Wonderful Pistachios: Should You Buy Them In The Shell?

Pistachios Bag

I’m a sucker for a good deal, so when I see delicious food at Sam’s Club, I have to resist the urge to stuff it into the already-packed shopping cart. But the last time we went to Sam’s, I saw that Wonderful Pistachios (the brand, although they are inherently wonderful) come in a 3-pound bag in the shell or a 1.5-pound bag already de-shelled.

The Question

Which bag has the lowest cost per unit of pistachio seeds? To clarify, a pistachio seed is what is inside the shell. So for our purposes moving forward, you should assume that when I say seed, I mean a shelled pistachio.

The Hypothesis

I hypothesize that the 3-pound bag of unshelled (shells on) pistachios will have a lower cost per unit of seeds than the 1.5-pound bag of shelled (shells pre-removed) pistachios.

  1. Removing shells takes additional processing at the factory.
  2. Additional processing requires additional engineering, factory workers, machinery, and maintenance.
  3. Those extras cost additional money.
  4. Companies pass extra costs on to consumers, especially when it makes the product more convenient for the consumer.
  5. Pistachios that come pre-shelled are more convenient for the consumer.
  6. Therefore, the cost per unit of seeds will be higher for a product that is more convenient for the consumer and takes more resources to produce for the company.

The Experiment

I decided to put an end to my curiosity by removing the shells from an entire 3-pound bag and weighing the resultant seeds. I was extremely careful to fully separate the seed from its shell and “husk” (the paper-like cover that surrounds many of the seeds after you remove the shell). I captured all of the shells and husks in one bin and all of the seeds in another. The entire process took about four solid hours which I completed over the course of two weeks as I watched TV. My thumbs were so sore from the combination of the salt and sharp edges of the shells that I had to take at least a day off between each session. Until…my new favorite tool arrived in the mail, after which I promptly finished off the bag and excitedly began the weighing process.

The Results

Turns out my hypothesis was totally wrong!

  3-pound bag
(in shell)
1.5-pound bag
(seeds only)
Cost $17.98 $14.98
Weight 1361 g 680 g
Weight of Shells 720 g N/A
Weight of Seeds 675 g 689 g*
Percent Yield 50% (of advertised)
48% (of actual)
Prep. Time 4 hours N/A
Cost Per Gram of Seeds 2.664 ¢/g 2.174 ¢/g

*I assumed that the actual yield of seeds in the 1.5-pound bag was 10% (68 g) less than the advertised weight (680 g). This follows my typical experience with weights on consumer packaged goods. When my pistachios run out, I’ll buy the pre-shelled bag and weigh it so I have an actual figure. Update: I bought the pre-shelled pistachios. To my surprise, the weight of the seeds was actually more than they advertised on the bag. It was supposed to be 1.5 pounds (680 g) but turned out to be 689 g! So the cost is now even lower per gram of seeds than I had initially posted.

What should you do?

Buy the pre-shelled pistachios! You will save approximately four hours of your life and also spend less money. Win-win! So unless you are a glutton for punishment, just take the easy way out. For once, it’s the smart thing to do.

Glamor Shots

Shells from the 3-pound bag in a Krispy Kreme box.
Shells from the 3-pound bag in a Krispy Kreme box
All of the seeds from the 3-pound bag
All of the seeds from the 3-pound bag

13 thoughts on “Wonderful Pistachios: Should You Buy Them In The Shell?”

  1. Absolutely Amazed! I was getting sick of shelling pistachios, but figured I was saving money (I saw the same thing, at Sam’s in fact). I decided to see if anyone on the internet had looked into this and I was delighted to find this blog!


  2. I prefer the pistachios in the shell because it takes longer to eat. You cannot just pop a handful of them in your mouth. If I ever acquire the self-control to eat the seeds slowly and in small amounts, then I will graduate to them.

  3. I think you have the prices mixed up. When I look at my sam’s club information, the price now for unshelled is $15.98 and that’s for a 2.5 pound bag and the shelled ones are $17.14 for 1.5 pounds.

  4. Wonderful must have wised up. Maybe they are still cheaper elsewhere, but on Amazon, the cost of the un-shelled 2 lb. is $17.31, while the shelled 1.5 lb. is $28.49! Wish I could find the latter at $14.98. What a difference a year makes.

  5. I performed the same test and came up with similar results. However, it seems to me that in-shell pistachios taste fresher than the shelled ones. Maybe the shells absorb some of the moisture so the seeds don’t. Hard to say. In any event, I buy them in the shell even though it costs a little (23%) more.

  6. Many years ago in my life most people equated or conceived
    that Pistachios outer shell was red. At that time these nuts were
    exported from Iran. These nuts were smaller in size. Over time
    they were cultivated in California and gained a foothold and would
    take over on the markets. I use both Pistachios and Walnuts to make
    Baklava. The Pistachios give the Baklava a light greenish highlight.
    I also remember the old timers in my family making the Filo sheets
    from scratch. Bear in mind that Butter at that time was salted and
    had to be clarified to be brushed on the Filo Leaves as they were stacked. In those times teams of woman visited to get the job done.
    Today this process is a lot easier. However the right brand or type
    of honey makes a big difference and how it is blended as the syrup
    for. Once I have the components layered in a baking pan. I cut
    measured rows and cross rows and then angle cut for each piece.
    I put the pan in the freezer for a time to prevent the layers from
    shifting. I am now 75 years and the work is worth it even though
    I Get cramps. I can imagine what my parents went through.
    On the bottom line I prefer the shelled, the other way may be
    appropriate or for me arthritis, now older is no joy.

    Thank You

  7. Thanks for this test. I was just at Costco – I don’t remember the prices – but I wondered which would be the better deal. In trying to find this information, I saw that pistachios in the shell stay fresher, longer, which is also a consideration.

  8. I am doing the same experiment myself, although I am only saving the shells & husks. I figure I can just check unit price per vs unit price. i will then deduct the weight of the shells off the weight on the bag and see what the cost is per bag by the lb vs price per lb of the other bag. Maybe I am wrong, guess I will find that out at the end. If anyone sees a fatal flaw in my thinking, please let me know at redsoxfaninfl@gmail.com…thanks. I don’t mind doing the shelling as Scooter said in 2014, self control plays into it. Me it is the 2nd most major point for me, the first being salt, to me the shelled pistachios are very salty and they seem to get soft and chewy not a good thing..yuk.
    So when I know I will come back & repost on the subject, so keep looking out for me or email me direct…thanks..p.s. give me a good month as I am trying to loose weight and do not want to over due it.

  9. Though difficult to explain (or remember the explanation if there is one) why shell-on tastes fresh, shell-off is chewier and stale. Even though the shells are open, perhaps the husks etc preserve them somehow. It’s surprising that this aspect is not more widely stated and noticed..it renders the shelled/unshelled comparison almost moot. For cooking etc, maybe the per-shelled, for snacking I will never again them.

  10. As strange as it sounds, we could even theorize that supply and demand, perhaps owing the fresher-tasting shells-on, may sometimes drive pre-shelled prices down. If there was a way to preserve freshness of the pre-shelled, idk, like vacuum-pack them or something in portion sized bags etc, I would go for that.

  11. There is an immediate taste difference between pistachios that were sold in their shells and ones that come deshelled. Pistachios with the shell taste much, much better. That’s all there is to it. I’ve never once seen anyone argue to the contrary, and the only thing people mention when speaking in favor of deshelled pistachios is that they’re easier to eat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *