Pistachios have been a staple and nutritious food in our diets for many centuries, feeding royalty, travelers, and the general population worldwide. Here at Ayoub’s, the pistachio is where our journey and obsession with nuts began, and so the pistachio nut holds a very special place in our heart and as the logo for our business.
If like us, you’re also nuts about nuts, then here’s everything you could possibly need to know about the pistachio.
What are pistachios?
First things first, let’s start with an easy one - what are pistachios? Believe it or not, pistachios are a member of the cashew family and grow as the seed of the pistachio tree. Technically not a nut at all, the pistachios that we eat grow inside of drupes, which, when they dry, form a rigid hull around the edible pistachio.
Where did pistachios originate?
Nowadays, pistachios are grown in many countries globally, but initially, all pistachio trees were located in the Middle East and Central Asia. The oldest archaeological evidence that we have for pistachios dates back to 6750 BCE from Bronze Age Central Asia, also known as modern-day Uzbekistan. This region of the world provided the perfect place for pistachios to thrice due to its dry, hot climate and very mild winters.
As the demand for pistachios grew, the cultivation area for pistachio trees expanded across the Middle East with the spread of Islam, and pistachio nuts were transported by traders traveling the Silk Road, which ultimately started cultivation in India and China.
Some centuries later, the pistachio was introduced to Rome via the Roman Proconsul in Syria, and then slightly after that into Hispania - which consequently sparked cultivation attempts in Italy and Spain and led to the spread of pistachios across the Mediterranean.
Today, pistachios are cultivated in several countries that can replicate the hot and dry climate of the Middle East, with Iran, the US, Turkey, China, and Syria taking the top five spots.
The food of royalty
Throughout their history, pistachios have repeatedly been associated with prestigious figures, lending them their nickname as a ‘food of royalty.’ Legend has it that the Queen of Sheeba herself enjoyed eating pistachios so much that she banned everyone else from enjoying them and decreed them a royal food while she reigned. As it turns out, the Queen of Sheeba was not alone in her love for this tasty green nut, and Nebekenezza, the greatest king of the Babylonian Empire, also favored the pistachio and chose to have several pistachio trees planted in his famous Hanging Gardens.
If an association with the Queen of Sheeba and Nebekenezza wasn’t enough to secure the pistachio its place in royal history, the pistachio was also enjoyed regularly by a selection of Roman emperors following their introduction to Rome in the first century AD.
Global consumption of pistachios today
Jumping forward to today, pistachios are no longer reserved for royalty and form a staple ingredient in diets across the world. In the past five years, the demand for pistachios and pistachio products has increased dramatically as people have begun to realize how delicious and healthy pistachio nuts are, and the US market, in particular, has expanded exponentially to cater for its own and global demand.
With California’s Central Valley providing fertile soil, a dry and hot climate, and moderately mild winters, the US pistachio industry began producing pistachios in 1976 growing a commercial crop of just 680 tons in its first year. Fast-forward to today, and the US is now the second-biggest supplier of pistachios worldwide and has gone from barely providing enough for its own domestic market to exporting the vast majority of its crop to countries across the world.
The top five pistachio-growing countries in the world
- Iran - 551,307 tonnes
- The United States - 447,700 tonnes
- Turkey - 240,000 tonnes
- China - 74,828 tonnes
- Syria - 43,299 tonnes
Why are pistachios so expensive?
Although the price of pistachios has come down significantly in recent years, they are still widely considered to be one of the more expensive nuts. The reason why pistachios cost a lot more than other nuts is down to how they are grown.
Unlike peanuts that are ready to harvest just 150 days after they are planted, pistachio trees take 15 to 20 years to produce pistachios! This means that growers have to tend and care for their trees for a very long time before seeing any return on their investment. What’s more, once a pistachio tree is finally fully mature, it only produces around 50lbs of nuts per year, which is just a fraction of the yield that can be obtained from other nut trees that can produce up to 250lbs in one season.
Some other factors that contribute to the total cost of pistachio nuts are the fact that they only like to grow in a handful of countries and require a lot of watering - not to mention more often than not, the nuts are also hand harvested and hand sorted.
How healthy are pistachios?
One of the reasons why pistachios have grown so much in popularity in recent years, is because they are now seen as a health food - but how healthy are they really? Let’s take a look at their nutritional composition to find out.
A one-ounce (28 gram) serving of pistachios contains the following:
- 159 calories
- 8 grams of carbohydrates
- 3 grams of fiber
- 6 grams of protein
- 13 grams of fat (90% of which is unsaturated and heart-healthy!)
- 6% of the RDI for potassium
- 28% of the RDI for Vitamin B6
- 11% of the RDI for phosphorus
- 21% of the RDI for thiamin
- 41% of the RDI for copper
- And 15% of the RDI for manganese.
From this data, notably, you can see that a single serving of pistachios is a fantastic source of protein and fiber, not to mention a serving also contains an excellent amount of healthy unsaturated fat and is one of the best sources of Vitamin B6 that you can find.
The health benefits of eating pistachios
Although data like the above is interesting, it can be challenging to see how those percentages translate into a food being healthy or not. So to make things simpler, we’ve listed some of the top health benefits of pistachios below.
Pistachios are nutrient power-houses
Although they may be small, pistachios, like most nuts, are nutrient powerhouses, packing a whole lot of goodness into their small bodies. High in protein, fiber, and antioxidants, pistachios are one of the healthiest nuts that there are, which is why they have been a staple in the diets of millions of people for centuries.
Pistachios are a great source of antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation and slow down the damage caused to cells by free-radicals. If left to their own devices, free-radicals can cause cell mutations that could lead to cancer and so it is essential to consume as many antioxidants as possible to keep them at bay. Pistachios are one of the best nut-sources of antioxidants, because their antioxidants, lutein, and zeaxanthin, are very accessible in the stomach and are more likely to be absorbed during digestion.
Pistachios are high in protein and amino acids
If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or simply watching your protein intake, then you’ll be happy to know that approximately 20% of a pistachios compound weight is made up of protein and they also have more essential amino acids than any other nut.
Pistachios help you to feel fuller for longer
The protein, fiber, and healthy-fat content of pistachios are also great at helping you to feel satiated for longer, which can aid weight loss. In-shell pistachios are particularly good for those looking to lose weight because they also encourage mindful eating and slow you down.
Pistachios help to grow your good gut bacteria
Slowly but surely, research is uncovering the intrinsic link between overall health and a healthy gut. Without good gut bacteria, it is not possible to be healthy overall and the two go hand-in-hand. Pistachios can help to grow good gut bacteria because they contain a substantial amount of fiber that our gut bacteria need to feed on and which is fermented down into short-chain fatty acids that are used by the body.
Pistachios can lower your risk of heart disease
Several studies have found that eating pistachios regularly can help to lower your levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. Pistachios have also been found to be very effective at lowering blood pressure, with a review of 21 blood pressure studies finding that eating pistachios could reduce the upper limit of blood pressure by 1.82 mm/Hg and the lower limit by 0.8 mm/Hg.
Pistachios can help to promote lower blood sugar levels
Although pistachios appear to have a higher carbohydrate content than many other nuts, they actually have a very low glycemic index which means that they won’t cause a blood sugar spike when eaten. What’s more, research has found that if pistachios are eaten alongside a carb-rich diet, then the individual's blood sugar response is still significantly reduced.
Why can’t some people eat pistachios?
Despite being a delicious, healthy, and nutritious snack, for some people, pistachios can cause unpleasant discomfort in their stomachs. The reason why some people have this reaction to pistachios is usually that they have an intolerance to fructan - a type of carbohydrate and a form of soluble fiber.
Fructans are found naturally in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and cereals, but some manufacturers add it to their products to increase their fiber content. Sadly, for people with an intolerance to fructans, this means cutting out and limiting their intake of a number of foods to keep their gut happy.
Symptoms of an intolerance to fructans
The main symptoms of a fructans intolerance include gas, stomach pains, uncomfortable bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and stomach cramps after eating foods with high fructan content. It’s important to note that these symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of gluten sensitivity, and it is now believed that many people who believed that they had gluten sensitivity could, in fact, have had an intolerance to fructans because most gluten-containing cereals are also high in fructan.
Foods that are high in fructans
Aside from pistachios, some of the other foods that are high in fructans and can cause the same discomfort are bread, artichokes, Brussel sprouts, garlic, cabbage, onions, grapefruit, nectarines, watermelon, almonds, cashews, and coffee. You can find a full list of high-fructan foods here.
Can people with a fructan allergy still eat pistachios?
Many people with a fructan allergy can still consume fructan containing foods in small quantities. Generally speaking, most people do not consume more than one ounce of pistachios in a single serving, which for some fructan-allergy sufferers is not enough to cause a reaction.
If you experience unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms after eating pistachios, then try cutting down the amount of them that you are eating, and if that does not work, then you may need to eliminate them from your diet altogether in favor of other lower-fructan nuts such as walnuts or pecans.
Why are pistachios considered the ultimate snack?
Pistachios are used as an ingredient in thousands of dishes across the world, but they don’t need to be baked to taste delicious, which is why they are a brilliant snack on their own. Here’s why we think pistachios are the ultimate snack food.
They’re actually healthy!
Pistachios are less calorific than other nuts, all the while providing an intense array of important nutrients that your body needs. Packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, heart-healthy fats, and vitamins, pistachios are a complete snack food that you don’t need to feel guilty eating.
They’re a mindful snack
We’ve all been there - one second you’re opening a bag of chips, and then next your hand is dipping into an empty bag. When it comes to snacking, it can be all too easy to eat mindlessly which can lead to overeating and weight gain. On the other hand, Pistachios are a mindful snack because they demand your attention to remove their shells. As you eat, the action of taking the shell off and putting it to one side helps to promote mindful eating, which can help you to eat less and to notice when you are getting full.
They will keep you full until your next meal
The whole point of a good snack is that it keeps you full until your next meal. Pistachios are protein-dense and contain healthy fats and fiber, all of which combine to make them a very satisfying snack that will make you feel full all the way up until you next eat.
They can actually help you to lose weight
If you’re trying to lose weight, then it can be tempting to cut out snacks altogether, but often this only leads to overeating at your next meal. Rather than starving yourself between meals, pistachios can provide you with a healthy source of energy that will curb your hunger cravings, lower your blood sugar, and stop you from reaching for that unhealthy chocolate bar on the way home for dinner.
What can you do with leftover pistachio shells?
The only problem with buying shell-on pistachios is that you tend to end up with a large pile of pistachio shells at the end of your snacking session. In a world where we need to be mindful of our food-waste, rather than simply throwing these empty shells in the bin, why not make use of them? Here are a few things that you can do with your leftover pistachio shells, and we have more ideas in another blog here.
The simplest thing that you can do with your leftover pistachio shells is to put them in your compost bin and to let them rot down into some delicious compost for your plants. All nut shells can be composted, but they do take quite some time to break down and may dry out your compost. If you want to speed up the process, then you can either crush your shells into small pieces or soak them for 24 hours overnight so that they become soft and can be more easily broken down. To stop your compost from drying out, either add a little bit of water or balance the mix out by adding plenty of water-rich kitchen scraps.
Get crafty and make something with them
We don’t know about you, but we think that pistachio shells are rather beautiful and the internet seems to agree with us. A quick search on Pinterest reveals thousands of pistachio shell crafts, from funky fish all the way through to wind chimes, Christmas tree sculptures, and wooden roses. The craft possibilities for pistachio shells are literally endless and with a little paint, glue, and glitter they can be transformed into something very pleasing. If you aren’t the craft type, then why not get in touch with your local school and see if they would like your pistachio shells for any art-projects?
Gift them to your local garden center
If you don’t have the time or the space to do something with your pistachio shells, then it’s always worth contacting your local garden center as they may want to add them to their compost heap or to use them as a drainage medium for their plants. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.
Where to buy the best pistachios from
The difference between good quality and low-quality pistachios is like night and day. High-quality pistachios are sweet, flavorful, and crisp and can hold their own, even when paired with strong flavors like lime, chili, or salt. Once you’ve tried high-quality pistachios, you’ll never want to go back to eating anything less, so here are a few places that you can buy quality pistachios from.
If you hadn’t guessed it already, nuts are our specialty at Ayoub’s and although we may be a little biased, we firmly believe that our pistachios are a bit different from those you’ll find in most supermarkets. We source all of our pistachios from the Middle East, directly from small producers who we have been working with since the early 1980s. All of these pistachios then undergo the strict USDA grading process to ensure that they meet our exacting standards, before being roasted, by hand, daily, in our stores so that they are fresh for our customers to enjoy. If you’re buying any one of our raw pistachio products, then rest assured that none of them have been pasteurized to ensure that their nutritional value is not compromised in any way. Having been roasting pistachio nuts for almost 40 years, we know you’ll love our products.
Whole Foods Market
Although a little on the more expensive side, another great place to find high-quality pistachio nuts is Whole Foods Market. As can be expected from Whole Foods, most of their pistachios are a premium product, and some are even organic. The only problem with buying a brand name like Whole Foods is that you do tend to pay Whole Foods prices, which can be a little steep.
And lastly, believe it or not, another great place to find high-quality pistachio nuts is Amazon. With the power of the internet, Amazon has connected thousands of retailers directly to their customers, and at the click of a button, you can have pistachios shipped to you from around the world. One thing that you do need to be careful of though is that with so many producers selling pistachios on Amazon, you do need to pay special attention to their reviews to ensure that you get a quality product and aren’t paying above the odds for something you could buy in your local grocery store.
How long do pistachios last?
In most instances, an open packet of pistachios won’t be around for very long, but if you do need to store them, then it’s essential to know how long they will last so that you don’t end up with a bag of rancid nuts.
How long your pistachios will last depends mostly on how you choose to store them. Pistachios, like most nuts, have a high-fat content and will oxidize if exposed to the air causing them to go rancid. Therefore to keep them fresh, they need to be kept in an airtight container in a cool and dry area of your pantry.
To maximize the shelf-life of your pistachios once you have opened them, re-seal their bag straight away or, alternatively, place them in an airtight container with a sealable lid. If stored in this way, pistachios will last between one to two weeks when left at room temperature, which should be plenty of time for you to finish the packet off.
If for whatever reason, you need to elongate the life of your pistachios further, then one thing to consider would be to put them in your refrigerator or even in your freezer. If stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, pistachios can last anywhere up to three months, and if stored in the freezer, then they will still taste great in up to 12 months’ time.
How to tell if your pistachios have gone bad?
The easiest way to tell if your pistachios have gone bad is to try one. A rancid nut tastes bitter and nasty and you’ll know straight away that something isn’t quite right. Other ways to tell if your pistachios have gone rancid are to look for any signs of mold and smell their container. If the container shows any signs of mold growth or has a musty, old smell, sadly, your pistachios need to be thrown out.
How to use up extra pistachios
If you have too many pistachios and are worried about them going rancid, then the best thing to do with them is to use them in some easy pistachio recipes. Here are three that you may want to try.
Easy peasy pistachio nut butter
If you like the taste of pistachio nuts, then you’ll love pistachio nut butter. Smooth, or chunky, depending on your preference, pistachio nut butter tastes great on toast, adds healthy fats to your smoothies, or can be used in place of peanut butter in other recipes. What’s more, all you need to make your own delicious pistachio nut butter is, you guessed it, pistachios!
You will need
- 16oz of pistachio nuts
Ideally, you will want to use unsalted dry roasted nuts for this recipe, however, for a milder flavor, you can also use raw pistachios. If you like your nut butter sweet, then you can also add in a little bit of honey or maple syrup for some extra flavor.
How to make your own pistachio nut butter at home
- If your pistachios are still in their shells, then you’ll need to take the shells off - no need to remove the pink husk within but if you want your nut butter to be a more vivid green color, then you can quickly blanch your pistachios in boiling water to remove the pink husks.
- Next, all you need to do is add your pistachios to a high-powered blender with your honey if you choose to use it.
- Blend everything on the lowest setting for approximately one minute until your pistachios are crumbly.
- Give the sides a scrape down with a spatula if you need and then turn up the speed of your blender and blitz for a further three to four minutes until you reach your desired consistency.
- You may need to scrape down the sides of your blender once or twice more to make sure that you get everything nice and smooth.
- Once finished, move your pistachio nut butter to an airtight container and keep refrigerated for two to three weeks.
Green and glossy pistachio nut gelato
If you’ve never tried it before, pistachio gelato is a delicate, sweet, and delicious flavor that will have you hooked! This recipe does require an ice-cream machine to make, but it’s definitely worth it for the professional texture.
You will need
- 3 ¾ ounces of unsalted, shelled pistachios
- 3 ¾ ounces of sugar
- 2 cups of whole milk
- 1 teaspoon of almond extract
- 5 egg yolks
- Chopped pistachios to garnish with
- Green food coloring (this is optional but will make your gelato a more vibrant green)
How to make pistachio gelato at home
- If you’re using shell-on pistachios, then you’ll need to shell them first. Next, blitz your pistachios and a third of your sugar in a blender until they have become a fine powder.
- Meanwhile, combine your whole milk and almond extract in a heavy-base saucepan before adding in your blended sugar and pistachios and bringing it to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn off the heat.
- Next, whisk together your egg yolks with the remaining sugar in a bowl and then slowly add this egg mixture to your warmed milk, whisking constantly to stop lumps from forming.
- Stir your gelato custard over medium-low heat until it has thickened slightly but do not boil again!
- Once your custard has thickened to the point where it easily coats the back of a spoon, you can remove it from the heat and add your food coloring if you are using it.
- Before adding your custard to the ice-cream machine, you will need to refrigerate it until it is completely cold.
- When cold, add your custard to your ice cream machine and churn as per the manufacturer's instructions.
- Once the machine has finished, move your gelato to a suitable storage container and garnish with chopped pistachios before storing in your freezer.
Nut-based crusts are great for a variety of meat and vegetarian dishes. This pistachio crust works exceptionally well with salmon but can also be used with lamb, pork or even beef.
You will need
- A side of salmon (approximately 1300g)
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup
- ½ a cup of shelled pistachios (chopped)
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- Salt and pepper to taste
How to make your pistachio-crusted salmon
- Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and then line a baking sheet that is large enough to fit your fillet of fish on, with parchment paper.
- If you haven’t got chopped pistachios, you will need to either chop them by hand or add them to a blender until they resemble a fine dice.
- Rub the flesh of the salmon fillet with the olive oil and then massage in the minced garlic and the honey.
- Season the whole fillet generously with salt and pepper before gently but firmly pressing the chopped pistachios onto the flesh of the salmon so that they form a crust.
- Bake the fish in the oven for approximately 15 minutes or until the flesh is flakey.
And that’s everything you need to know about pistachios
So there you have it - a comprehensive look at the pistachio, from where it is grown, why it is so expensive, and why it makes a great snack, to some of our favorite easy recipes and what you can do with your leftover pistachio shells. We don’t know about you, but we love pistachios and think that they’re a fantastic healthy snack and also a very versatile ingredient. If you’d like to start eating more pistachios in your diet, check out our extensive range that has been sourced and roasted with love, in small batches, in our stores.