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Uncover the inside scoop on pistachios
The scientific term for pistachios is pistachio vera, and they are known as the "green nut." Although pistachios are technically a seed, pistachios are commonly known to us as nuts. Pistachios are cousins of the cashew tree, and are also in the same family tree branch (or "kissing cousins") of mangos.
Pistachios are the only nuts that are green, and they get their unique color from the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, and chlorophyll, which is the same plant pigment that gives other green vegetables such as peas, cucumbers, and celery their green color.
Bonus fact: the purple hues in pistachios come from the presence of other antioxidants resveratrol and anthocyanin.
Pistachios are a prehistoric food. One of the original caveman snacks (before paleo was a thing), humans have consumed pistachios for at least 9000 years. Archeologists have discovered excavations in Central Asia uncovering that ancient civilizations consumed pistachios since at least 7000 BC. Even the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were said to have contained pistachio trees during the reign of King Meodrach around 700 BC! Pistachios were also favored by Queen Sheba herself, and she loved them so much that she designated pistachios as a royal delicacy only to be eaten by members of her court.
Pistachios were also used by travelers and merchants on the Silk Road as a portable snack on their long trade routes. In the first century A.D., Emperor Vitellius introduced Rome to the pistachios, and the Romans loved them so much that they were even included in Apicius, a 5th century Roman recipe book! Pistachios eventually became well-known and consumed throughout Europe, and finally reached U.S. shores in the 1930s.
Pistachios grow all over the world in mostly arid climates. The pistachio tree is native to regions of Central Asia. Pistachios were introduced to the U.S. in the 1930s, and are now grown primarily in California and also in Arizona and New Mexico. Our very own state of California is the second largest producer and exporter of pistachios in the world.
Short Answer, yes. Pistachios contain various vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, a complete plant-based protein, all essential amino acids, fiber and antioxidants. Compared to some other nuts, pistachios are also relatively lower in fat and calories.
Technically speaking, pistachios are a hard, one-seeded fruit known as a drupe. This "fruit" (or what we commonly think of as the inner, edible portion of a pistachio) has an outer shell which formed to offer protection from animals.
Fun fact: Unlike other nuts, pistachios naturally split open at maturity, which is a process known as dehiscence. The pistachio fruit ripens so abruptly when the seed outgrows its shell that it causes its shell to split open suddenly with a loud popping sound!
Pistachios have some interesting cultural meanings, and are considered a symbol for prosperity across many cultures throughout the world. In Russia, hearing the crack of a pistachio being opened is considered good luck. In China, pistachios are gifted during the Lunar (or Chinese) New Year as a symbol for health, happiness, and good fortune. Both the Chinese and the Persians called pistachios the "happy nut" or the smiling nut because the split shell resembles a smile. Pistachios are known as a "warming food" for the soul in India, and are gifted during Diwali as a bearer for love and other good wishes for the New Year. In Korea, on "Daeboreum" or the "Full Moon" day celebrated on February 24 of each lunar year, friends and families gather together to drive evil spirits away with the sounds made by cracking open pistachios. In Brazil, loved ones sharing pistachios can be considered good luck and seen as a way of showing endearment. No matter where in the world you are or what you believe in, pistachios are sure to bring you some joy in your life.