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)
101%*
Prep. Time 4 hours N/A
Cost Per Gram of Seeds 2.664 ¢/g 2.174 ¢/g
Winner  

*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

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2 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!

    Thanks!

  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.

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