The pistachio (pistacia vera) which is a member of the cashew family is a small tree originating in Central Asia and the Middle East. The tree produces seeds which are widely consumed as food. The word "pistachio" comes from the Medieval Italian "pistacchi". Pistachios have been a symbol of wellness and robust health since ancient times.
The pistachio is a desert plant and is highly tolerant of saline soil. . It is reported to grow well when irrigated. Pistachio trees are fairly hardy under the right conditions.
The shell of the pistachio is naturally a beige color, but is sometimes dyed red or green commercially. Originally dye was applied by importers to hide stains on the shells when the seeds were picked by hand. Most pistachios are now picked by machine and the shells remain unstained.
Pistachio trees are planted in orchards, and take approximately 7 to 10 years to reach significant production. The largest world producer of pistachios is Iran, followed by the U.S., Turkey, and China.
Pistachios were a common food as early as 6750BC. The pistachio was one of the trees unique to Syria which was introduced into Italy by a Roman Proconsul and at the same time to Hispania. The modern pistachio was first cultivated in Bronze Age Central Asia. Remains of the Atlantic pistachio and pistachio seed along with nut cracking tools were found in Israel dating back thousands of years. Pistachios have been commercially cultivated more recently in many parts of the English speaking world, in Australia and in New Mexico and California in the U.S. where it was introduced as a garden tree in 1854.
My first memory of pistachio nuts was in vending machines in my native Brooklyn, New York. For a penny you could twist the knob and the machine would dispense a handful of red dyed pistachio nuts, They were delicious you wound up with red stained fingers from the dye. It wasn't until much later that I found out that the red dye was to cover stains on the shells from the hand picking process. Today most pistachios are picked by machine and left with their natural beige color. I remember getting soft serve pistachio ice cream from a place next to Nathan's in Coney Island. What a treat! Pistachio is one of my favorite ice cream flavors to this day.
The kernels of the pistachio are often eaten whole, either fresh or roasted and salted and are used in pistachio ice cream, hulfi, spumoni, historically in Neapolitan ice cream, pistachio butter, pistachio paste, and in confections such as baklava, pistachio chocolate, pistachio halvah, pistachio lokum, or biscotti and in cold cuts such as mortadella. Americans make pistachio salad which includes fresh pistachios or pistachio pudding, whipped cream, and canned fruit.
Pistachio oil extracted from kernels is one of the healthiest cooking oils. It has a pleasant nutty aroma, and posses excellent emollient properties. It helps to keep the skin protected from dryness. It is also employed as a "carrier or base oil" in traditional medicines in massage therapy, aroma therapy, in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry.
Roasted and crushed kernels can be sprinkled over salads, desserts, sundaes and other ice cream preparations, biscuits, sweets and cakes. Split pistachios are a great addition to vegetable or fruit salads
Pistachios are a nutritionally dense food. In a 100 gram serving they provide 562 calories and are a rich source (20% or more) of Daily Value of protein,dietary fiber, several dietary minerals, and the B vitamins thiamin, and especially vitamin B6. Pistachios are a good source (10 - 19% DV) of calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B5, folate, vitamin E and vitamin K.
Pistachios are storehouses of minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
Regular consumption of pistachios (a handful per day) in the diet may help in lowering total as well as LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol levels in the blood. They compose proper amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid and antioxidants which can help reduce coronary artery disease and stroke risk by favoring a healthy blood lipid profile. Pista kernels are a rich source of many antioxidant phytochemical substances such as carotene, vitamin E and polyphenolic antioxidant compounds. These compounds may help remove toxic free radicals from the body and protect it from diseases, cancers, and infections.
Pistachios are an excellent source of vitamin E which is a potent lipid soluble essential for maintaining the integrity of mucosa and skin. Vitamin E also works as a scavenger of harmful free-oxygen radicals.
100 g of pistachio nuts provide 144% of the daily recommended levels of copper, an essential trace mineral required in neurotransmission, metabolism and red blood cell production.
Pistachios are available year round in the grocery store. They are found shelled, whole (with shell), roasted, salted and sweetened or flavored.
Selecting and Storing:
Look for unshelled (with intact outer coat) whole nuts, rather than processed. They are generally available in airtight packs and bulk bins. Look for healthy compact uniform off-white unshelled that feel heavy in the hand. They should be free from cracks other than the natural split, mold spots, and rancid smell.
Raw unshelled pistachios can be placed in a cool dry place for many months. Shelled kernels should be placed in an airtight container and kept in the refrigerator in order to prevent them from turning rancid.