuts are slightly plumper than the pre-shelled option from Wonderful and taste just as good, but if you do the math (can you do the math? I’m bad at math) it’s kind of a wash from a price perspective. And then there’s Zaiqa Raw Pistachios ($17.99 for 12 ounces), which tasted a bit dusty to me and didn’t have the same panache as the other pistachios.

Now for the prestigious pistachios: Pistacchi di Bronte DOP ($42 for 8.8 ounces on Gustiamo). In Italy, they’re called “green gold,” and according to the website these pistachios are grown in Northeastern Sicily near Mount Etna. More significantly, the farmers only harvest them every other year to give the trees a chance to rest (lucky trees). I couldn’t wait to try such extravagant, carefully cultivated pistachios. So how did they taste?

Okay. Fine. Nice.

Look, I wanted to fall on the floor in fits of ecstasy, but when I popped a handful in my mouth, I closed my eyes and tasted the same sensations that I tasted with the others. Actually, the others offered meatier sensations; these were a bit smaller. It’s entirely possible that I’m not sophisticated enough to taste the difference between Sicilian sun-kissed pistachios and pistachios that you can find at an American gas station, but allow me to posit a theory: Pistachio the flavor and pistachio the nut are not necessarily one and the same.

I first came upon this conclusion when I made the Pistachio Bundt Cake from Christina Tosi’s cookbook All About Cake. In addition to fresh pistachios, as you’d expect from an award-winning pastry chef, her recipe has a secret ingredient: Instant Pistachio Pudding Mix. Now, okay, Christina Tosi is well-known for using everyday ingredients in her cooking; it’s kind of her shtick (see the potato chips and pretzels in her compost cookies). So perhaps the pistachio pudding mix in her dessert doesn’t mean much.

But then Priya Krishna wrote an article for The New York Times, “The Power of Instant Pudding Mix,” in which Joshua Pinsky—the pastry chef at Claud, a restaurant and wine bar in New York City—reveals that he, too, uses pistachio pudding mix in his own version of a pistachio bundt cake. First he tried making it with just pistachios, but he says, “It didn’t have the same, I hate to say it, artificialness to it.”

And that’s precisely it.

Pistachio the nut is special because of its pale green color, its compactness, and its grassiness. Pistachio the flavor is what we recognize from the neon green tubs that colored our childhood trips to Baskin-Robbins. That bright-green artificial pistachio flavor pops up in everything from syrups that we put in our lattes (well, some people put in their lattes) to the candies our grandmother gave us to keep quiet.

Maybe the pistachio flavor that I was looking for all along wasn’t something that you need to spend a fortune on having shipped all the way from Italy. Maybe it’s been here this whole time, in the pudding aisle at the grocery store, a florescent-green powder in a little white packet.

As for what I’m going to do with all of these pistachios, I have a few ideas up my sleeve. Idea #1: Turn some of the pistachios into pistachio flour and make a cake with it. Idea #2: Make my own pistachio butter. I just paid a small fortune for almond butter and after reading a few recipes online, it seems that pistachio butter is as simple as throwing pistachios into a blender with some honey and some salt. That stuff is going to be good spread on toast with a little more honey drizzled on top.

But that’s for the American pistachios. The Italian pistachios are going to remain in the kitchen where I’ll snack on them and meditate as I chew, trying to achieve a higher plane of pistachio consciousness. Green gold, I’ll think to myself as I chew. Green gold. And then I’ll dip some in that instant pistachio pudding mix and remember what I love about pistachio in the first place.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy pistachios? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jessica
  • earn.onliej­
  • BeverlyW
Food blogger and cookbook author.


Jessica April 3, 2023
I appreciate the love for pistachio pudding, which is by far my favorite of the instant pudding mixes. Excited to try pistachio bundt cake.
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BeverlyW April 3, 2023
The most very best pistachios I have ever had I got on a Greek island with many pistachio trees all over the place. There was something magical about these pistachios - extra crispy? I don't know what it was exactly, but they were really special and memorable. It was a decent sized bag, freshly roasted and salted, and only $5!