Pistachio is a flavor we all love and know, or, at least, we think we know—because, in reality, pistachio is one of the hardest flavors to define, describe, and recreate in extract form.
After my favorite pistachio extract was discontinued, I started looking for a suitable replacement. A task which turned out to be far more difficult than I anticipated. I ended up buying nine (yes, 9!) different pistachio extracts and decided to pit them against each other to find out which one had the best pistachio flavor.
Unlike vanilla, lemon, or even almond which is a very clear and defined flavor (we all know what vanilla tastes like, and while various vanilla extracts can vary in quality and intensity, they still taste like vanilla), pistachio is much more subjective (I mean, be honest, how you would describe pistachio flavor?)
The prevalence of fake pistachio flavor has further skewed our perception of what pistachio actually tastes like, which in reality is mildly sweet, nutty and earthy, and sometimes even a bit piney, woody or herbaceous depending on the freshness and variety. Toasting the nuts changes the flavor profile entirely: toasted pistachios will be less bitter and grassy-tasting, and more buttery and toasty than their raw counterparts.
Did you know: pistachios are from the same botanical family as mangoes and cashews?
Because the natural flavor of pistachios is so mild and easily overpowered by other ingredients like chocolate and butter, I like to add a bit of pistachio extract to any pistachio-flavored treats or desserts to play up the pistachio flavor.
However, I’ve found that pistachio extracts vary wildly in terms of their flavor notes and overall pistachio-ness. It is very hard (well-nigh impossible) to find a pistachio extract that tastes like actual pistachios.
The nine brands we tried were all over the board. No two tasted remotely alike. From orange to almond to marshmallow to cherry, these extracts tasted like pretty much everything except pistachio.
I do think in most cases the pistachio extract does enhance the natural pistachio flavor in a recipe (assuming your recipe actually has pistachios in it in the form of whole/chopped nuts, pistachio flour or pistachio butter). So even if the extract itself doesn’t taste exactly like real pistachios, it will still improve the final product, so it’s definitely worth using in that regard.
Based on the flavor notes we detected in many of these extracts, you could probably also get away with using vanilla extract mixed with almond extract and get similar results. Do with that information what you will.
Disclaimer: I was gifted some of these products from the respective brands, but purchased all the others. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Prices are shown as of June 2023 and may be subject to change.
To test the extracts, we labeled each bottle A-I. I made a triple batch of my pistachio amaretti cookies and divided the dough it into 10 bowls with a few drops of extract to each bowl (one was my control batch which had no extract).
We tasted the raw cookie dough as well as the final baked cookies, making notes about the flavor profiles present and how much each one tasted like actual pistachios (spoiler: most of them tasted fine, but nothing like actual pistachios).
Both Taylor and I taste tested the final cookies, and we also gave some to our friends Phillip and Billy for a second opinion. While we all agreed on the top two, the rest of the lot was sort of divisive. (They didn’t test the Beanilla extract which arrived after I had completed the first test batch of cookies and rounded out my personal top 4.)
I wish I had some of the discontinued Watkins pistachio extract to compare with (still linking it here just in case it comes back in stock in the future), but alas, I used the last of it earlier this year and haven’t been able to replace it (Watkins if you’re reading this PLEASE bring back your pistachio extract! I’ll buy a dozen bottles!) If my memory serves, it was very almond-forward but with a richer, butterier undertone. I adore anything and everything almond which is probably why I loved it. The Beanilla extract was probably the closest to the discontinued Watkins in terms of flavor and aroma.
Most of these extracts weren’t very pistachio-y on their own, but in most cases helped to enhance the natural pistachio flavor (from, say, pistachio flour or pistachio butter). But if you just added some extract to something that didn’t have any real pistachios in it, I don’t think you’d be able to pinpoint any real pistachio taste whatsoever (except maybe the Amoretti extract, but you’d need quite a lot of it to do that).
Testing Results: The Winners
While we didn’t have a single definitive winner, these first four extracts were our overall favorites. They do vary quite a bit in terms of overall flavor profile, so whichever one you choose will depend on your specific tastes and the recipe in which it will be used.
LorAnn SS Pistachio Flavor
Color: Brownish clear
Smell: Almond, alcohol
Taste: Cherry, Almond, Vanilla
Price: $7.66 for a 1oz bottle
One of our favorites! Slightly less vanilla-forward than the Dolce Foglia, with a rich, buttery flavor and notes of cherry and almond. I think this one tastes a lot like what you expect pistachio gelato to taste like.
This is billed as a super strength (SS) flavoring oil and is very concentrated, so I recommend using half or even a quarter of the amount of extract called for in a recipe. (We accidentally put the same amount as the other extracts in our first test batch of cookies and the flavor almost burned. So I definitely recommend starting with a little; you can always add more.)
Don’t confuse with the LorAnn Bakery Emulsion, which was one of our least favorites with a very unpleasant chemical aftertaste (strange that two products from the same brand were at the very top and very bottom of our rankings).
Beanilla Pistachio Flavoring
Taste: Almond, Vanilla
Price: $9.95 for a 2oz bottle
This one was not as intense as some of the others, with a buttery, almond-like flavor that I felt enhanced the natural pistachio nicely (if your recipe has a good amount of pistachio flour or butter in it, I think this one would be a great choice).
I found it more almond-forward than most of the other extracts, though it’s not quite as cloying or intensely bitter-almond flavored like a true almond extract. Still, I tend to love anything and everything almond which is probably this one ranked pretty highly for me. This is the extract I ended up using in my Pistachio Ice Cream Sandwiches, along with a few drops of green food coloring.
I think you could probably use slightly more of this extract in your final recipe since the flavor was pretty mild overall.
Dolce Foglia Pistachio Extract
Color: Brownish clear
Smell: Vanilla, caramel
Taste: Marshmallow, Almond, Vanilla, Butter
Price: $14.95 for a 2oz bottle
This one has a candy-like sweetness that tastes a heck of a lot like pistachio gelato. Taylor called the primary flavor note here ‘marshmallow’ and he was spot on: it definitely has that vanilla-forward sugary sweetness you expect from marshmallows. It’d be similar to using vanilla in a recipe but with a bit more depth and complexity compared to straight vanilla extract.
I don’t know if there was sweetener in this one but it somehow seemed sweeter than the others, which increased the marshmallowy-ness of it quite a bit.
Amoretti Natural Pistachio Extract
Smell: Not much scent… smelled faintly like a bakery with some notes of cherry maybe?
Taste: Buttery, nutty, earthy; like actual pistachios (sometimes)
Price: $68 for a 2oz bottle
When tested in the pistachio amaretti cookies, Taylor and I ranked this one near the top. We felt like it actually tasted like eating a handful of fresh pistachios, which none of the other extracts did. However, our friends didn’t love it, saying they detected an alcohol aftertaste (which is puzzling because it’s one of the few extracts that is actually alcohol-free).
While I loved this in the pistachio amaretti cookies, I also tested it in two other recipes (pistachio cheesecake and pistachio ice cream sandwiches) with mixed results. I could barely taste it in the cheesecake, and would have used more of it but using 1/4 of a $68 bottle in a single recipe made me nervous. It was ok in the ice cream sandwiches, but the flavor was not nearly pronounced enough to make it worth the cost in my mind. Maybe something about the fat/butter overpowered the extract? I also felt like it needed a bit more almond flavor to hit that pistachio-gelato sweet spot.
This was the one product we tried that included green coloring (and natural color at that, though I’m not sure of the exact source), which is nice since it’s really hard to find vibrantly green pistachios. I wish the color was a bit more natural looking though (it’s a very cool green, even the greenest pistachios have more yellow to them).
I think that the price point of this one will make it impractical for most folks. If it were unanimously amazing, it may be worth it, but considering you’re probably already spending some money to buy pistachios (or pistachio butter or pistachio flour, none of which are cheap), spending an additional $68 for a small bottle of extract for a little extra pistachio flavor is probably not worth it.
This extract was also less intense than the others: we had to use about twice as much to achieve an equal flavor intensity, so I recommend doubling the amount of regular extract called for in a recipe if you use this one (follow the usage guidelines on the bottle if you’re unsure).
Amoretti has a few other pistachio products, including a toasted pistachio extract and a pistachio butter flavoring that’s much more reasonably priced. While the later is not technically an extract, I’m curious to try it (if I like the results I’ll definitely post an update here).
(Disclaimer: I did receive this product free of charge; we also have an ongoing partnership with Amoretti featuring some of their other products [all of which I’ve loved; this one is kind of an outlier in that regard].)
The Rest of Them
All but one of the rest of our samples fell somewhere in the middle. Two were what I’d call exceptionally average (milder versions of the LorAnn and Dolce Foglia extracts basically), and two were much too orange-forward for our tastes, though still nice overall. There was only one that we simply did not like; I’ve included it below, though without a photo or a link since I don’t recommend it at all.
Native Vanilla Pistachio Flavor
Taste: Buttery, hint of orange
Price: $14.99 for a 4oz bottle
Mild, nutty and buttery, with a hint of orange at the finish (but unlike the Olive Nation and Vanilla Bean Kings, the orange wasn’t overpowering). I thought this one also tasted a bit salty which was odd but not unpleasant (since pistachios are generally enjoyed salted).
This one is pretty mild, so you could increase the quantities by 25% or so if you wanted to make the flavors stronger (though not too much or the orange will take over).
Gusteau’s Pistachio Flavor Bakery Emulsion
Smell: Cherry Kool-Aid
Taste: Mildly nutty, almond, vanilla
Price: $9.99 for a 4oz bottle
This one was pretty middle of the pack for us. It is sold as an emulsion but I think it’s similar in strength and concentration to the extracts. Mostly almond tasting, with a bit of a nutty/buttery vanilla undertone; I do feel like it helped enhance the natural pistachio flavor pretty well. Oddly this one smells like cherry Kool-Aid, though the cherry doesn’t really come through in the final flavor like it did with the LorAnn SS flavor.
This one is fairly mild too, you could probably increase the quantities a little bit to make the flavor stronger.
Taste: Orange, vanilla, almond
Price: $2.99 for a 2oz bottle
This is the extract I used for my Pistachio Florentine cookies, which has orange zest in the actual recipe so the prominent orange flavor here was a complementary addition and actually quite lovely.
But when we tested it in the pistachio amaretto cookies, the orange was pretty much all you tasted. There are some secondary notes of vanilla and almond, but the orange overpowered everything else. For this reason it wasn’t our favorite.
However, this is the most affordable extract we tried, so it has that going for it.
(Disclaimer: I received this product free of charge from the brand, however all opinions expressed here are my own.)
(You can also get it for a bit more on Amazon).
Vanilla Bean Kings Pistachio Extract
Smell: Orange, Alcohol
Taste: Orange, Nutty
Price: $14.99 for a 2oz bottle
This one was very similar to the Olive Nation extract but a bit lighter on the orange, with slightly more nuttiness at the finish. Like the Native Vanilla extract, I thought this one tasted a bit salty.
LorAnn Pistachio Bakery Emulsion
Smell: Fake chemically almond
Taste: About the same.
Price: $11 for a 4oz bottle
This one was just plain bad. Taylor and I immediately ranked it dead last and subsequent tastings did not improve that (the chemical aftertaste mellowed a bit after a few days, but it was still pretty off-putting).
What’s so weird is the other LorAnn product was one of our top picks (the SS Flavor). I have no idea why two products from the same brand would be so vastly different.
Buy It on Amazon Don’t. Just… don’t buy this one.
Well. That’s that then.
Have you tried a pistachio extract not included here? Please share in the comments below!
What should we taste text next, pistachio syrups perhaps??