Pistachios have been around since 6760 BC, although the pistachio industry however, has evolved in more recent years. I was surprised to discover that the first commercial crop in California was planted in 1968 and harvested in 1976 by Pioneer Nursery, who patented 'Pioneer Gold', a pistachio tree cultivar. Other cultivars include 'Peters', 'Kerman' and three patented and released to the industry by the University of California in 2005: 'Golden Hills', 'Lost Hills' and 'Randy'.

Pistachio Gelato in Sicily
Sicilian Pistachio Tartufo
Pistachio garnish on Sicilian pastries
Sicilian Pistachio desserts

Bags of Pistachios in a Sicilian Market

Top ranking Pistachio commodity producers [1]

1 Iran, Islamic Rep $628 MM

2 United States of America $463 MM

3 Turkey $198 MM

4 Syrian Arab Republic $198 MM

5 China $112 MM

6 Greece $31 MM

7 Italy $8 MM

Pistachio nuts grow on 20 to 30-foot tall Pistacia vera trees that grow in USDA zones 7a to 11, especially in the Middle East. Pistachio trees also grow well in Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean.

Pistachio Trees

Pistachio trees take 5 to 6 years before they begin to bear nuts, and may take as long as 15 to 16 years for full bearing capacity, according to the American Pistachio Growers--a volunteer agricultural trade association.

At first glance a cluster of pistachios looks almost like a cluster of green grapes. The green fruits are called drupes. The outer exocarp (skin) surrounds the shell, which grows first and then gets filled with the kernel. Other plants with drupes include coffee, mango, olive, apricot, cherry, peach and plums.

Pistachios are also harvested differently than other nut crops: the nuts are picked before they fall to the ground. This is because they split open while on the tree. If they were to fall on the ground after splitting, they could get contaminated.

Culinary Favorite

Pistachios are a popular culinary favorite because of their attractive green color, making them adored by chefs and home cooks around the world. Pistachios add texture, flavor and eye appeal to all kinds of recipes and work well in everything from main courses to whole grain pilafs, vegetable dishes, with fruits, cheeses, breads, chocolates and desserts. Like any nut, Pistachios can be ground or chopped and used in crust coatings for fish, chicken or pork.

My favorite pistachio dessert recipes include Greek baklava and Italian biscotti. Pistachio is also a favorite flavor in ice cream and Italian gelato.

Pistachio Nutrition

According to the FDA, "Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." Pistachios are an excellent source of phytonutrients (plant nutrients), lutein + zeaxanthin (antioxidants), thiamin, vitamin B-6, copper and manganese, and a good source of protein, potassium, dietary fiber and magnesium.

Healthy Snack

  • Good Housekeeping Institute's Nutrition Director, Delia A. Hammock, M.S., R.D., lists pistachios as one of the best savory snacks.

Trans Fat-freePistachia vera 'Kerman' drupes

  • Oils are not used during roasting, so pistachios are naturally trans fat-free.

Monounsaturated Good Fats

  • The majority of natural fat in pistachios is monounsaturated.

Dietary Fiber

  • Pistachios are a good source of dietary fiber: 1.5 ounces provides 4 grams of fiber, or about 17% Daily Value (%DV).

Lowest in Fat

  • Compared to other nuts, pistachios are one of the lowest in total fat, and highest in phytosterols, having 121mg per 1.5 oz dry roasted, versus only 47mg in walnuts and 15mg in almonds.

High in Protein and Vitamins

  • All nuts are sources of protein, with pistachios being among the highest (tied with almonds): 9 grams (18%DV) per 1.5 ounces dry roasted, versus 7 grams in cashews and 6 grams in walnuts.
  • Pistachios are an excellent source of Thiamine (Vitamin B1), compared to other nuts: 20% Daily Value of thiamine in 1.5 ounces of pistachios, compared to only 10% in walnuts, and 6% in almonds and cashews.
  • Pistachios are also an excellent source of Vitamin B6, with 1.5 ounces having 24% DV, compared to only 3% DV in almonds, 5% in cashews and 11% in walnuts.

Pistachio Antioxidants

  • Pistachios are loaded with Lutein and Zeaxanthin antioxidants, much higher than other nuts, having 494 micrograms (mcg) in 1.5 ounces, compared to zero in almonds, 11 mcg in cashews and only 5 mcg in walnuts.

~ Enjoy Pistachios as part of your healthy diet ~

References: [1] FAO Statistics International Commodity Prices

Photo credits: photo of Pistacia vera 'Kerman' (Pistachio) drupes in Las Vegas, taken by Stan Shebs courtesy of Wikipedia. All other photos copyright ©2012 Wind. All rights reserved.

Related Links

Growing and Harvesting Pistachios

Give Nuts an Eyeful

Pistachio Recipes