Why our pistachio gelato is (no longer) green

Last year, I made a decision to stop buying pistachio paste made in Italy. Not because the product we used wasn’t good — it was phenomenal. It’s just that our finished product was…green.

Our customers didn’t mind this. In fact most customers expected the gelato to be green and even associated that green hue with authenticity, and/or generous use of pistachios.

But here’s the thing: Pistachios, when ground into a nut butter or paste for use in making gelato or ice cream, aren’t really green. The paste is more of a light brown, with only the slightest green hue. When blended with milk and sugar, pure pistachio paste does not yield a product the color of Kermit the Frog. The finished product has a very subtle green hue, like drying grass.

Most suppliers of pistachio pastes for ice cream incorporate chlorophyll to give it that Crayola green color. There’s nothing wrong with chlorophyll (hello leafy greens), but ingredient suppliers add the plant extract to their pastes only because consumers want it. And they want it because they’re misinformed. Green does not mean quality.

There’s another reason suppliers add coloring. Ice cream shops routinely use pistachio products that include ground almonds, or other cheaper nuts, to save on cost. Absent some kind of food coloring, the alternative nuts would make the end product even browner. So, the greener your pistachio ice cream, the more likely you’re eating a product that’s stingy on real pistachio nuts and heavy on food coloring. The suppliers are generally forthright about this — almonds appear in the ingredient list in the cheaper pastes (some of which are still delicious, by the way). The retailers, however, tend to advertise the product as pure pistachio.

Of course, some of these same suppliers provide fantastic, pure pastes made with excellent pistachios from Italy, widely considered the best in the world (especially those grown in Sicily). Buyers like us pay a premium for that reputation and quality. But guess what? We taste-tested several Sicilian pastes against one made by a superb California supplier and we preferred the local stuff hands down.

California wins.

For those reasons, as you’ll see when you stop by the shop, we proudly label our product as “California Pistachio” gelato. We garnish it with some fresh, whole pistachio nuts to show their raw green hue, but the gelato itself is subtly colored.

In this case, subtlety means quality.

I started Gelateria Uli in my neighborhood, downtown Los Angeles, in 2014. We’re located in the historic Spring Arcade building at 541 S. Spring St.

Our finished product, California Pistachio, paired with Sea Salt Chocolate (and a nice espresso).
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