Remember when you were a kid and pistachio shells were red? Did you ever think that red was their natural color? Did it make you just a little nervous to eat a nut that came out of a shell that looked like a cousin of an M-80 firecracker?
Maybe it was just me.
I recall buying those red-shelled nuts in tubular plastic bags at the Lucky’s Supermarket, down the street from my folks’ house. I also remember that every fifth or sixth nut was a bad one and tasted like I’d bitten into something that fell out of an ogre’s navel along with several pounds of stale lint. What… were the people who grew those nuts trying to kill us?
The fact is, those red pistachios came from the Middle East, specifically Greece, Syria and Iran. You make the call. Because the cultivation methods marred the shells, they painted them red to cover the blemishes and to make them prettier. I just thought they looked scary, myself—not that that kept me from eating them by the sack full.
Today, most of the pistachios sold in American stores are American grown, right here in California. They got a lot better at harvesting the nuts (which, technically, are not really nuts, but that isn’t important) and no longer leave marks on the shells, so there’s no need to dye them anymore. Then again, it’s likely that one of the thousands of environmental laws forbids this practice as well, as the die may be toxic to some variety of gnat or bacteria that is endangered, struggling on the brink of extinction, its numbers reduced to mere millions.
But I digress (I do that a lot, don’t I?). This article is about where to buy pistachios; more than that, where to buy the best pistachios. There can be but one answer to this question… and I’ll get to it, eventually.
You can buy quality, organically grown pistachios at any natural food stores, but if you like them salted, you may have to salt them yourselves, as the “health conscious” have found many reasons to berate my good friend the saltshaker. Of course, every supermarket and convenience store in the country sells pistachios (and some still in the tubular plastic bags, probably still imported from Iran), but you take a chance when it comes to quality every time you buy those. Maybe every fourth or fifth nut isn’t nasty tasting, but every bag has more than a few duds. The least expensive quality pistachios I have found are sold through Trader Joe’s. They sell them in rather large bags and I have found a much lower good nut-to-dud ratio; but then again, Trader Joe’s is synonymous with “quality” if you ask me.
Oddly enough, the very best pistachios I have tried came from three of my local supermarkets: Von’s, Ralph’s and Albertson’s, but they aren’t sold with the impulse items at the checkout stand. Well, they do sell pistachios there, but they aren’t the good ones. For these, you have to visit the produce section. If you look hard enough (or get smart and ask one of the produce guys), you’ll see a stand beside the vegetable bins filled with little black plastic bags that say PISTACHIOS in big letters right below the word “Wonderful”. The word is not used as an adjective in this case, but as a noun, specifically as a brand name. Wonderful Pistachios live up to their name. Tender, sweet, perfectly salted and nary a dud to be found in any bag, they explode with that fantastic rich, nutty flavor. When I buy a bag (usually between $4-5; they are not cheap), I scarf down the whole thing and grin a green toothy smile until I brush my teeth.
The next time you’re filling your cart at the supermarket and you find that you have five extra bucks that you don’t know what to do with (like that ever happens), grab yourself a bag of Wonderful Pistachios. You won’t regret it… unless you’re one of those freaks who hates pistachios, in which case why are you reading this article?