History Iranian pistachios
The pistachio, as we know it today, was developed from its origins growing wild in central Asia on Pistacia Vera trees. The first step was to select and improve upon this nut, and it was undertaken during the time of Persian rule, spanning the Mediterranean and into central Asia. This makes them central to Iranian history, and is why they remain an important crop to the Iranian plateau. Cultivating pistachios, despite its Persian beginnings, has since spread and flourished in other countries as well, including Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Sicily. While this history dates back to late antiquity and even further, it was in the 1970s that the pistachio began to enter the commercial world internationally, with harvests occurring in countries anywhere around the 30th parallel. Argentina, Chile, California, North Africa, and parts of Australia are all part of the pistachio trade today. This delicious nut has since become a luxurious treat that can be found in stores all over the world.
There are 11 species of pistachio, but only one – the one we can find in grocery stores – is edible. All can be used to produce mastic or turpentine. While any could be referred to as a “pistachio,” we typically reserve that name for the commercially produced edible nut, whose latin name is Pistacia Vera L. This nut is a member of the Anacardiaceae family and is related to many other fruits and nuts, including mangos, cashews, sumac, and poison ivy and oak. It grows on a small tree and requires dry climates anywhere from sea level to roughly 1800m above. Producing a crop of viable pistachios requires long, hot, sunny summers and cool, dry winters. Thus, the right combination of aridity and altitude is required. Once trees are one year old, pistachios begin bearing laterally. The trees are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves in the autumn and do not fruit in the winter time. They are also dioecious, so there is a male pistachio tree and a female, both of which are required for reproduction and harvesting. The pollen from the flowers is spread by wind, and pistachio trees themselves have an extensive system of roots which access deep layers of soil. This allows them to survive long periods of drought, but also requires that they live in well-drained soil. High levels of salinity are acceptable, and irrigation is fine. Pistachio trees typically do not bear the full volume of their fruit until several years into their growth, maturing over a longer juvenile period than many other nut trees – sometimes taking as long as 15-20 years.
Uses and Nutrition
The pistachio nut provides many vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and unsaturated fats. These characteristics make it a rich and healthy part of any diet. One serving size (28g), for instance, offers more nutrients than most other nuts or healthy snacks: more dietary fiber than half a cup of spinach or broccoli, four times the vitamin B6 that peanut butter has, nearly as much thiamin as half a cup of rice, the same potassium as a banana, and 15 grams of fat – of which only 1.5g are saturated.