The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed a grading scale for United States pistachios, almost all of which come from California. Similar to almond grades, the scale ranges from US Fancy to US Select, with US Select being the lowest. For shelled pistachios, the grade is based not only on foreign materials, mold, and insect damage, but also shell stains and non-split shells. Pistachio shells naturally open with a split when mature. And though some stains are natural, darker stains occur when pistachios are harvested too late. Artificially opened pistachios are graded differently as well.
Fun Fact: shelled pistachios or kernels are usually the result from pistachios that aren't fully mature and didn't open naturally. The shells had to be cracked by machine and sorted differently.
Sizing is another important factor with pistachios. Pistachios go through sorting machines after they are hulled and dried. The larger sizes are harder to come by, fewer in numbers, and command a higher market price. Most pistachios are sold at the 24/25 range, meaning you can get 24 to 25 shelled pistachios per ounce prior to roasting. This isn't bad but it's a massive difference when you see 18/20 sizes compared to 24/25 ones.
True California only offers US No.1 pistachios or better. To be honest, organic pistachios are very hard to come by, so even though we would like to get the highest grade and largest sizes, there's simply not enough orchards in the US that produce organic pistachios to that level. We do strive to source the larger pistachios closer to 21/23 but this can vary from season to season. Rest assured that our pistachios are never bleached or altered, they're presented as mother nature intended!
Next time you're at your local market, take a look at a bag of pistachios. Check the size and the shell colors. Are they smaller than others? Do they have debris in the packaging? Do they all look a little too picture perfect? And though the taste and crunch of a raw pistachio can vary from orchard to orchard, size and color help as a first criteria for quality. At True California, we sample all our products before packaging to make sure not only the color and sizes are of a higher grade but to also ensure that the rich flavors and fresh textures shine through as well. We strive to achieve a quality you can taste!
Please take a look at the infographics below, courtesy of the American Pistachios Organization. If you're interested in learning more, visiting the American Pistachio Growers site is a great first step: