Pistachios are actually the seeds of a plant belonging to the cashew family. It is believed that pistachios were first consumed in the Middle East as far back as 6750 BC. Today, Iran, the United States, and Turkey are the world’s leading producers of pistachios. We are enjoyed for unique nutty taste, high nutritive value, and impressive variety, with a high range of culinary applications for the pistachio throughout the world. From snacks and salad toppings to ice creams and other sweet treats such as baklava, and nougat- the nut suggests a compelling ingredient for countless dishes thanks to its rich, distinctive palate.
Pistachios feature a creamy texture and a naturally sweet, still earthy taste. As such, they are perfect for any number of confections and make for a popular flavor of ice cream, gelato, macarons and more. The amazing texture of the nut and its earthy tones also make it an excellent nut for pairing with both salty and sour savors; it is often enjoyed with seasonings that add piquancy to its special palate. In spite of its distinctive qualities, there are further nuances that define individual varieties of the nut.
Nutrition & Health Benefits of Pistachios
Pistachios are lauded for their unique taste, but it should also be celebrated for their various health benefits. Learn some of our favorite features of this nut with the list below.
A one-ounce serving of pistachios contains 49 nuts and about 160 calories. That’s more nuts and fewer calories per serving than any other nut. A serving of pistachios contains more than 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for dietary fiber, 20% of the DV for vitamin B6, and 15% of the DV for thiamine. Fiber plays an important role in controlling blood cholesterol and glucose levels, while vitamin B6 and thiamine support the nervous system, brain function, and eye health. Pistachios are also a good source of protein, potassium, copper, and phosphorus.
Lower Cholesterol, BMI, and Triglyceride Levels
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who replaced either 10 or 20 percent of their daily caloric intake with pistachios reduced their total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol more than those participants on a reduced fat diet without pistachios. Further, a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition demonstrated that consuming 240 calories worth of pistachios for 3 months reduced body mass indexes (BMI) and triglyceride levels more than participants who consumed 220 calories in pretzels for that time period.
High Levels of Phytosterols
Pistachios are a rich source of phytosterols, plant-based compounds that have been proven effective at lowering blood cholesterol levels. A 2005 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry examined the phytosterol content among commonly eaten foods and found that pistachios and sunflower seeds had the highest phytosterol levels among popular nuts and seeds.
Pistachios are a good source of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Particularly, pistachios are rich in L-arginine, which is capable of improving blood flow in clogged arteries and is essential for supporting the body’s metabolic processes. Pistachios also contain the amino acids lutein and zeaxanthin, which play an important role in eye health and may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration.
How are Pistachios Harvested?
A nutritious nut with an irresistible taste, the beloved pistachio is actually a seed kernel grown principally from the Pistacia vera tree. This tree has several cultivars; but, the most common is the kerman, from which the nuts are typically harvested. A member of the cashew family, Anacardiaceae, the pistachio tree is native to Central Asia and the Middle East and grows in the arid, saline soil of the desert. As a desert plant, pistachio trees grow best in hot, dry climates and are harvested between late August and early October.
Growing your own pistachios sounds like a dream come true; unfortunately, even in the right conditions, it can take eight to ten years for the modern Pistacia vera to develop to a point of bearing its first harvest of edible nuts and fifteen to twenty years until it offers a full bearing. The inner shell of a pistachio is encased in a hull called the epicarp; when the pistachio is ready for harvesting, the epicarp will separate easily from the inner shell and will change in color from reddish-yellow to light yellow.
At the time of their harvesting, the pistachio trees are mechanically shaken. The seeds that drop are then collected in bins and transferred to a processing plant. Remaining epicarps are removed from the pistachio shells by a huller and the pistachios are further sorted by size and dried to maintain freshness. This entire process can be completed in less than 24 hours.
Marvelously tasty pistachio nuts have long been revered as the symbol of wellness and robust health since ancient times. The kernels are enriched with many health-benefiting nutrients essential for optimum health.
Pistachios actually are kernels obtained from fruits belonging to the Anacardiaceous family, in the genus: Pistacia. The plant is a medium sized broad, bushy, dioecious, deciduous tree, believed to have originated in the mountain ranges of West-Asia and Turkey region. Several cultivars exist; however, the most favourite variety grown for commercial purposes is Kerman.
Pistachios grow greatly under hot, dry summer and cool winters. They are currently being cultivated at a larger scale in Iran, USA, Syria, Turkey, and China. After plantation, it takes approximately eight to ten years until the plant produces its first major crop. Once established, it keeps bearing fruits for many years to come.
Pista fruit, in fact, is a drupe (fruit with a large, central located single seed), and this seed kernel is what actually edible “pistachio nut”. Each season, the tree bears heavy clusters of fruits which appear somewhat like that of a grape bunch. On its exterior, a mature fruit features hard, off-white color shell which splits apart exposing light green, oblong shape kernel inside. Pista kernel measures about 2 cm in length and 1 cm wide and weighs about 0.7-1 gm.
The nuts are usually eaten as they are, by splitting them open between fingers or using a nutcracker machine. They can also be enjoyed roasted, salted, or sweetened, just as in macadamia and peanuts.
Pistachios are nutty, yet pleasantly sweet in taste with a fruity aroma. Baklava, a sweet-pastry made of layers of paper-thin “phyllo or strudel dough” filled with chopped pistachio, almonds and cashew nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey, is a popular pastry preparation in Iran, Turkey, Armenia, and many Middle East states.
Roasted and crushed, its kernels can be sprinkled over salads, desserts, specially sundaes and other ice cream based dessert preparations (for example, Kulfi in Indian subcontinent), biscuits, sweets and cakes.
Split pistachios are a great addition to vegetable/fruit salads.
Popularly known as “Pista” these nuts have been broadly used in sweet dishes in Iran, India, Pakistan and other South-East Asian countries.
Types of Iranian Pistachios
The commercial pistachio varieties of Iran are these types:
- Akbari Pistachio (Super Long Pistachio)
- Ahmad Aghaei Pistachio (Long Pistachio)
- Fandoghi Pistachio (Round Pistachio)
- Kalleh ghouchi Pistachio (Jumbo Pistachio)
- Badami Pistachio (Row Long Pistachio)