About Pistachio Nuts
Description of Pistachio Nuts
One of the most well-loved finger foods, pistachio nuts are actually seeds of a fruit. The pistachio nuts that reach us consumers actually come from a tree. The pistachio tree is a deciduous tree with lots of leaves and may have more than one trunk. It typically grows anywhere from 25 to 30 feet. Because of its size and rich foliage, the pistachio tree is also sometimes used as a decorative tree.
The pistachio tree produces flowers and fruits. The flowers are either male or female and are produced by separate trees. The fruits grow in clumps, much like clusters of grapes. They are red and wrinkled in appearance. Inside the fruit is a small kernel with a shell and a seed within the hard shell. In an immature fruit, the kernel has a whole shell encasing the seed. When the fruit matures, the shell normally splits lengthwise partially. Of course, due to one factor or another, there are some shells that do not split at all. When a shell splits open partially, it does so with an audible pop. Legend says that couples who hear pistachio shells popping open at night will have good luck.
The pistachio shell itself is quite thin with a coloring similar to ivory, although it may have a beige tinge to it. The seed may range from yellow to green. The greener the seed, the more priced it is. In general, the pistachios commercially produced tend toward greener shades.
Although everyone considers pistachio as nuts, in the botanical world, they are actually considered drupes. Drupes are fruits that have an external part which is fleshy and an internal part which is hard and covered with a shell. The pistachio tree does not need much care. In fact, it can grow and produce fruits for centuries under favorable conditions.
History of Pistachio Nuts
Pistachio nuts have a long and prestigious history. In fact, its roots can be traced all way back to 7000 BC in Central Asia. The trees are native to these areas – Western Asia and Asia Minor – and the nuts have been used as food for a very long time. The pistachio is purported to be the Queen of Sheba’s favorite nut, thus gaining a royal status. It is said that the Queen demanded that all the harvest of pistachio nuts in her land belonged to her and had them sent to the palace for royal consumption.
The widespread use of the pistachio nuts in the Mediterranean area originated in Italy, when it was introduced there by the Syrians in the first century AD. It has since then became an integral part of Mediterranean cuisine.
The pistachio nut reached the United States in the 1880s when a man by the name of George Mason imported pistachio seeds for planting in California. It is said that the original intended recipients of the seeds were Americans of Middle-eastern origins, as they were already familiar with the nut and had a craving for it. From thereon, the pistachio nut caught on and became widely popular all over the world. Commercial production began in the 1970s and became widespread, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. Today, California is the one of the top commercial producer of pistachio nuts, second only to Iran. Other countries which produce pistachios on a commercial scale are Syria, China, and Greece.
Nutritional Facts about Pistachio Nuts
Pistachio nuts are rich in oil. One serving of 1 cup (123 grams) of dry roasted (unsalted) pistachio nuts would yield about 57 grams of fat and 34 grams of carbohydrates. Just like other nuts, it also has considerable protein content – about 26 grams. A big plus is that pistachio nuts are low in sodium and cholesterol, making them ideal for snacking.
Uses for Pistachios Nuts
Pistachio nuts are usually eaten whole. They can be eaten fresh or roasted. Depending on the dish, pistachios can be either unsalted or salted. For snacking purposes, salted roasted pistachios are best. They can be eaten just like any other nut, without anything else. Roasted pistachios are widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores. They are usually sold in prepackaged bags.
Pistachio nuts are also used for other snacks and desserts such as ice cream, cakes, pastries, and cookies. For these purposes, unsalted pistachios are better used. Pistachios can also be combined with soups and main dishes such as chicken and rice.
Pistachio can also be made into butter. Pistachio butter can be used just like any other kinds of butter from different nuts. One of the best ways to use pistachio butter is as a dip for raw fruits. It can also be used as a spread.
Buying Tips for Pistachios
Buying roasted pistachios is an easy task. All you need to do is check the packaging for the relevant information such as nutritional value and expiration date. Buying fresh pistachios requires that you pay a little more attention to details. When buying fresh pistachios at the store, make sure that you choose the nuts with partially split open shells. If the shells are not split open, then that means the nuts are still immature. You should also opt for the greener nuts – the kernel inside the shell, that is.
If you are buying pistachios for snacking, then you can get shelled or de-shelled nuts. However, for cooking purposes, it is easier to buy the de-shelled nuts. Also make sure that the nuts are not dyed if you are going to use them for cooking.
Red or Pink Pistachios
As mentioned earlier, pistachio nuts are encased in a creamy beige shell. However, it is not uncommon to see pistachio nuts with red or pink shells. These are not really a different kind of pistachio but are, in fact, regular nuts which are dyed. Why are pistachio nuts dyed red or pink? The truth is, no one knows the exact reason. Some say that in the old days, a Syrian trader started the practice of dying his products to distinguish them from those of his competitors. Others say that pistachio nuts were dyed so as to cover up the mottled shells that arise from the drying process. Supposedly, the mottling that results subtracts from the attractiveness of the pistachio nuts. In any case, the color of the shell does not really affect the taste and quality of the nuts themselves.