While we categorize them as nuts, pistachios are the seeds of the pistachio tree. They’re commonly green in color, but you can also find them yellow. They’re about an inch long and half an inch wide. The seed kernels have a slightly sweet taste. They can be eaten fresh or roasted. And, they’re commonly used in many desserts like baklava, halvah, and ice cream. They’re also used as a yellow-green color in confections.
The pistachio tree belongs to the cashew family. It originated in the regions of Western and Central Asia, which includes Iran and Afghanistan. The seeds became a food in as early as 6750 BCE. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century when they were commercially grown in English-speaking world areas like Australia, New Mexico, and California.
Species: P. vera
Binomial Name: Pistacia vera L.
- The National Pistachio Day is celebrated every February 26th.
- An ounce of pistachios, which is roughly 49 nuts, has the same protein content as a medium-sized egg.
- Pistachios are in fact, related to mangoes and the spice sumac.
- One study proves that people who left pistachio shells on the table while eating the nut meat reduces their calorie consumption compared to the ones who discarded the shells immediately after consumption. The shells claim to be a reminder of how much you have eaten, so you’re less likely to eat more or overindulge.
- Irani people call pistachios the “smiling nut” while the Chinese people call them the “happy nut” because they look like they’re smiling. They symbolize health, happiness, and good fortune too, that’s why they’re often given as a gift during the Chinese New Year.
Pistachio Buying Guide
Pistachios are widely available in the market. From supermarkets, convenience stores, farmers markets, up to the growers, it’s easy to find them. They’re usually harvested in September, but since we have a good supply and outstanding modern storage techniques, they can be purchased all-year-round. However, there can come in a variety of ways that it can be quite overwhelming to select the best ones. Thus, here are some tips that might be helpful:
- Pistachios can be purchased shelled or unshelled, either raw, roasted, salted, seasoned, or unsalted.
- When you’re buying in the shell pistachios, look for blemish-free, ivory-colored shells that are split open at one end. Avoid the ones that aren’t cracked naturally, as unopened or firmly closed shells, besides the fact that they’re extremely difficult to open, indicates that they’re immature and flavorless.
- In the shell pistachios can also be naturally or mechanically opened. The more open the pistachio shells are, the higher their kernels to in-shell ratio goes. Thus, naturally opened pistachios are more likely to have a higher kernel to in-shell ratio. This ratio is important when choosing pistachios in the shell. Technically, the ratio should be higher than 51%. This means that in every 100 grams of in-shell pistachios, there should be at least 51 grams of kernels and 49 grams or less of shells. If this percentage is lower than 51%, it means that the package has been mixed with mechanically-opened or closed-shell (immature) pistachios to lower its cost and therefore, lower its selling price.
- If you hate removing the shell from the nut meat, then shelled pistachios is your best option. However, not only that you’d have to pay double the price, but you’re more likely to eat more, as studies have shown that the process of removing pistachios and setting them beside you while eating slows down your consumption.
- Once you remove the shell, you’ll see the nut covered in a thin, edible paper. This cover can be easily removed by blanching or parboiling. After doing so, drain and cool the nuts before removing the skins.
- When you’re buying pistachio kernels, choose the greener ones. While they range from yellow to dark green color, a greener nutmeat means a better flavor. In addition, they should also be completely free from contaminants or foreign materials such as glass, metal, and alike. While it’s possible that there might be some broken shells in the package, it should not exceed a certain range.
- Be aware that some pistachios are dyed either green, white, or red to cover up their blemishes or imperfections. Fortunately, almost all the domestically grown pistachios are sold without dye. However, to make sure, check the ingredients list and see if there are any food colorings involved in the product.
Pistachio Production & Farming in Texas
Pistachio nuts came from the small tree of the cashew family. The tree can live up to 300 years, and it’s grown in orchards with drylands, either in warm or temperate climates. Pistachio trees take roughly 7 to 10 years to produce significantly. The production is alternate or biennial-bearing, which means that the yield is higher in alternate years. The tree is also highly tolerant of saline oil. In fact, it thrives well when irrigated with water that has around 3,000 to 4,000 ppm of soluble salts. But of course, it still needs a sunny position and well-drained soil. It’s also considerably hardy that it can survive temperatures between 14ºF in winter and 118ºF in summer. However, they do poorly in conditions where there is high humidity. In winter, they’re also susceptible to root rot, especially when they get too much water and the soil isn’t sufficiently free-draining. Thus, for proper ripening of the fruit, long and hot summers are much preferred.
In the United States and Greece, harvesting is often accomplished with the use of an equipment that shakes the drupes off the tree. Once they’re hulled and dried, the pistachio seeds are sorted into open-mouth and closed-mouth shells. Then, they’re roasted or processed by special machines to produce the pistachio kernels.
Moreover, Far West Texas or the west of the Pecos River have arid regions where the disease pressure is low, salinity is common and natural, and irrigation is widely available. Despite this, however, there are only less than 10 pistachio growers in this area. Perhaps, it’s because the acreage has lowered substantially since the 1970s.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Just like the other tree nuts or seeds, aflatoxin can be found in poorly harvested or processed pistachios. Aflatoxins are potent carcinogenic chemicals that are produced by molds, which occurs from pests, poor storage, or the soil. The contamination prevails especially in warmer and humid environments. In fact, in some cases like Kenya, aflatoxins have caused outbreaks which led to several deaths. Thus, pesticides are sometimes applied to lessen the risk of this disease. Fortunately though, exposing pistachios to heat or cooking them under pressure removes 70% of this toxin.
Moreover, it’s common for pistachios to be sold roasted or seasoned. Below are some additives that we found on commercially ready pistachio nuts:
- Sodium – Although sodium is a natural food that balances our body fluids, it can cause harm when consumed past its RDA which is 2,300 mg per day.
- Natural Flavorings – Likewise, these are additives that are used to intensify the flavors of the product. For pistachio nuts, some natural flavorings include: sugar, pepper, red tabasco pepper, garlic powder, vinegar, paprika, and turmeric powder.
- Yeast extracts – These are added as a flavor enhancer and possess the same side effects just like MSG. You may want to avoid products with these ingredients especially if you have blood pressure problems or sodium-related concerns.
- Color Additives – these are food colorings or dyes that are added to food products to improve its color. Some are natural and some are artificial. Examples of these are annatto extract and/or turmeric extract (yellow), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange), grape skin extract (red and green), and dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown). Nonetheless, this additive can cause skin irritation, rashes, and eczema. Artificial ones include Blue # 1, Yellow # 5, Yellow # 6, FD&C, and Red 40. It can upset one’s stomach and experience difficulty in breathing.
- Citric Acid – This additive is a natural preservative in foods. It is a weak and organic acid that is found on citrus fruits. Thus, citric acid adds that sour or acidic taste to the product. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it may cause muscle cramps, weight gain, stomach pain, and convulsions.
- Malic Acid – This is a chemical compound that contributes to the sour taste of fruits. It’s commonly added as a flavoring agent to give food a tart taste. Some side effects include headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and allergic reactions.
As of 2018, Iran is the leading producer of pistachios, accounting for about 551,000 tonnes of global production. It’s then closely followed by the United States, mainly California, with around 447,000 tonnes. Turkey, China, and Syria follow.
As mentioned, pistachios can be purchased in a variety of ways. But, they’re commonly packaged in either resealable or non-resealable plastic bags, canisters, jars, and foil-lined cans.
Pistachio in the shells are often eaten as a snack. The kernels, besides eating them as a whole, they’re commonly enjoyed roasted and salted. But, you can also enjoy them in creative ways like pistachio ice cream, kulfi, spumoni, pistachio butter, and pistachio paste, along with some confections like baklava, pistachio chocolate, pistachio halva, pistachio lokum or biscotti, and mortadella. In the United States, pistachio salad is also popular. It’s done by mixing together pistachios or pistachio pudding, canned fruit, and whipped cream.
One of the most important things to remember about storing pistachio nuts and products in bulk containers is that they have been known to start fires. Nuts are generally high in fat and low in water contents, especially when their protective shells have been removed. On top of that, these kernels are more prone to self-heating and spontaneous combustion when stored with oil-soaked fiber or fibrous materials.
If you are planning to consume all your pistachios in a few days, you can simply keep them in resealable bags and store them in the pantry. However, if you’re keeping it longer, place them in an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator or the freezer. Pistachios in the shell can last for up to 3 months in the fridge and 1 year in the freezer. On the other hand, shelled pistachios can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 months but they are not good candidates for freezing.
If your pistachios have lost their crunch, you can simply toast them in the oven at 200ºF for 10 to 15 minutes. They are delicious to be eaten out of hand, but they also make a great and flavorful ingredient in sweet and savory recipes.
Pistachios are made up of 45% fat, 28% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and 4% water. They are a rich source of protein and dietary fiber. As a matter of fact, according to the USDA nutrient database, pistachios give more than 30 different vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. These include B vitamins like thiamin, vitamin B6, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and folate, along with calcium, vitamin E, vitamin K, y-tocopherol, carotenoids, and phytosterols.
Meanwhile, the fat content of pistachios is mainly monounsaturated at 24%, followed by polyunsaturated at 14%, and saturated at 6%. The most common monounsaturated fatty acid is oleic acid while the polyunsaturated consists mainly of linoleic acid. These are healthy fats that help in lowering down the bad fats, which in turn can improve our body in many ways. In fact, USDA states that eating just an ounce and a half of pistachios a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. On top of that, it can also lower the blood pressure of those people who don’t have diabetes.
When Are Pistachios in Season in Texas?
To find out when Pistachios are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.