Shell shock! The Pistachio Nut
Shell shock! The Pistachio Nut
Flavour and nutrition make pistachios worth rediscovering
Is there a more perfect snack than pistachios? They’re delicious, good for you and, by having to wrestle them from their shells, offer finger exercises. It also slows down your consumption. Everything in moderation, you know. Of course, you can say those same things about oranges, too, but really, aren’t pistachios more fun? Pistachio is also a favorite flavour of ice cream, a fine nut to find in a biscotti and a tasty crust for fish or chicken on the grill.
As for all those shells, when you’re done, use them as drainage chips in pots and planters or save them to plant in the garden around your favorite plants. Snails don’t like their sharp edges.
Pistachios are grown on trees and have naturally tan shells. The kernels inside the shells are a greenish tan. They get their greenish coloring from chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a natural pigment that gives leaves their green color. Pistachios are typically sold with the shells partly open and the kernels peeking out, making the task of separating the kernels from their shells easy. The shell actually opens on its own during the growth process. As the pistachio nut grows, it expands until it pops its shell open. Sometimes, pistachio shells don’t open on their own. Often, this is caused by immature kernels that don’t grow properly. Such nuts should usually be discarded.
A 1-ounce serving of pistachios equals 49 nuts and delivers 160 calories, zero cholesterol, 6 grams of protein and 13 fat grams. For comparison, cashews have the same amount of fat grams and peanuts have 14, while almonds have 15, macadamias 22, pecans 21 and walnuts 19. Of all the commonly consumed nuts, pistachios have fewer calories than other nuts. Only cashews come close to their nutritional profile. But they are too easy to eat endlessly, as you don’t have to work to shell them.
Pistachios have about 3 calories per nut or 713 calories per cup (shelled). Pistachios offer potassium (as much as half a banana) and protein. They have more dietary fiber and thiamin than yeast breads. Like olive oil, pistachios contain monounsaturated fat that has been linked with lowered cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
The nuts have copper (one of the reasons people eat liver is for copper, which helps the body make hemoglobin) and magnesium, which is also found in spinach. Many diets, including the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) recommend four or five servings of nuts each week. So why not celebrate the pistachio? Now that they aren’t all red we don’t even have to worry about painted hands anymore, either.
Red Dye Pistachios
Why were they red anyway, you wonder? Because in the 1930s, importers began dyeing the shells bright red to disguise blemishes that occurred during harvesting and so to make them more attractive to consumers. Though some enjoy the red color, many believe the red dye adversely affects the taste of the pistachio kernels. The red dye may also stain clothes and hands.
Pistachios are the seeds from the fruit of a small Persian tree, Pistachia vera, and they’ve been cultivated at least 3,000 years, widely in Central Asia to the Mediterranean region and now in California You might remember that during the Iran hostage crisis, when the U.S. Embassy was attacked and Americans were taken hostage for more than a year, pistachios were in short supply. The crisis interrupted exports of pistachios from Iran, the world’s leading pistachio producer, and sent prices soaring. That’s when California got into pistachios big time. Although the tree was experimented with in California in the 1930s, big commercial plantings didn’t develop until 1970, when farmers began diversifying from a heavy almond industry. The first major commercial crop was harvested in 1976. With the Iran export problem, California revved up production, and today is second only to Iran in pistachio production, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, a group of experts from Iowa State University, Kansas State University and the University of California, who serve as an information resource for agricultural producers.