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What Is Pistachio Ice Cream?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ice cream comes in a variety of fun and tasty flavors, and pistachio ice cream is a variation made with pistachio nuts. Pistachio nuts are related to the cashew and naturally feature a green tint. These nuts have been cultivated and consumed for thousands of years. In addition to eating handfuls of the nuts plain, cooking with pistachios includes making pistachio pudding and adding the nuts to salads, pastries, and other dishes. The most popular use of the nuts, however, may well be their addition in pistachio ice cream.

The invention of pistachio ice cream dates back to around 1940 and is normally credited to James Wood Parkinson, an American cook based in Philadelphia in the 19th century. Modern pistachio ice cream recipes have evolved since then and include recipes that include the Philadelphia or French style of ice cream making. Sometimes called American-style ice cream, the Philadelphia form of ice cream making differs from the French ice cream style by not requiring eggs and not starting with a custard base. Instead, the base of the ice cream is made through churning milk, sugar, and cream together along with other additional ingredients.

Making pistachio ice cream starts with preparing the nuts. Most recipes use whole-shelled pistachios that have been left unsalted to avoid salt overpowering the finished treat. If nuts will be added to the ice cream base, they can first be finely chopped by using a food processor. The nuts can also be toasted for a few minutes prior to use to enhance their flavor and to help them maintain their crunch when added to the soft ice cream base. To assist in grinding the nuts, a small amount of oil like olive oil may be used to get the nuts smooth.

When making a Philadelphia-style pistachio based ice cream, the ground nuts can be heated along with sugar and whole milk. This step may be avoided when making other ice cream flavors but is often used for the pistachio ice cream to make sure all of the sugar is melted and to ensure the pistachios provide an intense flavor. Once fully chilled, whipping cream, vanilla extract, and any additional ingredients can be added to the nutty mixture.

For custard-style pistachio ice cream, the milk is boiled, and then egg yolks and sugar can be whisked into the hot milk. Although some pistachio-based ice creams do not add pistachio flavor into the ice cream base, the majority tend to do so. In such recipes, the ground pistachios can be added directly to the cooking custard by combining the chopped nuts along with sugar, milk, and cream to form a pistachio cream. Egg yolks and salt can then be added to the custard to allow it to thicken. After the mixture is cooled, it can be poured through a strainer to remove the pistachios and any clumps.

Once the American-style, or custard-style, pistachio ice cream base is made, it can be churned in an ice cream maker. After the ice cream is semi-frozen, whole or chopped toasted pistachios can be added. The pistachio ice cream can then be placed in a freezer-safe container and allowed to chill for several hours until it firms up and is ready to enjoy. The final result tends to be cool, dense, and creamy with a rich nutty flavor enhanced by the chopped pistachios sprinkled throughout the desert.

As a specialty ice cream flavor, it is possible to find a few brands of the nutty ice cream prepackaged in stores. It is not as available in supermarkets as more common varieties, however, like chocolate and vanilla. Many ice cream eateries, however, tend to offer their own versions of the sweet, nutty treat. Going with a homemade version is also an option.

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Discussion Comments
By Inaventu — On Jun 14, 2014

I've just about given up on finding pistachio ice cream in the stores, so I now make my own homemade pistachio ice cream at least once a year. It's not always easy to find unsalted pistachio nuts or pistachio flavor, but I find the added saltiness actually enhances the flavor, like salted caramel. A local bakery supply store usually has the pistachio flavor I need.

If I ever find a frozen custard stand offering pistachio as a flavor of the day, however, I will definitely stop in and buy a quart to go. My kids thought it was mint because of the green color, but I told them it was actually pistachio and they liked it. Sometimes I'll add chopped pistachios to other flavors of ice cream just to give them a little more kick.

By AnswerMan — On Jun 14, 2014

I haven't seen pistachio ice cream at my grocery store in years. I guess they don't sell enough of it to justify putting it in the freezer. I went through the same thing with another favorite, rum raisin. Pistachio is such a great ice cream flavor, though. I've found it in ice cream cake form from time to time, mostly at specialty ice cream shops. I think Ben and Jerry's offers a pistachio flavor, too.

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