Pistachios are the go-to bite-sized snack for most consumers who are looking for a light, nutritious snack in between meals. And why not, as these sweet-flavored nuts contain antioxidant properties, high levels of protein and fiber content, aid in the effective management of your weight, help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and more.
Where did the pistachio originate from?
The pistachio tree has its roots in Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia, with evidence showing its seeds, accepted as a nut in the culinary sense, were a common food item as early as 6750 BCE (Ireco, Jul 2006).
Known in Latin as Pistacia vera, Pistachio was reportedly first cultivated and grown in modern Uzbekistan in the Bronze Age, and has traveled westward in the 19th century to New Mexico, California, in today’s United States, and Australia (Wikipedia).
In China pistachios are popular gift options, especially during the Chinese New Year, as they are symbolic of happiness prosperity and good health. They are called “happy nuts” because the kernels look like they are smiling (US News and World Report, Mar 2016).
Olam has warehouses across the United States including New Jersey and California; click here for more information.
Characteristics of pistachios
Pistachio can survive and thrive in saline soil as it is a desert plant. The pistachio tree can endure some tough conditions, and grows in quite severe temperatures ranging between -10 °C and -48 °C.
Where they don’t do well is when the ambient conditions are too humid and if the soil does not drain freely, as that can lead to their roots rotting, especially in winter if they are watered abundantly.
The ideal conditions for pistachio trees to thrive are summers that are long and hot, as that will allow the fruit to ripen effectively.
Who are the biggest producers of pistachios?
The United States and Iran are the biggest producers of pistachios, with these two countries alone accounting for 72 percent of the 1.4 million tonnes that was produced in 2018 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
In the United States Arizona, New Mexico and California account for 100 percent of the country’s commercial pistachio production. California is the hub of pistachio production in the US, comprising 99 percent of the entire production with 312,000 acres planted across 22 counties (American Pistachio Growers).
Pistachio’s annual farmgate value, defined as the net value of a product when it leaves the farm, after deducting marketing costs, is pegged at $1.6 billion for California, and more than $16 million for Arizona and New Mexico (American Pistachio Growers).
How tall do they grow? Pistachio trees can stretch up to 10 metres in height, approximately 33 feet, have an average weight of around 50 kg and their leaves are anywhere between 10 and 20 centimetres in length (4-8 inches). The trees dioecious in nature, meaning they have distinct male and female organisms, in this case trees.
The fruit of the pistachio tree is actually a drupe. This means an outer fleshy part protects the inner seed, the elongated pistachio seed kernel which is the edible portion of the fruit. While the fruit has a cream-colored shell that is hard, the pistachio seed’s skin is mauve in color with a tinge of light green.
However, this changes as soon as the fruit ripens as the shell of the seed turns autumnal yellow or red and splits open, partly, to reveal its contents. The process of the shell splitting, which happens with a pop that can be heard, is called dehiscence.
Pistachio harvest: What is alternate-bearing harvest?
Pistachios belong to the Anacardiaceae plant family, and members include cashews, mangos, sumac and even poison oak.
The pistachio trees have a very long lifecycle, with estimates pointing to a life expectancy of 150-300 years (InfoAgro). It takes about 10 years for them to mature and reach production, and they are usually planted in orchards.
Pistachios’ productive cycle is quite unique as their production is alternate-bearing. This means harvest is fruitful in alternative years – above average crop one year, below average crop the following year -- with peak production reaching around the 20-year mark.
Since pistachio trees are dioecious in nature the male trees provides pollen, which is adequate for a dozen drupe-bearing female trees to harvest.
When is the peak pistachio harvest?
The optimum time for pistachios to grow is between early summer and late August to early September. It takes very little effort to harvest pistachios as the ripened fruits fall to the ground themselves. Farmers take precautions to ensure there is no damage to the fruit when it falls by placing tarpaulins to collect the bounty.
To expedite the process of gathering the harvest some farmers use mechanical “shakers” to help the drupes detach from the trees. These shakers are machines that ‘hug’ the tree at the base and a motor gives the pistachio tree a good shake to detach the drupes from the branches. Click on this video for a visual representation.
Pistachios are sorted on the basis of being a closed-mouth shell or an open mouth. Since they are naturally open-mouth shells, they do not require de-shelling. However, that puts the pistachio kernels at risk of contamination. Therefore, the epicarp, which is the outermost layer of the drupe, is removed within 24 hours to maintain the quality of flavor of the kernels.
Our BRC certified facility in Vietnam process pistachios and other nuts in line with international food and safety standards. Click on the link to read more about our facility, which opened 22 years ago.
Uses of Pistachios
Pistachios are usually consumed as is, with their sweet flavor enticing Americans to choose them as a snack option. Their rich taste makes them versatile enough to be consumed in more ways than just as a nut.
- Salad Topping: Pistachios are a great option as an ingredient in salads. In either whole or chopped form, they are sprinkled over the lettuce and other vegetables in the salad. They are also used as a salad dressing in their pureed form.
- Sauce: Many restaurants and food enthusiasts use pistachios as a base for a sauce or dip.
- Snack: Pistachios can be enjoyed in their raw or dry roasted. Salt can be added to the roasted pistachios, as well as other flavored coatings.
- Smoothie: Pistachios can be added to milk and fruits, such as bananas, to make a creamy delightful smoothie.
- Dessert: Pistachios are a common flavor in ice creams, cakes, and pastries. The nuts are either sprinkled on top or mixed with the ingredients to make the dessert.
Become an Olam client and purchase bulk pistachios and wholesale pistachios that ship from our warehouses across the United States; click here to buy.