Pistachios are one of the world’s most popular nuts, and yet, they are not really true nuts at all! Like many other ‘nuts,’ pistachios are actually technically a seed because they grow inside the pistachio tree’s drupe. As the drupe dries, it forms a hard hull around the edible pistachio seed within, making it appear like a nut!
Where do pistachios grow?
Pistachio trees originated in the Middle East and Central Asia; however, nowadays, they are cultivated in many countries, including the United States, China, India, and Italy. As a dessert tree, pistachios need sweltering summers to produce a successful crop and they don’t take kindly to cold winters, humidity, or excess water. For this reason, fruit-bearing pistachio trees are not often seen in Europe and are mostly cultivated in climates that resemble those found in the Middle East.
The top five pistachio-growing countries in the world:
Iran - 551,307 tonnes
Iranian pistachios are regarded as some of the best quality pistachios in the world and form an integral part of Iranian culture, featuring in festivals, celebrations and special recipes.
The United States - 447,700 tonnes
California accounts for more than 99% of all pistachio production in the United States thanks to its perfect climate. Nut production in the US has increased dramatically in the last five years and is predicted to continue to rise well into the future.
Turkey - 240,000 tonnes
The majority of Turkish pistachios are consumed within Turkey itself because pistachios are an important ingredient in many Turkish dishes, including their world-famous dessert - pistachio baklava!
China - 74,828 tonnes
Despite producing almost 75,000 tonnes of pistachios each year, China is still unable to fulfil its own demand and imports most of its pistachios from abroad.
Syria - 43,299 tonnes
Pistachio production has declined significantly in Syria, dropping by more than 11,000 tonnes in just two years as a result of instability and war in the region.
How do pistachios grow?
Pistachios trees have been cultivated for their drupes and seeds for many thousands of years with archeological evidence of pistachio consumption dating back as far as 6750 BCE.
Pistachio trees are planted in orchards to make them easier to pollinate and to manage, and can take up to 20 years to reach their peak production! It is only the female pistachio tree that bears fruit, and so many pistachio trees are now artificially pollinated so as not to waste space on unproductive male plants, however some countries still allow their pistachio trees to pollinate naturally by planting male trees in the vicinity of the female trees.
Harvesting in the United States is usually accomplished with equipment that vigorously shakes the tree causing the drupes to fall to the ground; however, in most other countries, the harvest is still conducted by hand!
Once collected from the ground, the drupes are then dried and processed to remove their thick hulls so that just the pistachio seed remains. Depending on their grade and demand, these pistachios may be kept in their shells or de-shelled and further processed.
So there you have it - a quick overview of how, and where, pistachios are most commonly grown. Do you know where your pistachios have come from?