Why Were Pistachios Dyed Red?

Think back for a moment and try to remember red pistachios. Though you must go back far, it's a fond memory many of us have. They used to be a staple in grocery stores, and out of nowhere, they disappeared. This didn't happen for no reason, so let's look into "why were pistachios dyed red?".

The Historical Reason Behind the Red Color

We need to travel back to the mid-20th century to see why pistachios were once dyed red. This was a pivotal era for food production and marketing.

During this time, pistachio farmers faced a particular issue. The main problem was natural blemishes and discolorations. These imperfections, while harmless, were not visually appealing, impacting the consumers' purchasing decisions.

Understanding the growing importance of aesthetics in food sales, producers needed to find a solution. The answer was the simple application of red dye. This approach served a dual purpose.

Firstly, it masked the unattractive spots and inconsistencies on the pistachio shells. Secondly, the bright red colour of these dyed nuts made them stand out on store shelves. Collectively, they help protect and sell more pistachios.

As you can see, deciding to dye pistachios red was a strategic move. It responded to a practical concern and an early example of how visual appeal can influence consumer behavior.

The Shift in Pistachio Production and Color

Despite the success of red pistachios, they declined due to political and economic changes. The main contributor to this was the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. This led to U.S. sanctions against Iran, which affected the import of red pistachios.

This crisis alone is the primary reason we started seeing the decline of red pistachios in the West. Since then, the West has developed new farming techniques to continue supplying pistachios to the market.

The Decline of Red Pistachios

With the shift in import dynamics, American pistachio producers began to fill the gap. Advancements in harvesting technology and domestic production growth meant that pistachios no longer suffered the same level of staining and blemishing as before.

This change answers the question, "Why aren't pistachios red anymore?".

The improved processing methods in the U.S. made the red dye redundant, and the focus shifted to selling pistachios in their natural colour.

Legacy and Modern Availability of Red Pistachios

Despite the decline, red pistachios hold a place in the hearts of many as a nostalgic item. These colourful nuts are sometimes available during the holiday season, viewed more as a novelty than a staple. Their rarity and distinctiveness make them unique in festive treats and decorations.


The journey of red pistachios from being a market staple to a rare novelty reflects the dynamic nature of food trends and consumer preferences.

The story of these colorful nuts is about color change, adaptation, and innovation in the food industry. As tastes and technologies evolve, so do the foods we enjoy, and pistachios, whether red or natural, are beloved snacks worldwide.

January 06, 2024 — Alex Melen