Pistachios are one of the world’s most beloved nuts. Their distinctive green fruits crop up in everything from salads to hot dishes and desserts, though they may be most popular on their own as a midday snack: dry-roasted and lightly salted to perfection. The ritual of cracking the nuts out of their cream-colored shells is almost as satisfying as the flavor itself, which is impressive, given the uniqueness of their rich, nutty, earthy taste. The taste is almost impossible to describe, and there’s really no other ingredient like them.
But whether you’re a fan of pistachios or not, if you’ve ever purchased them, you’ve probably experienced sticker shock. Pistachios come in at a much higher price point than nuts like almonds, cashews, or peanuts. Most of us love the pistachio so much that we won’t let a few extra dollars per pound become an obstacle, but it’s still something that many are curious about: Why exactly are pistachios so expensive?
As it turns out, there’s not only one good reason for it, but several, so you’ll never be stumped by this phenomenon again.
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They Are Only Grown In A Few Places
Pistachio trees are hardy and can survive in poor soil and adverse weather conditions as long as there’s enough root drainage, but they do have two requirements: cool winters to break bud dormancy and long, hot summers with low humidity for proper ripening. This limits the areas of the world where they can be grown to three main locations—Turkey, Iran and California—which in turn limits production.
Pistachio Trees Take A Long Time To Mature
(Image: Paolo Galli)
Even once you’ve found a suitably arid location for a pistachio orchard, you can’t expect the trees to produce fruit right away. In fact, it takes six or seven years for the plant to produce fruit at all, and 15 or 20 to reach “full bearing,” or peak production.
Each Tree Doesn’t Produce Many Nuts
Once again, even once you’ve found the perfect planting site and waited two decades for maturation, in a good year, each pistachio tree only produces about fifty pounds of dry, hulled nuts.
And It’s Only Every Other Year
Oh did we mention that the yield isn’t the same from year to year? Pistachio trees operate on what’s called “biennial bearing,” which means that a year in which a tree produces a large amount of nuts will typically be followed by a lower-production year, and vice versa. It’s only every other year that the trees are reaching their full potential.
Sorting Requires Human Labor
Finally, once pistachios are grown and harvested, they have to be sorted by hand. Since so many nuts are lost to mold and bitterness, the job is too intricate to be completed by a machine.
Bottom line, the growing and harvesting of pistachios is an elaborate, time-intensive, labor-intensive process with no opportunities for cutting corners along the way. So while we can’t offer a more cost-efficient idea for sourcing pistachios, we can assure you the work that goes into bringing them to your local supermarket makes them well worth the price. And in case this article has made you crave some fresh pistachios, take note of this great tip from Plated’s head chef Elana Karp:
“The ones whose shells are still closed, or are really hard to open, are actually not mature, so don’t bother struggling to get the nut out—it’s not worth eating anyway.”
The more you know!
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