Celebrating Pistachios annually on February 26, known as National Pistachio Day & World Pistachio Day, & loving them all year long!
Hard to believe, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Americans harvested the first commercial crop of pistachios. They had been enjoying the nut since about the 1800s, but it was not until the 1930s that the love for pistachios really took off.
What may have made the little tree nut so admired, though, is the invention of pistachio ice cream in the 1940s by James W. Parkinson of Philadelphia.
Today, California produces 300 million pounds of pistachios, which is about 98 percent of the domestic crop. Other world producers include Turkey, Syria, Italy and Greece.
Remember getting that red dye all over your fingers back in the day when pistachios were dyed crimson? Hard to imagine now but the apparent reason for the colouring was to hide flaws on the shell and to make them stand out in vending machines!
Related botanically to cashews and mangoes, pistachios are one of the oldest flowering nut trees, and are one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.
Native to western Asia and Asia Minor, the trees grew wild in high desert regions and legend has it that for the promise of good fortune lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights.
Thanks to their high nutritional value and long storage life, pistachios were an indispensable form of sustenance among early explorers and traders, including travellers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West.
In the first century A.D., Emperor Vitellius introduced Rome to the pistachio. Apicius, Rome’s Julia Child of the time, included pistachios in his classical cookbook.
Perhaps a true royal nut, the Queen of Sheba loved pistachios. In fact, she demanded that the entire region’s pistachio harvest be set aside for her.
These heart-healthy tree nuts are good for your ticker thanks to phytosterols, which pistachios have in droves. Another reason to love pistachios is that they comprise about 90 per cent unsaturated fat, which is the good kind of fat that adds flavour and makes them a highly satisfying snack. They also contain many antioxidants which aid the heart and body. An awesome source of dietary fibre, they are among the highest fibre nuts, providing 12 percent of the daily value per 30 gram serving.
In Iran, pistachios are known as the smiling nut. In China, they are called the happy nut. Pistachios are also known as the green almond.
Pistachios have always been on the pricier end of the nut scale, costing three or four times as much as other nuts. Generally eaten roasted and salted as a dessert nut, the pistachio is often used in cooking as a garnish or decoration in sweet and savoury dishes.
According to Larousse Gastronomique, in Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, pistachios are used in poultry sauces and stuffings and also in hash. In classic cuisine they garnish galantines, brawn (head cheese) and mortadella. In India, pistachio puree is used to season rice and vegetables. Pistachios go best with veal, pork and poultry. Their green color makes them popular for creams and for ice creams and ice-cream desserts. In confectionery, it is especially associated with nougat.
China is the top pistachio consumer worldwide, with annual consumption of 80,000 tons, while the United States consumes 45,000 tons. Russia follows with consumption of 15,000 tons followed by India at 10,000 tons.
Pistachios ripen in late summer or early fall growing so energetically that the kernel splits the shell. These trees are wind pollinated which means one male tree can produce enough pollen for 25 nut-bearing female trees. Female trees produce their first nuts at age five and can bear fruit for up to 200 years.