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I have become a big fan of pistachio ice cream, and I do mean the ice cream. I feel the nuts in the store-bought containers I have gotten are to the detriment of the ice cream.

Is there some reason pistachio ice cream has to have pistachio nuts in it? Would the cream part of the ice cream (what I really like) have such a different taste if I made pistachio ice cream while skipping the "pour in pistachio nuts" step, compared to scooping around the nuts of a batch of ice cream that does have pistachio nuts in it?

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    Where I live, pistachio ice cream is a staple in all ice cream parlors, and it never contains any of the actual nuts,
    – Thomas
    Aug 30 at 12:49
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    There is no more need to have Pistachio in Pistachio icecream, than there is for Maple syrup to come from a Maple tree.
    – PcMan
    Aug 30 at 18:57
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    @PcMan If it didn't come from a Maple tree then it typically doesn't get branded as Maple Syrup. Maple Syrup is much more involved than throwing some water and sugar together so even the containers feel more high-end than your common Mrs. Butterworth's. The average person wouldn't even enjoy Maple Syrup unless lots of sugar was added. Common names include "pancake syrup", "original syrup", "waffle syrup", etc. Yes, it is common for local lexicon to make things confusing much like bandages get called "bandaids", tissues are "kleenex", paper towels are "bounty", and soda is "coke".
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 30 at 19:10
  • @MonkeyZeus - aren't bandages (the thing you wrap around many times) and Band-Aids (basically a sticker) pretty different? In my language, we use completelly different words for them, and they are both generic words, not brand specific.
    – Davor
    Sep 1 at 9:46
  • You may be interested in Malcolm Gladwell's seminal, entertaining talk about spaghetti sauce(s). Not all of them are chunky! Sep 1 at 10:17
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I was at first a bit uneasy about your question, seeing the word "need" as potentially subjective. Then I realized that the core of your question seems to be:

Would the cream part of the ice cream (what I really like) have such a different taste if I made pistachio ice cream while skipping the "pour in pistachio nuts" step

No, there will be no different taste. The flavor doesn't come from the chunks.

To give you some background: Ice cream is made in following steps.

  • Mixing a liquid base. It is what makes the "bulk" of the ice cream. Each parlor tends to have its own recipe for the "base", which usually gets made in large amounts and refrigerated.
  • Flavoring and coloring the ice cream. Depending on the flavor and the parlor's recipe, this can be natural or artificial flavoring, or the name-giving ingredient in a pureed form, or a combination. For pistachio ice cream, if you want the real deal, it is pistachios ground to a paste, analogous to peanut butter. Specifically for pistachios, it is economically unfeasible for a parlor to sell ice cream made with nothing but real ground pistachios.
  • Churning the ice cream. The flavored base gets frozen under constant agitation, to achieve the desired texture.
  • Layering the ice cream. It gets scooped out of the churning machine and placed in a container. At this stage, manufacturers can add all sorts of mix-ins, either solid ones (like your pistachio chunks) or as a syrup. This is only a kind of embellishment, the ice cream itself doesn't change after churning.

As you see, the pistachio ice cream is ready, flavor and all, when it comes out of the ice cream making machine. The chunks are additional. Thus, by your definition for "need", the answer is clear. Pistachio ice cream doesn't "need" pistachio pieces in it.

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    Currently, there are several good answers, but on closer reading, it seems that they implicitly assume that the reader already knows that the ice cream would stay the same, and go more into the direction of pointing out that there is no pistachio ice cream police which prescribes to always add the pieces :) So I added this answer as the basic information which the OP seems to be missing.
    – rumtscho
    Aug 30 at 17:53
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Short answer: no, it doesn't.

I'm actually a bit surprised by the other two answers here about (pieces of) nuts being a common ingredient. Where I'm from, pistachio ice cream usually does not contain pieces of nuts, regardless of whether the flavoring is artificial or natural. (fun fact: pistachio ice cream is usually a good indicator whether an ice cream shop is any good, because you can tell by the color if the flavoring is artificial or natural)

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    About the fun fact: if I have to tell it by color and not by taste, then it doesn't matter if it is artificial!
    – rumtscho
    Aug 30 at 8:17
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    What colour is natural pistachio ice cream? The only variety I have ever encountered is a vivid green colour, I assume the artificial stuff!
    – Greybeard
    Aug 30 at 9:10
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    @Greybeard it is a chartreuse color, slightly muddy, but still definitely green. If you never had it, it is the perfect excuse to make your own, it is a great taste!
    – rumtscho
    Aug 30 at 9:25
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    I've eaten pistachio ice cream from many sources, and it frequently has chunks of nuts in it. Not unusual at all in my experience.
    – barbecue
    Aug 30 at 12:03
  • @rumtscho Sure, but you would want to have an idea before you get to taste it. Aug 31 at 12:38
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I think adding things like nuts, chocolate, cookies, candy, etc. does two things. It adds a different texture to the ice cream, so you get a crunch or a chew or both, in addition to the smooth texture of the ice cream itself. And usually, it adds flavor when you bite into one of the pieces of chocolate or whatever you've added. Some things like chocolate add a lot of flavor when you bite into them, whereas I think things like walnuts are more about the texture. Pistachios do tend to have quite a bit of flavor in them, so yes, I think some of the flavor would be lost if you didn't put them in - and of course, the whole textural element as well. But hey, if you're making the ice cream, you can make it any way you want. ;-)

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Does pistachio ice cream need pistachio [chunks] in it?

No! You can absolutely follow a pistachio ice cream's base/custard recipe while skipping any final "pour in pistachio nuts" inclusion steps and still get the flavor you're looking for in the cream.


The (common to North America) example of B&J's "Pistachio Pistachio" flavor is a combination of a pistachio ice cream base with the addition of pistachio nut chunks as an inclusion. In pistachio-on-pistachio combos like that, the inclusion is there primarily to add a textural element whereas most of the flavor comes from the creamy base.

In typical recipes, most of that base flavor will come very early in the custard making steps from the addition of finely-chopped/ground pistachio nuts (or an extract, artificial flavoring, etc.) to the ice cream base. This part is absolutely necessary for that pistachio flavor to get into the cream of your ice cream.

The second pistachio addition of larger nuts/chunks, usually done just-before or just-after running the custard base through the ice-cream-maker (depending on device recommendations), is an optional step for the textural inclusions. Skipping this step should only really affect the mouthfeel of your finished product, rather than having any effects on the flavor of the cream itself.


Side Notes:

As a fellow pistachio-cream lover, good luck! I do still recommend trying (room temperature) nuts/chunks as a topping, though, because in that preparation the texture is more light/crunchy/crumbly rather than the hard/waxy/chewey texture that frozen pistachio chunks tend to give. (Pecan-chunks-topping-pistachio-cream being my personal favorite thus far.)

Also, if you have an Asian grocery store anywhere nearby, consider trying some Matcha/Green-Tea ice cream. It's definitely not the same thing as pistachio, but the "muted vegetal alongside vanilla" vibe is pretty similar.

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It wouldn't be pistachio ice cream if it didn't have any pistachio in it, even it is just for show as most of the flavor is probably artificial.

For example, the Coaticook pistachio ice cream (local ice cream in Québec) is made from natural and artificial flavors and also contains some pistachio pieces.

Most of the recipes I've googled for use almond flavor as the main flavor in the ice cream.

I assume most commercial ice cream follow the same kind of recipes.

I also assume smaller artisan ice cream makers will do things differently.

Anyway, do as you wish, you are the Joe Di Maggio of your pistachio ice cream (to quote Chef John).

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    “I wouldn't be pistachio ice cream if it didn't have any pistachio in it” — Excellent real pistachio ice cream can be made with ground or creamed pistachios, or pistachio extract. OP seems to be asking — if I understand them right — about whole pistachios or chunks, which certainly aren’t necessary.
    – PLL
    Aug 30 at 10:56
  • might as well call it almond extract icecream without the nuts.
    – rtaft
    Aug 31 at 12:26

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