Are pistachios good for you? Where do pistachios come from? For National Pistachio Day, learn the health benefits of pistachios and other pistachio facts.
February 26 is National Pistachio Day…and we think any excuse to eat these incredible nuts is a good thing. So let’s crack a few and explore some interesting pistachio facts.
First of all, the pistachio (pronounced pi-STASH-ee-oh or pi-STAH-shee-oh) isn’t really a nut; it is a drupe (stone fruit) related to the mango. The edible part is the seed. The small, fleshy fruits grow in clusters; when they ripen, they dry and crack open. Bear in mind, however, that even though pistachios are not botanically considered nuts, they do trigger reactions in people allergic to tree nuts, like cashews (to which they are also related).
Where Do Pistachios Come From?
Originating in the Middle East, pistachios have been eaten for at least 9,000 years, and were mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11). According to Muslim legend, the pistachio was one of the foods brought to earth by Adam. Pistachio trees were believed to have been planted in the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And pistachios were introduced to Italy by the Roman emperor Vitellius in the first century A.D.
California grows more than 550 million pounds of pistachios, making the U.S. the world’s second-leading producer after Iran.
Due to the shape of its partially opened shell, the pistachio is known as the “smiling nut” in Iran, and the “happy nut” in China. It is a symbol of health, happiness and good fortune, and is often given as a gift during the Chinese New Year.
Are Pistachio Nuts Good for You?
The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) agrees that “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces (42.5 g) per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Health Benefits of Pistachios
One serving (1 ounce/49 nuts) contains 160 calories and 6 grams of protein, about the same as an egg. Pistachios provide fiber and protein to help keep you feeling fuller longer, and are one of the lowest in fat and calories and highest in protein and potassium of all tree nuts. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database, pistachios provide more than 30 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The green and purple hues come from antioxidants.
Why Are Pistachios Red?
You will sometimes see pistachios in shells dyed red. They do not appear this way in nature; the practice began decades ago as a way to hide blemishes on the shells caused by picking and handling of the nuts.
The “Pistachio Principle”
People who eat pistachios in the shell consume an estimated 41 percent fewer calories than those who eat the shelled nuts, perhaps because cracking them slows the pace. Even among those who crack them, one study showed that those who leave the empty shells on their desk lowered their caloric intake by 18 percent more than those who immediately threw the shells away…apparently because the empty shells remind you of how much you’ve eaten.
Pistachios are versatile for both sweet and savory applications. Many chefs will chop them in a food processor and use them to coat fish or chicken or fish fillets before frying. They’re fabulous pounded into a pesto, and with their Middle Eastern origin, it’s no surprise that pistachios are used in many meat and rice dishes from that region.
Probably the most famous pistachio recipe of all time is pistachio ice cream (called gelato in Italy where it originated). The distinctive green ice cream—which gets its color naturally from the pistachio nuts—is one third of the classic tri-color Neapolitan ice cream. In America the three flavors are chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, but the original Italian formula—Neapolitan is named for the Italian city of Naples—mimicked the colors of the Italian flag: green (pistachio), white (vanilla) and red (cherry, which was actually pink).
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate these treasured nuts into your diet, a wide variety of pistachio recipes both sweet and savory can be found on the American Pistachio Growers website.
Of course, we think pistachios are incredible just as a snack right out of the container. Enjoy premium pistachio nuts conveniently pre-shelled, crack them yourself to follow the “Pistachio Principle”, or give them as a thoughtful gift to share the health and happiness of the “smiling nut” with someone you love.