How Pistachio Became the New Go-to Flavor

Once relegated to pastries and pastel-colored ice cream, the pistachio is now enjoying its time in the spotlight

If you visit a coffee shop right now, I almost guarantee there is a pistachio-flavored drink on the menu. 

That’s been the case at Starbucks for four years since launching the original pistachio latte in 2019. This winter, the global coffee chain’s seasonal menu features the return of the fan-favorite Pistachio Latte and the new Pistachio Cream Cold Brew.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The new handcrafted Starbucks Pistachio Cream Cold Brew features Starbucks Cold Brew sweetened with vanilla syrup and is topped with silky pistachio cream cold foam and salted brown-buttery sprinkles,” a news release said. “The Pistachio Cream Cold Brew builds on customers’ love of the Pistachio Latte and the popularity of cold coffee year-round.”

Rosalyn Batingan, a member of the Starbucks beverage team, wrote for the company that “pistachio is the perfect flavor to follow the holidays and carry us through the winter season”—and other brands seem to agree. From local coffee shops to flavor-makers to perfume companies, pistachio has morphed into the new go-to flavor.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’m delighted by the development. I tried the Starbucks drinks and enjoyed both; the nuttiness was there but it was subtle and there was no overt sweetness so anyone who is especially spooked of saccharine coffees need not be alarmed. The foam itself was nuanced but rich and I thought the more reserved flavors really elevated the drinks.

But my interest in the rise of pistachio is a little more personal, too. 

While to me, shelling pistachios always felt like a bit of a laborious process and so they were never my favorite snack—until we visited two pistachio groves near Almadagaro, New Mexico.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For whatever reason, in the United States, nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts seem to attract more attention than pistachios. To me, pistachios now hold the spotlight along with pecans. 

Lately, however, there seems to have been a shift. Never did I think to connect pistachio with winter— but as evidenced by the scads of companies now offering pistachio flavored and scented products, there seems to be a growing subsection of people doing just that. This caused me to ask: is pistachio the new, seasonal flavor of winter?

Pistachio grove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio’s current ascendancy isn’t entirely unexpected, though; in 2015, Eater reported that Bartenders across the country are going nuts over pistachio cocktails

Sure, the almond sees tons of love in cocktails. With a distinctive sweetness, it’s immortalized in classics like the Mai Tai and Amaretto Sour. But, lately, the more subtle pistachio is inspiring bartenders from coast to coast. Drink makers are not only rimming glasses with crushed green nuts but creating syrups, foams, orgeat and even infusing whiskey, sherry, and brandy. 

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the time, multiple bars had begun incorporating pistachio flavor into their cocktails. At Gunshow in Atlanta, cocktail conductor Mercedes O’Brien turned her favorite pistachio strawberry pastry into a fun Boulevardier while Christiaan Rollich at AOC in Los Angeles uses pistachio syrup to provide the body and balance to the sour mix of absinthe, Green Chartreuse, and lime. NYC’s Booker and Dax created a frothy texture when shaken by bartender Dee Ann Quinones extracted the pistachio nut milk resulting in a creamy pistachio flavor and texture. Also in New York City, Mace’s Nico de Soto offers a cocktail with pistachio oil-washed vodka, espresso, and cardamom syrup to capture the flavors of Turkish coffee with baklava.

In the ensuing years, pistachio’s popularity has continued to grow. 

Eagle Ranch Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Andrea Ramirez, the manager of consumer and customer market insight at Torani, since launching the brand’s pistachio syrup in April 2018 sales have grown by double digits every year. In general, pistachio benefits from its familiarity and affinity. It has wide consumer recognition (94 percent of consumers know it and 80 percent have tried it) and 68 percent like it or love it.

She described the flavor by saying that it has “an inherent familiarity.” 

“It’s the kind of flavor of pistachio you might find in a pistachio cream puff,” Ramirez said. “It’s got a hint of marzipan-like nuttiness and sweet fragrance that’s both novel and familiar. It’s a flavor that pairs very nicely with Chocolate and Caramel.”

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Ramirez, pistachios have come a long way over the years. For a long time, they were only available in-shell and when they were served at restaurants, they were available in specific contexts like “baklava in a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurant or maybe in the Spumoni ice cream or cannoli at an Italian restaurant.”

Now, though, we have mainstream access to pistachio as a flavor, primarily in drinks, Ramirez said. 

Pistachio products © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This point was echoed by Kristen Wemer, the chief technical officer at Flavorman—a food and beverage consultancy based in Louisville, Kentucky—who said that pistachio flavoring is “one of those flavors that’s new to specific categories but still familiar to the public’s palate…what’s exciting is using the flavor in new applications especially lattes and cocktails.” 

Colectivo Coffee Roasters—which has numerous locations in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago—is one of the companies applying pistachio flavor in this new format, specifically in their pistachio matcha latte. 

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

D.S. & Durga—a Brooklyn-based, husband-and-wife helmed company makes immersive fragrances. An Instagram post announcing the return says that the cult classic pistachio product is “back by popular demand” and “joining the line full time.”

As noted by the Pistachio perfume product page, the top notes are pistachio and cardamom, the heart notes are “more pistachio and roasted almond” while the base notes are “even more pistachio, patchouli, and vanilla creme.” Elsewhere on the page, the company notes “I think pistachio is an elegant nut. Also a fun nut! It’s around good climes and everyone seems to dig it. We made this on a whim; a fragrance with no story that just evokes the fun of pistachio (especially as a dessert flavor). It was a studio juice (limited edition of 100 bottles). People went nuts for the concept (pun somewhat intended) and we knew we had to add it to the line.” 

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The perfume is also getting some top-tier ratings and reviews on the Reddit page r/fragrance.

Clearly, what may have once been deemed a relatively quiet nut has clearly found its voice.  Perhaps, as Perfectly Daily Grind notes, pistachio milk (in the vein of almond or oat milk) might even be next on the horizon?

No matter what it is about pistachio that is causing people to now flock to it, it’s great to see a sudden resurgence of appreciation for the flavor which was once relegated to a nutty ice cream.

But now things have changed and I’m happy about that. 

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Worth Pondering…

The pistachio: it’s just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that’s when the nuts come out.

―Stephen Colbert