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Pistachios

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Nutrient-dense pistachios provide iron, folate, potassium, pantothenic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and zinc. A one-ounce serving of pistachios amounts to about 47 nuts, and supplies more than 10% of the daily value for dietary fiber, vitamin B-6, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus,and copper.

Pistachios contain plenty of plant sterols (almost 60 milligrams of plant sterols per ounce), which are believed to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. And the pistachio is an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acid, a beneficial type of fat that helps to reduce LDL (the "bad") cholesterol levels and raise HDL (the "good") levels. Compared with most nuts, the monounsaturated fat content of pistachios (about 67 percent of the total fat in pistachios) is high and is similar to that of almonds. A healthful alternative to snack foods that are often devoid of nutritional value or high in saturated fat, the pistachio offers superior nutrition, flavor and texture and can be added to salads, main dishes and desserts.

One of the oldest edible nuts on the planet, the pistachio nut is believed to have originated in the Middle East, where it grew wild for thousands of years. In Genesis, Jacob is said to have sent gifts of almonds and pistachio nuts with his sons to Egypt. And during the time of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba coveted pistachio nuts and decreed that all of the pistachios produced in her domain be dispensed to her and her court. Ancient Roman aristocrats and the emperor Vitellius considered pistachios to be a delicacy and a status food. Centuries later, medieval English cookery books reveal that pistachios were popular ingredients used in meat dishes and meat pies.

The pistachio is grown in clusters on trees that reach up to 30 feet high and often take up to 15 years to produce significant quantities of nuts. Pistachio trees can continue to grow pistachios for centuries. Although referred to as a nut, the fruit (what we call the "kernel") of the pistachio is actually a drupe whose edible portion is the seed. This buttery, sweet, and delicate flavored kernel is naturally green and is covered with a fine, thin, pale brown skin that need not be removed before eating. The green color of the kernel is the result of chlorophyll, the same pigment that makes leaves green.

It's semi-opened shell is a feature unique to the pistachio and this characteristic (singular morphology) is why people in the Middle East sometimes refer to the pistachio as the "smiling pistachio" and the Chinese call it the "happy nut." In fact, this unusual shell negates the need for the nut to be shelled before it is roasted and salted. As the pistachio kernel grows, it naturally expands within the shell until it splits open. Non-split shells usually contain immature kernels and should be thrown away.

The natural color of the pistachio shell ranges from pale beige, yellow, tan, to various shades of green. Initially, with the advent of vending machines in the 1930’s when the pistachio was just becoming popular in the U.S., the shell was dyed red with vegetable dye to disguise imperfections. The red dye subsequently served as a way for marketers to draw attention to the nut and to distinguish it from peanuts. Most companies no longer ascribe to this practice, though a still few do to appeal to those who prefer the dyed nuts.

Varieties

Pistachios are available in-shell, roasted and salted as well as shelled, unsalted (less common). With naturally tan, clean shells, the California Kerman pistachio is larger in size with a more vibrant green nut than its Middle Eastern counterparts. Both types are found in supermarkets.

Availability

All year.

Shopping

Available in bags in supermarkets or loose in bins in specialty shops.

Storage

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Shelled pistachios will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. For longer storage, place shelled or unshelled pistachios in an airtight container, seal, label, and date and freeze for up to a year.

Preparation

Pistachios can be used in both sweet and savory preparations. Coarsely chopped pistachios are delicious sprinkled over desserts, in salads, in pilafs, or in baked goods. For use in custards, finely chop pistachios and steep them in warm milk for 30 minutes until the milk has picked up the sweet, nutty flavor of the pistachios.

If shelled pistachios have softened, but are still good they may be refreshed in a 350°F oven for 5 minutes until crisp.

There is no need to remove the skin from pistachios before using them.

Nutrition Chart

Pistachios/1 ounce

164
Total fat (g)
14
Saturated fat (g)
1.7
Monounsaturated fat (g)
9.3
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
2.1
Dietary fiber (g)
3.1
6
Carbohydrate (g)
7
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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