About PistachiosThe pistachio (Pistacia vera) is a small tree that bears an edible nut. It originally was native to Iran but can now be found in countries across the Middle East and eastward into India and Afghanistan. The early pistachio nut was originally cultivated in the cooler climes of Iran, where it has always been regarded as an important crop. The pistachio made its way to the Mediterranean through Syria; the Roman consul in Syria (c. 35 C. E.) introduced the nut in Italy.
More recently, the pistachio has been cultivated commercially in the United States and Australia. It was introduced in California in 1854, originally as a decorative garden tree. Hardier cultivars were introduced from China in 1904 - 1905 but was not promoted as a commercial crop until 1929.
The pistachio fruit is a drupe that contains an edible seed. The seed is considered a nut, although it is a culinary and not botanical nut. The fruit has a hard, whitish outer shell and the seed has mauvish skin and greenish flesh with a distinct flavor. When the fruit is ripe, the shell turns from green to a yellow or red and splits partly open. The splitting open was selected by humans as a desirable trait and now all cultivars split.
Pistachio shells are normally a beige color but sometimes appear in markets dyed either red or green. Originally, dye was applied to hide blemishes or stains on the shells because the nuts had to be hand-picked. Pistachios are gathered mechanically now, so they will appear in their natural state. Roasted pistachio nuts can be artificially turned red if exposed to a marinade of salt and strawberry, or salt and citrus salts.
Pistachio kernels are often eaten whole, either roasted or salted. They can appear in ice cream, pistachio butters and pastes, confections such as baklava, pistachio chocolates or halva and even in cold cuts like mortadella. A traditional American preparation of pistachios is in a salad, usually containing pistachios or pistachio pudding, whipped cream, canned fruit and occasionally cottage cheese or marshmallows.
Pistachios have been shown to significantly reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) while increasing antioxidant levels. Human studies have shown that 32 - 63 grams of pistachio nuts per day can significantly elevate plasma levels of lutein, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol.
Pistachios are high in thiamine (Vitamin B1), Vitamin B6, iron and phosphorus. Like other nuts, they are also high in protein and fiber. They are also high in fat, but they are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats.
Pistachios are in the same family as poison ivy and sumac, mangoes and cashews. They contain a compound known as urushiol, which can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.