Why Are Pistachios So Expensive?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018
heart of the desert pistachios new mexico

Pistachios are one of the world’s healthiest and maybe tastiest nuts. Their distinctive green fruits crop up in everything from salads to entrees and desserts. They may be most popular on their own, as a midday snack: dry-roasted and lightly salted to perfection. Cracking the nuts out of their shells is almost as satisfying as the flavor itself, which is rich, nutty, a little earthy with a touch of sweetness. There really is no other nut like them.

Whether you’re a fan of pistachios or not, if you’ve ever purchased them, you’ve probably wondered about the price. Pistachios come in at a higher price point than nuts like almonds or peanuts. There’s not only one good reason for it, but several.

Pistachios Only Grow In A Few Places

Pistachio trees are a native desert plant and can survive in poor soil with adverse weather conditions, if there’s enough root drainage. They do have two requirements: cool winters (a thousand hours under 45 degrees, but the ground can’t freeze) and long, hot summers with low humidity for proper ripening. Surprisingly, this really limits the areas of the world where they can be grown. Iran has long been a top producer, along with other countries of the Middle East, the San Joaquin Valley in California, southeastern Arizona, and the high desert of New Mexico. 98% of the US crop is grown in California.

Pistachio Trees Take A Long Time to Mature

Once you’ve found a suitably arid location for a pistachio orchard, it takes four to five years for the tree to start bearing. Producing just a handful of nuts in the beginning, it takes 15 -20 years to reach peak production.

Individual Trees Don’t Produce Many Nuts

Once again, you’ve found the perfect planting site and waited two decades for maturation, now, each female pistachio tree will only produce about forty pounds of dry, hulled nuts. Like any other crop, weather conditions must be just right, or the amount of production will be affected. The male trees (the pollinator), do not bear nuts. The number of pollinators can range from 10% to 15% of the total trees in the grove.

Peak Production Is Only Every Other Year

Pistachios are “alternate bearing”, which means one year the tree has full production, followed by a year of lower production, when it stores nutrition for the upcoming year.

Pistachios Are A Labor-Intensive Crop

In the United States, machines are used to harvest and process the nuts, but humans are running and supervising the equipment, loading and unloading the pistachios. The most intricate process is the last step of quality control, when the nuts are hand sorted to ensure that only the highest quality of nuts are packaged.

Bottom line, the growing and harvesting of pistachios is an elaborate, time and labor- intensive process with no opportunities for cutting corners along the way.

If this article has made you crave some fresh pistachios, you can purchase them from Heart of the Desert, based in a little-known place called Alamogordo, New Mexico, population 31,000, where the summers are hot and dry and the winters are cool, but not too cold.

Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico. They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines. Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings. They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.