There's something about a handful of tasty, salted, or raw nuts. Maybe it's the rich, almost luxurious texture you experience as you pop one after another into your mouth. Or maybe the earthiness of a nut appeals to our hunter-gatherer instincts. Regardless, you probably have one you always pick out of a mixed variety as your favorite. There are walnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and of course pistachios. There are so many to love!
Americans adore their nuts, both for eating and profit. In 2010, Agricultural Marketing Resource Center reported nut consumption in the U.S. rose 3.97 pounds per person in one year. Annually, Americans consume 45 tons of them . That year, more almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, and pistachios, were consumed, but fewer walnuts and pecans. The top three nuts among Americans are almonds, pecans, and walnuts.
On the profit side of things, the Center reported 2012 U.S. tree nut production totaled 2.7 million tons, for a value of $7.4 billion .
Pistachios are on the increase
With pistachio consumption on the rise, the website AmericanPistachios.com
says California, Arizona, and New Mexico account for 100 percent of the U.S. commercial pistachio production, with California accounting for 98.5 percent of that total. Our western most state has about 250,000 acres of pistachio trees planted in a 22 county area. The green nut brings in $1.16 billion to California and $15 million to Arizona and New Mexico.
The website also notes that the first commercial crop of pistachios was harvested in 1976 and netted 1.5 million pounds. In 2007, the number went up to more than 415 million pounds.
The pistachio (Pistacia vera
) is a tree nut originating in Central Asia and the Middle East, according to Wikipedia. Nutrition-and-you.com
describes the pistachio tree as medium in size and broad and bushy. The most popular commercially grown variety is the kerman
(see Varieties for more on the kerman ).
You may not realize that there are different varieties of pistachios. They're just all green, right? Incidentally, chlorophyll is responsible for the green nut kernel. There aren't any obvious distinguishing features between the pistachio varieties like there are between, say, a Braeburn and Yellow Delicious Apple. But there are differences.
Some of the most common California varieties are Kerman, Golden Hills, and Lost Hills. There is also the Kalehghouchi, which is an Iranian variety .
Choosing and storing pistachios
How can you tell a good nut from a bad one? Squirrels may be able to tell by smell and who knows what else, but humans need other guidance. The home cooking sections at About.com and Wikipedia.com have handy tips:
- Ripe pistachios are split open at one end. A closed shell means it isn't ripe.
- The color of the nutmeat is an indicator of flavor. In this case, the greener the nut, the better the taste.
- Pistachios won't keep forever, so store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Unshelled, they'll keep for three months refrigerated or one year frozen. If you do freeze them, don't shell them first as they won't hold up well.
- Pistachios are available raw, roasted, and shelled or unshelled.
- Beware the dyed pistachio. A pistachio shell is naturally beige. So if you see a green or even red shelled nut, it was dyed to make it look more presentable. Dying began as a way to hide imperfections in the shells occurring during hand picking. You won't see dying done very often today, since most nuts are picked by machines and therefore don't show stains and imperfections as much.
- As for colored nut meats, roasted pistachio seeds can be turned red if they are marinated. Some recipes call for soaking the nuts in a salt and strawberry marinade, or salt and citrus salts before roasting.
When you shop for nuts, you will see raw and roasted varieties. It is worth noting roasted nuts will be higher in sodium and oil-roasted nuts will have more calories, although not a tremendous amount more . According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, oil-roasted cashews have 580 calories per 100 grams (or 1 cup), compared to 553 calories for raw cashews.
A serving of pistachios is 1 ounce (28.35 grams) or 49 kernels (shelled). A serving has the following nutritional values :
- Calories: 160
- Total fat: 13 grams (1.5 is saturated) — much or their fat is monounsatured, which is one of the recommended fats by health experts
- Protein: 6 grams
- Sodium: 20 mg
- Total carbohydrates: 8 grams
- Dietary fiber: 3 grams — (about as much as a half cup of cooked broccoli and more than 10 percent of your daily fiber requirement)
- Vitamin B6: 15 percent RDA
- Thiamin: 15 percent RDA
- Potassium: 290 mg (more than an orange, which has 250 mg)
- Phosphorus: 15 percent RDA
- Copper: 20 percent RDA (an essential trace mineral required in neuro-transmission, metabolism, as well as red blood cell (RBC) synthesis)
- Manganese: 1.275 mg (61 percent RDA)
- Magnesium: 120 mg (35 percent RDA)
- Calcium: 110 mg
- Iron: 4.2 mg
- Zinc: 2.3 mg (24 percent RDA)
The American Pistachio Growers provided some nutritional data on this popular nut.
Good for the heart
- Pistachios may help lower cholesterol: According to an article in The Journal of Nutrition (June 2010), this nut raises serum antioxidant levels, which may help reduce the levels of oxidized-LDL cholesterol. This means eating these nuts might lower your risk of coronary heart disease.
- Pistachios may provide beneficial anti-inflammatory properties.
- Pistachios may reduce acute stress by lowering blood pressure.
Good for the waistline
Some studies have shown consumption of nuts, including pistachios, has helped adults lower their body weight, reduce obesity, reduce health risks, and led to a better diet.
Good for your glucose
Pistachios, when consumed with a carbohydrate-rich meal, lowered the blood sugar of participants in a study. When consumed alone, however, the nuts had little effect on sugar levels.
The website Nutrition-and-you.com reports some yummy and beautiful benefits of justifying why you should make pistachios part of your life.
- Pistachios form a complete source of protein.
- Pistachio oil is healthy for cooking and can be used topically on your skin. It protects against dry skin.
- Also, for anyone using essential oils for massage, pistachio oil is a good choice to serve as a base (in case you didn't know, most essential oils need to be added to a base or carrier oil to dilute them a bit).
- Pistachios are heavy hitters against cancer and other diseases, providing polyphenolic antioxidant compounds, as well as carotenes and vitamin E.
- Speaking of vitamin E, you should consume plenty of it to keep your cell and mucus membranes functioning properly. Lucky for pistachio lovers, the nut provides about 23 grams of the vitamin in a 100 gram serving.
While there are many benefits to pistachios, it's best to be aware of a few possible concerns as well.
- All tree nuts are possible carriers of a toxin called "aflatoxin." This is a strong carcinogenic chemical produced by molds. Nuts harvested or processed improperly can become tainted through soil, poor storage, or from pests. A gray or black filament-like growth occurs with high levels of mold growth.Since not all the nuts can be discarded, they may be treated to control contamination. However, if they are too severely affected, they should be destroyed.
- As part of the cashew family (Anacardiaceae), pistachios relatives include mangos, and also sumac and poison ivy. So, it is possible the urushiol in pistachios could cause you to have an allergic reaction, just like from a creeping plant.
- Raw nuts might contain harmful bacteria. You may recall raw almonds being responsible for some salmonella outbreaks in recent history. Well, due to the potential for salmonella, you might want to skip the raw varieties. Roasting, blanching, and steaming will destroy the salmonella bacteria.
How to roast
A community support agriculture website in Tucson, AZ, offers this tip for roasting pistachios:
First, parboil the nut meats. In a saucepan, bring to a boil 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 cup water. Then add 2 cups of nuts and return to boiling. Turn the heat down and let the nuts simmer until the water evaporates.
Next, in a preheated 300 F oven, place the now-salted nutmeats on a baking pan in a single layer. Roasting takes 10 to 15 minutes and you'll want to stir them or shake the tray a couple of times for even roasting results.
That's it! Simple and you can choose your salt (think herb infused or iodized).
Tips for baking, cooking, eating
Pistachios have a unique flavor that lends itself wonderfully to pastries and ice creams. Wikipedia specifically lists kulfi (an Indian frozen dairy dessert), spumoni (a molded Italian ice cream dessert with candied fruits and nuts), and Neopolitan ice creams, pistachio butter and paste, and baklava (a layered dessert made of phyllo dough).
More unique dishes included pistachio halva, which is served in the Middle East and parts of Europe and is flour- or nut-butter based. The flour variety is made of grain flour (usually semolina), clarified butter, flour, and sugar and is slightly gelatinous. The nut-butter version is crumbly and made from tahini (sesame seed paste) or other nut butters blended with sugar.
Pistachio locum, aka Turkish Delight, is a confectionary of nuts and dates mixed into a gel substance that has been flavored with lemon, orange, or rosewater, for example. It might also have cinnamon and mint mixed in for flavoring.
Pistachios even find their way into meat, adding something new to cold cuts like mortadella, which is a large Italian sausage like summer sausage.
If you want to get rid of the papery covering on the nutmeat, blanch them. Simply cover them with boiling water and let them stand for two minutes. Once drained, let them cool and the skin will slip off.
Sometimes humidity and other conditions cause nuts to get soft. When this happens simply toast them in the oven at 200 F for 10 to 15 minutes and they'll be fresh again.
Don't throw the shells away
Here are some clever uses for pistachio shells:
- lining the bottom of houseplant pots to enhance draining for up to two years,
- mulch (shells are acidic, so use according to your plants' needs),
- fodder for your compost pile,
- keep slugs and snails away from tender plants by spreading shells around the base .
If you need to know about grams and ounces per cup of nut meats, CookItSimply.com
provides some useful stats: 1/8 cup nutmeats
= 15 grams or 0.4 ounces1/4 cup
= 25 grams or 0.9 ounces1/2 cup
= 50 grams or 1.8 ounces1 cup
= 100 grams or 3.7 ounces
Since pistachios often come in their shells, here is another useful conversion list from homecooking.about.com: In the shell:
One ounce = about 20 nuts
One cup = 1/2 cup nut meats
One pound = 2 cups shelled Out of the shell:
One pound equals 3-2/3 cups nut meats
Production leadersPistacia vera
trees are found in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Xinjiang (China), Tunisia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, India, Egypt, Italy ( in Sicily), Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan (specifically in the provinces of Samangan and Badghis).
State side, pistachio trees are grown primarily in California, which suits their need for a dry, hot climate and cool winters. California's first cultivars arrived on the coast beginning in 1904, when David Fairchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture collected cultivars in China. By 1929, pistachios began as a commercial crop.
Pistachio Trees are a bit on the slow-growing side. It can take eight to 10 years for a major crop to be harvested, however, once they start producing they'll bear nuts for literally centuries.
According to MercuryNews.com, California produced 600 million pounds of pistachios in 2012. Around the world, 1,005,210 metric tons of pistachios were produced in 2012, for a yield of 2.03 tons.
Iran, the leader in production of the nut, produced about 200,000 tons in 2008. According to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center, the United States produced 551 million pounds (or 275,500 tons) of pistachios in 2012.
So who is eating all those nuts? Well, sources show China as the top consumer, consuming 80,000 tons a year. The U.S. is second eating 45,000 tons, followed by Russia and 15,000 tons, and finally India, consuming 10,000 tons.
How they grow
Nuts grow as part of a cluster—something like a bunch of grapes. Ripe nuts have hard, off-white shells that split open. The nut is generally about an inch long and half inch in diameter and weighs about 0.7 to 1 gram.
- Each pistachio tree averages around 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of seeds, or around 50,000 of them, every two years.
- Pistachio trees tend to produce heavily one year and then have virtually no crop the next.
- Pistachios are one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11). The other is the almond.
- Pistachios were taken along with travelers across the ancient Silk Road connecting China with the West.
- Emperor Vitellius, first century A.D., introduced Rome to the pistachio.
- The Queen of Sheba was obsessed with pistachios and demanded the entire region's pistachio harvest be set aside for her.
- In China, the pistachio is known as "the happy nut".
- In Iran, the pistachio is called "the smiling nut".
- Pistachios are also known as "the green almond".
- In Syria and some other countries it is traditional at weddings to have pistachios, often giving small bags to guests.
- World pistachio day is February 26.