In a Nutshell: Pistachios

In honor of World Pistachio Day, we’re continuing our “In a Nutshell” series. Throughout this series, you’ll discover some basic history and tips, along with suggested tea-infused recipes that feature each type of nut.

In a Nutshell: Pistachios

History

The pistachio is one of the oldest flowering nut trees, with references dating back as early as 7000 B.C. It’s native to the Middle East, but has made an impact on nearly every culture around the world.

Known as the “happy nut” in China because the shell appears to be smiling after it cracks, it’s considered a symbol of health and good fortune. In India, the nuts are given as a gift of love and good wishes at weddings.

Photo: © FreeImages.com/Mustafa Develi

While pistachios used to be almost exclusively a product of Iran, today California rivals them for the role of top producer with about 550 million pounds harvested per year. Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Greece, Italy and Australia also grow the nuts commercially. In the U.S., they’re also grown in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas.

The nuts grow in grape-like clusters on trees which can bear fruit for up to 100 years. Harvest takes place in late summer, when machines shake the nuts into giant umbrella-style catchers. (Want to see how they’re harvested? You’ll find a couple of interesting videos on the American Pistachio Growers website.) About 85 percent are shipped out in cracked shells, exposing a teaser of the pale green and purplish nut inside.

Health Benefits

Pistachios are one of the healthiest nuts, with only 3-4 calories per nut. One ounce (about 49 nuts) has 6 grams of protein, as much potassium as half of a large banana, and more fiber than a 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli.

They’re believed to help strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Since they’re cholesterol-free and high in antioxidants and fiber, they’re good for heart health and may help lower blood pressure.

Infographic by American Pistachio Growers; AmericanPistachios.org

Cooking with Pistachios

Growing up, it was always a special treat when we had pistachio pudding or ice cream. You may also think of treats like baklava, muffins or biscotti. But actually, pistachios pair well with a variety of foods, both savory and sweet. Plus they add a great pop of color! Here are some suggestions to inspire you:

  • Fruits: apples, apricots, bananas, cherries, cranberries, figs, lemon, peaches, raspberries (but they don’t work well with strawberries)
  • Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beets, cauliflower, leeks
  • Types of cuisines: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern/Arabic
  • Other: cheese, chocolate, chicken, coconut, pasta/sauces, pastries, vanilla

Since pistachios are a favorite at our house we incorporate them into our tea-infused recipes whenever possible, including Green Fluff Salad (from the Summer 2014 issue of our eMagazine) and as the star of our pesto in Ham & Pesto Pinwheels (from our Winter 2016 issue).

Ham & Pesto Pinwheels

Check out other articles in this series!

(Note: These names will become links as each article is posted.)

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamias
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts

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