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I have eaten pistachio nuts (roasted, salted) many times and I like it. I also like pistachio flavoured ice cream, but I don't find it much similar. If it wasn't named like that, I would probably not make the connection at all.

Why is the flavour so different? Is it similar to "Banana" flavoured ice cream, which often uses some chemical compounds supposed to taste like banana, but which doesn't really either?

  • One thing to note is that many pistach ice creams have coloring to make them green which also suggests a lower quality nut. If you eat a high quality ice cream with Brone pistachio it will naturally be green without the need for coloring and thus a higher quality nut. So look for ice creams with no coloring. – Viktor Mellgren Jun 3 at 10:53
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    Lots of derivatives from nuts don't taste much like the nut, from peanut oil to cashew cream to almond milk. At any rate you might consider adding crushed pistachios on top as a garnish and flavor enhancer. – eps Jun 3 at 15:19
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    @eps as another example, consider the difference in flavour between salted almonds and marzipan. – Nathaniel Jun 4 at 4:37
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    I cordially invite you to visit Finland and have a taste of 3 Friends' Pistachio & Pistachio icecream, which very much tastes like salted roasted pistachios, the ones you would typically eat by openings the shells yourself. It contains actual pistachios and no artificial flavours or aromas. One 500 ml tub costs 6€ in the grocery store. 3friends.com/product/pistachio-pistachio – Teemu Jun 4 at 10:28
  • This is going to vary wildly between icecream producers. A cheap gallon bucket of budget-tier icecream foam will taste completely different from a 500ml top-shelf or specialty icecream. It's a bit like comparing a Kraft cheese to parmigiano-reggiano. One is an industrial terror that's barely food, the other is an artisanal creation. Which of these are you talking about? Where did you find this pistachio icecream you're asking about? – J... Jun 4 at 11:33
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Firstly, let me disagree and say that I have tasted some (amazing) pistachio ice creams that tasted very much like the actual nuts. That said, I can think of several reasons why the ice cream might taste differently from the nuts:

  • Artificial flavours, like you suggest. You might be able to figure out from the ingredients list if these are used.
  • Salt. If you have only eaten salted pistachio nuts, you might have a different benchmark for pistachio flavour. Salt is a flavour enhancer, after all.
  • Temperature. The temperature of food and drinks radically changes how it is perceived when tasting. This is why (bad) coffee is OK when hot, but terrible when at room temperature, and why melted ice cream tastes much sweeter than the frozen stuff.

A final side note, which I include mostly because I find it interesting: I used to think 'banana flavour' was based on a different type of banana than commonly found in stores. Doing some searching for this question, it turns out I was wrong.

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    Salty vs sweet is a good point but seems more complex than just salt enhancing flavour. You can observe similar effects with other nuts e.g. I'm familiar with it from almonds. – Chris H Jun 3 at 7:42
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    Interesting reading about the banana flavour. I still remember making the 'pear-drops' ester in chemistry at school :) – SiHa Jun 3 at 10:58
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    The article you link actually concludes that common artificial banana flavoring really does taste like Gros Michael...so I'm not sure why they claim that it is a myth. – user3067860 Jun 3 at 13:52
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    @LSchoon That's just a misstatement of the original article that made that claim. So depending on your definition of "myth" the myth may be false or true. If by myth you mean the original claim then the "myth" is true: the banana ester was identified as banana flavor by people who grew up eating Gros Michael. If by "myth" you mean the distorted version of the claim that chemists have a process to fine tune a specific chemical formula to taste like a specific flavor then it is false. – slebetman Jun 3 at 14:36
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    ... The development of artificial flavoring (including artificial sweetners) goes like this: taste a chemical and think what it reminds you of - if it reminds you of something then label it that and sell it as such. If the banana ester was being tested today it would most likely not be labelled as banana because it would not remind the people tasting it of bananas. – slebetman Jun 3 at 14:37
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This adds a couple more slightly speculative reasons to L.Schoon's list, which I commend.

Solubility: In ice cream, the pistachios are blended in with water and fats. When you eat them whole they're not. Any fat-soluble flavour compounds will be much more available in the ice cream than when chewed (and mixed with saliva, i.e. water). Some flavour compounds are definitely much more fat-soluble than water-soluble, such as capsaicin. Actual sugar and salt are of course very soluble in water.

Mouthfeel: this has a complex interaction with taste, but is all part of the experience of eating - think of the difference between buttered toast, dry toast, toast with jam (with/without butter).

These actually overlap in practice, and there's a whole field of scientific literature on the subject; one relevant paper is Effect of Fat Level on the Perception of Five Flavor Chemicals in Ice Cream With or Without Fat Mimetics by Using a Descriptive Test. The main conclusion for this question is that some flavour compounds were detected more strongly in full-fat ice cream, while others were detected more strongly in reduced fat recipes.

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Most pistachio ice creams are made with some, if not most or even all, almond and almond flavoring in addition to pistachio flavoring. That is largely due to the cost difference in the two products, as well as the difficulty in processing pistachios, and probably also the fact that almond flavoring is common and generally well tolerated (by people not allergic to it, anyway!). The almond may be hiding behind "natural flavors", as the most common almond flavor (Bitter Almond, or Benzaldehyde) (which also doesn't taste like the almonds you might eat, which are sweet almonds).

For example, even Ben and Jerry's Pistachio Pistachio ice cream contains some almond flavoring!

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    It's not just icecream. I've had pistachio muffins that are delicious, and i can taste and smell the almond extract, and they use walnuts for the nuts, not a hint of pistachio in them. – rtaft Jun 4 at 14:53

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