What Are Pistachios Good For?

Fantastic Pistachios
Botanical name: Pistacia vera

Pistachios Nutrition Facts

Known for its bright green hue and unique flavor, the humble pistachio has cemented itself as one of the most loved tree nuts today. It’s said that people have been eating pistachio nuts since 6760 B.C., a claim backed up by archaeological evidence.1

This should come as no surprise, as it’s a very versatile ingredient — from baked goods to soups and salads, pistachios definitely have a place at your table.

Another thing that makes pistachio so inherently lovable is its appearance. Thanks to its semi-opened shell, it looks like a smiling face. In China it’s known as “the happy nut,” while in Iran, it’s fondly called “smiling pistachio.”2

There’s a lot more to pistachio than its flavor and appearance. For example, did you know that pistachios grow on trees, and that these trees can survive long periods of drought?3 Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating tree nut.

What Are Pistachios?

Also called pista4 or green almond,5 pistachio (Pistacia vera) is a type of nut that comes from a deciduous tree believed to have originated from Central Asia,6 although it has been found growing in western Asia, Asia Minor, as well as in India and Pakistan. The plant is a member of the Anacardiaceae family, and is a close relative of mangoes, cashews, sumac and poison oak.7

While there are at least a dozen species of Pistacia, only P. vera produces the large pistachio nuts that are deemed acceptable for commerce.8 Today, top commercial growers of pistachio include Italy, Greece, Australia, Turkey, Syria and the U.S.9 

One fun fact about pistachios: While they’re often referred to as “nuts,” they’re technically seeds.10 Pistachio fruits, which are drupes measuring 1.5 to 2 centimeters long, grow in clusters, similar to grapes. This is where pistachio nuts come from.11 The pistachio you know is the seed, an oblong kernel about 1 inch in length and 1/2 inch in diameter that is protected by a bony, ivory-colored shell.12

How and Where Do Pistachios Grow?

The pistachio tree can grow up to 30 feet tall, and can be identified by its wide-spreading branches and leaves, each one consisting of one to five pairs of wide leaflets that are thick and leathery.13 It’s a very hardy plant — it can thrive in dry and adverse conditions with little rainfall, and can grow on steep, rocky terrains. It can also survive through cold winters.14   

But pistachio trees require very specific climate requirements to thrive. The Australia’s Pistachio Growers Association gives some brief pointers on how pistachios are successfully grown for commercial purposes: To bear fruit, the trees need very hot summers — over 600 hours with temperature no lower than 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) — and very cold winters. If there are over 1,000 hours of summer and autumn rains occur, fungal problems may manifest and harvesting may become difficult.15

These particular temperature requirements can make growing a pistachio plant quite an arduous task. But if you’re up to the challenge, and if you’re lucky to live in a place that meets these temperature requirements, Gardening Know How provides a few basic tips to help you out:16

  • If you live in a highly elevated area, pistachios may not thrive well because of the cold temperature. They may not survive in places with temperatures below 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 degrees Celsius).
  • The best soil for pistachio trees is deep sandy loam. It needs well-draining soil, as well as infrequent deep irrigation.
  • You can grow pistachio seedlings in a container during the first three to five years, and then just transplant them in the garden after.
  • Plant pistachio trees 20 feet apart. Because they are dioecious, you need to plant both male and female trees.
  • Pistachio trees need pruning to ensure they produce high-quality fruit and to control their growth.

Health Benefits of Pistachios

They might taste good, but are pistachios good for you? The answer is a resounding yes! Pistachio nuts are known for their high amounts of antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein and gamma-tocopherol (vitamin E).17

Pistachios are also a great source of vitamins, particularly B2, B3 and B5, as well as minerals like copper, zinc, selenium, manganese and calcium. Among all nuts, pistachios are the richest source of potassium as well. This impressive array of nutrients helps contribute to numerous health effects, including:18

  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels — A 2010 study found that just one to two daily servings of pistachios can increase antioxidant levels in the blood and reduce oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol in people with high levels.19
  • Managing blood pressure levels — Adults with high cholesterol levels were also found to have reduced systolic blood pressure and vascular stress responses after they added pistachios to their diet, according to a separate study published in 2012.20
  • Supporting healthy weight — If you’re looking to lose weight or keep it at a healthy level, you can also count on pistachios. A 2014 study published in the journal Nutrition found that people who consumed pistachios for 24 weeks had reduced their waist size by 0.7 inches on average, as well as reduced their cholesterol levels by 15 points, improved blood sugar levels and had reduced inflammation. The monounsaturated fatty acids in pistachios were also found to target abdominal fat.21,22
  • May have anti-inflammatory effects — These nuts contain a compound called oleanolic acid, which was found to inhibit the production of leukotriene B, a proinflammatory agent, therefore helping alleviate atopic and allergic contact dermatitis.23

How to Eat Pistachios

There’s no shortage of uses for pistachios; it can be added to either sweet or savory dishes, served hot or cold. It can be mixed in sauces, uses as a topping or enjoyed on its own as a snack. If you want to maximize the nuts’ flavor and texture, here are three unique ways to eat pistachios:

  • Add it to your pesto sauce — Walnuts or pine nuts are typically used for pesto, but pistachios, with their lovely green color, can make a wonderful alternative as well. Process in a food processor and then combine them with olive oil, fresh basil and some seasonings — you’ll have a pesto sauce with a mild and unique nutty flavor.24
  • Serve with fruit — The creamy, salty taste of pistachios can complement fruits well. The Kitchn recommend sautéing pistachios with butter and brown sugar (use a very small amount) to give them a light glaze. Serve over fresh sliced fruit to make a refreshing and healthy dessert.25
  • Use it as a breading — Ground pistachio nuts can give main entrees a delicious crust.26 Use it to coat fish or chicken before frying.

Remember that the quality of your pistachios matters, to ensure they only provide you with health benefits. Stay away from pistachios that have been bleached. Bleaching, which is done to whiten the shells of the nuts, can negatively affect the levels of beneficial phytochemicals in this food. The process also leaves residual bleaching agents that can harm your health. Select only unbleached organic pistachios to make sure they’re safe and the best quality.27

How to Open Pistachios

Pistachios are nestled in their own little protective hard shell covering, which can be quite difficult to pry open if you’re inexperienced. If there’s already a crack in the nutshell, however, the task then becomes easier. But what if it’s tightly shut? Don’t worry — there are other ways you can try. Here’s what to do — make sure you wash your hands first!28

How to Crack a Partially Opened Pistachio From the Crack

  1. Squeeze the two half shells, allowing the crack to widen until it cannot become bigger any more.
  2. From the crack, peel the pistachios open. Secure your thumbnails into the crack and then pull them apart.
  3. Position your forefingers to brace the nut, should there be any need to apply more force to the shell.
  4. Catch the shelled pistachio in your finger and eat, or set aside if using for cooking.

How to Open an Uncracked Pistachio

  1. Put the pistachio in a clean and sturdy surface. A countertop or cutting board will do.
  2. Using a hammer or any hard object, tap the nut gently until a crack appears on the shell.
  3. If you have one, use a nutcracker. This tool is designed to open thick nut shells. Simply place the pistachio in between the two nutcracker arms and then squeeze shut to crack the pistachio.

How to Open a Pistachio With a Nut Shell

  1. Grab a discarded half shell of a pistachio nut. Stick the top of the small end into a partially opened pistachio.
  2. Twist the wider half of the shelf, the same way that you’d turn a screwdriver.
  3. The shell will then easily separate. 

Once you’ve done any of these methods, you can now use the shelled pistachios any way you like. When shelled, pistachios can be stored in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for up to six weeks. When placed in the freezer, they can keep for a longer time.29 But what if you stored pistachios in your fridge and then realized that they’ve lost their natural crunch? One way to remedy this is to toast or roast pistachios.

How to Roast Pistachios at Home

Aside from making them crispy, roasting pistachios also enhances their flavor. However, take note that the strength of the flavor can depend on how long the roasting time is, with a longer roasting time giving the nuts a stronger flavor. Here’s how to do it:30

How to Roast Pistachios

Ingredients:

1/2 cup water
2 to 3 ounces Himalayan salt
8 to 10 cups pistachio nuts

Procedure:

  1. Create a salt solution by dissolving the salt in the water. Pour the solution in a deep saucepan and place over high heat.
  2. Add the pistachios and stir until all the water has evaporated, which leaves only a deposit of salt on the nuts.
  3. Heat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit
  4. Spread the salted pistachios in a cookie sheet and place in the oven.
  5. Let roast, making sure to stir every 30 minutes. For a minimal roasted flavor and crispy texture, 1 1/4 hours is enough. For deeper flavor, roast for 1 3/4 hours.

Pistachio Recipes You Can Try

As mentioned, there’s no shortage of culinary uses for pistachios. Salads, desserts and even main entrées can be made better by adding these nuts. If you’re looking for ideas, here are three pistachio recipes you can try.

Fresh and Zesty Spaghetti With Prawns, Pesto and Pistachios Recipe

Fresh and Zesty Spaghetti With Prawns, Pesto and Pistachios Healthy Recipe

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons coconut oil

1 1/2 pounds wild-caught raw prawns or shrimp, shelled and deveined, with tails intact

4 to 5 zucchinis, spiralized into thin noodles

Pesto:

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 large handful of basil leaves, plus extra to serve

1 large handful of mint leaves

2 ounces pine nuts, toasted

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

 

To serve:

Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup pistachio nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Lemon wedges

Chili flakes

Procedure:

  1. To make the pesto, place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whiz until the herbs and nuts are finely chopped. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Season the prawns or shrimp with salt and pepper, then cook, in batches, for one minute on each side until just cooked through. Remove the prawns or shrimp from the pan and set aside, cover to keep warm.
  3. Wipe the pan clean and place over medium heat. Add the remaining coconut oil and the zucchini spaghetti and sauté for two minutes until the zucchini is almost cooked through. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  4. Remove from the heat, add the cooked prawns and the pesto and toss to combine.
  5. Transfer the spaghetti mixture to a large platter or serving plates, drizzle on some extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle over the pistachios, add a squeeze of lemon juice and scatter on some basil leaves and a few chili flakes, if desired.

Tip: Zucchinis contain plant lectins, which may have problematic effects on your health. To safely reduce their lectin content, I advise deseeding and removing the skins, as these are what contain the most amount of lectins. Use a spiralizer that removes the seeds or manually peel and deseed the zucchinis, and then cut them into thin strips using a knife. It may take a bit more effort, but the results are worth it.

Serving Size: 4

(Recipe by Pete Evans)

Salad With Cherries, Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Salad With Cherries, Goat Cheese and Pistachios Healthy Recipe

Ingredients:

4 cups arugula

2 cups baby spinach

1/3 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 small garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup pitted halved fresh Rainier cherries

1 ounce crumbled goat cheese (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup salted dry-roasted pistachios

 

 

 

Procedure:

  1. In a large bowl, mix the arugula, onion and spinach.
  2. Mix lemon juice, honey, mustard, garlic, salt and black pepper in a separate medium bowl, and stir with a whisk. Gradually drizzle in olive oil, constantly stirring.
  3. Drizzle the dressing over salad, and toss gently to coat.
  4. Divide salad on each of 4 salad plates (1 1/2 cups each). Top with 1 tablespoon pistachios, 1/4 cup cherries and 1 tablespoon cheese.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Serving Size: 4

(Recipe from MyRecipes.com31)

Healthy Pistachio Ice Cream

Pistachio Ice Cream Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

2 frozen bananas

2 Tbsp. pistachio butter (made by very finely blending pistachio nuts in a food processor to a paste-like consistency)

A splash of homemade almond milk (optional)

Procedures:

  1. Put the frozen bananas in a food processor or high-speed blender for around two minutes. Make sure to scrape down the sides every 20 to 30 seconds or so. If you want to thin out the mixture, add in a splash of almond milk.
  2. Once banana is smooth, add in the pistachio butter and process again, until well blended. Serve immediately.
  3. If saving for later, keep it in the freezer and let thaw for 10 minutes on the counter before serving.

Tip: If you have pistachios lying around, mix them in the ice cream for added crunch and flavor.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Serving Size: 2

(Recipe from The Healthy Maven32)

Pistachio Nutrition Facts

A 1000-gram serving of pistachio nuts contains 557 calories and 28 grams of carbohydrates. It also has a high protein content, with 20.6 grams in the previously mentioned amount. Hence, it’s wise to eat pistachios in moderation, as too much protein can be bad for your health. For more on pistachio's nutrition facts, check out the table below.33

Pistachio Nuts Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 557  
Calories from Fat 372  
Total Fat 44.4 g 68%
Saturated Fat 5.4 g 27%
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 1.0 mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 28.0 g 9%
Dietary Fiber 9 g 34%
Sugar 7.6 g  
Protein 20.6 g  
Vitamin A553 IU 11% Vitamin C 8%
Calcium107 mg 11% Iron 23%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Make Sure You Don’t Have a Pistachio Allergy

Pistachios, if eaten in moderation, can do wonders for your health. They’re highly versatile, too — mix them in your favorite salads, use in sauces or blend them in your favorite desserts. If you just need a quick snack, enjoy a handful — just make sure you remove the hard shell first.

However, in individuals with allergies, pistachios can trigger moderate to severe IgE-mediated reactions.34 In fact, tree nut allergies are now the second most common allergy among babies and young children.35 If you’re suffering from a tree nut allergy, it’s best not consume these nuts at all.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Pistachio Nuts

Q: Are pistachios tree nuts?

A: Yes, pistachios are tree nuts. They are harvested from hardy, fruit-bearing trees. The nuts are actually the seeds of the pistachio fruits, which are drupes that grow in clusters similar to grapes. The nut is an oblong kernel that’s protected by a bony, ivory-colored shell.

Q: Are pistachio nuts good or bad for you?

A: Pistachio nuts are good for you. Their impressive array of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can help provide benefits to your blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels and weight, and may even have anti-inflammatory effects. However, if consumed in excessive amounts, they could be bad for you, as they’re rich in protein. Excessive protein consumption has been linked to negative health effects.

Q: Are pistachios fattening?

A: On the contrary, studies found that eating pistachio nuts may actually help reduce waist size and improve cholesterol level points.  

Q: Why are pistachios so expensive?

A: Several factors account for the high cost of these nuts. One is that they only thrive in limited areas, due to the trees’ climate requirements. The trees also produce only about 50 pounds of dry, hulled nuts per year, and operate on “biennial bearing,” meaning it only bears fruit every other year. Finally, pistachios require manual labor, as they are sorted by hand.36


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