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Pistachios are one of the world’s most adored nuts. In Southern Italy, you’ll find pistachios flavouring pasta dishes and tarts.
Travel eastward to the Levant to discover pistachios bound with honey, inside sickly-sweet baklava, and adding crunch to rice pilaf.
As is the case with many ingredients widely used across the Mediterranean – their chefs are onto something.
Pistachios are full to the brim with vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin B6.1 Vitamin B6 helps oxygenate the blood, among other things.2
In this article, we’ll break down the 101 of pistachios. We’ll let you know all the good things about this tasty nut, and warn of any risks associated with consumption.
Pistachio nuts are the seeds of the pistachio tree, which are believed to derive from western Asia.
Archaeologists believe that they have been known as a food as early as 7,000 BC.3
They’re commonly green in colour, although the kernels can range from yellow to various shades of green. They’re usually around an inch long and half an inch in diameter. To get to this greatness, you’ll have to crack open the tough outer shell, but once you’ll do that you’ll have a tasty nut that has a slightly sweet flavour.4
Botanically speaking, no pistachios are not nuts. Plant scientists actually define nuts as dry, hard fruits that do not split to release a seed when mature. For example chestnuts, hazelnuts and acorns are all seen as ‘true nuts’.5
However, many hard-shelled, oily and edible seeds are also called ‘nuts’ and pistachios are one of them. While technically they’re not nuts, they can still be harmful to those with nut allergies. Read on to find out more.6
In terms of plant science, pistachios are not technically nuts. But in a culinary, everyday world sense – they are seen as a nut.
The seeds of the stone fruits that are grown on the Pistacia Vera tree are what are known as pistachio nuts.
It’s believed that the pistachio tree is native to Western Asia, Asia Minor, from Syria to the Caucasus and Afghanistan in around 7,000 BC. These days it’s grown all over Asia and the Middle East. In fact, almost of the world’s pistachio production comes from Iran, closely followed by the USA.7
They’re also grown in counties such as Greece and Turkey. This is because the trees grow better in areas where the winters are cold but summers are long, hot and dry which is thought to help the dormancy of the buds.
During dormancy, the temperature of up to 14 °F (-10 °C) is not going to harm the tree. During summer, it does well in 77-97 °F (25 to 36 °C).
This pistachio is perhaps the most common and probably the one you have eaten many times.
As you can probably tell from its English name, this pistachio is very heavily grown in Iran, however you will see them called by their Iranian, Fandoghi name on occasion.
This particular pistachio is round in shape and has been increasing in popularity for quite some time, and many of the pistachios grown today are of this variety.
However, the issue that many pistachio growers find with the round pistachio is that it takes a lot of plant for a small yield of pistachios, which has since led to different varieties being grown.
The most important thing to remember here is that when they say jumbo, they mean it.
This nut is infamous for its size. It’s considerably bigger than other varieties.
Although, it grows differently to other pistachios and it’s considered a vulnerable plant. For this reason, the jumbo pistachio can be quite expensive when compared to other pistachios. Not because of its size, but merely because of the effort that goes into growing it.
The jumbo pistachio isn’t perhaps as common, but that’s mainly down to the fact that it’s seen as a vulnerable plant that struggles in cold weather and without water, so it’s not really planted as much as it’s seen as too risky.
The Iranian Long Pistachio is becoming more popular each year.
Although it's not as large as the jumbo pistachio, the long pistachio is still of great size.
It’s harvested in late September, and the crops seem to be very strong.
Each year, the pistachio farmers are finding more and more success with the long pistachio variety, hence its popularity.
Kernel pistachios come from closed pistachios.
These are usually small in size and can sometimes be broken apart.
These types of pistachios are great for cooking. They’re useful for baking and roasting, and you can season them to how you like.
They’re cost effective too. Because they’re pieces of kernel, they’re lower in price than other pistachios.
Green pistachios are sometimes known as shelled raw pistachios, which are technically the same thing as they look like you’re getting the full pistachio nut without a shell. This makes them much easier to eat.
You can season and roast them if you wish, but they’re ready to eat already.
Some people prefer to buy them in the shell as it adds to the experience, but for ease the skinned ones are a popular choice.
You can purchase pistachios raw and season or roast them at home as you wish. However, many people like to buy salted pistachios, seasoned or roasted pistachios.
Because the process of roasting, salting, and flavouring the pistachios takes time, it’s likely that you’ll pay a higher price for a smaller pistachio.
Making roasted or salted nuts at home is definitely a possibility if you want to be sure about the type of pistachio or the grade that is being used inside your meal.
If you’re looking for high quality pistachios, then Turkish Antep are known as one of the best.
They’re known as one of the best because they’re naturally quite good for you. They’re gluten-free, low cholesterol, low cholesterol, high in protein, and low in sugar.
The only real disadvantage to the Antep pistachio is that it can be a bit more challenging to open, but the end result is considered worth it.
This may well break some illusions, but the red pistachio is not actually red.
Many years ago, red pistachios were considered a beautiful, decorative treat to add to a table. But they’re dyed so any imperfection on the shells are hidden.
This might make the nut look better, but it has very little impact on it’s taste.
Traditionally they were made in Iran, but they were also available to buy in the US but they’re quite rare to find these days.
The Persian Elongated pistachio is very similar to Iranian long pistachios, but they’re even longer in length. They have a bright nutty flavour, and are high in unsaturated fat.
When you talk about adding more good fats to your diet, the Akbari pistachio would be an excellent choice to consider.
Scientific studies have linked pistachios to a wide variety of benefits for health and wellness, including:
Pistachio nuts contain more antioxidants than most nuts and seeds.8 In fact, the pistachio nut is only beaten by walnuts and pecans per serving.
Adding more antioxidants to your diet can prevent the increase of free radical molecules. Free radicals are damaging particles that can hinder health regeneration in your body, so the more antioxidants you include can reduce the effects of ageing of cells and other systems in the body.
If you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it can be difficult to find enough dietary protein from non-animal sources. Pistachio nuts have 6g of protein per one ounce serving, so they’re a great way to add protein to any meat-free diet.
The plant protein in two servings of pistachios can make up at least 15 percent of your daily protein macronutrient goals.9
The health benefits of pistachios having a higher protein and fibre value may help you feel fuller for longer, which may in turn help with weight loss.
Keeping calories low can help reduce unhealthy cravings. Consuming pistachios may result in a lower body mass per-person in dietary studies.. This is because part of their fat content is stuck within their cell walls, preventing it from being digested in your gut.10
Eating pistachios may help the overall health of your (gastrointestinal tract) health by keeping digestion moving.
Dietary fibre usually moves through the digestive system undigested. However, some fibres work as prebiotics in the system as they’re digested by the good bacteria in your system.
The high amount of fibre in pistachios make them a really useful addition for a healthy gut.
Lowering your cholesterol can help improve your heart's ability to pump blood through your body. The addition of pistachios, along with a healthy, well-balanced diet which reduces your saturated fat intake, can help improve your cholesterol levels.
Consuming nuts has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
A small study funded by a group called the American Pistachio Growers found that a balanced diet, which contained pistachio nuts reduced blood pressure and vascular resistance during acute stress when compared with a typical diet.11
Research suggests may help to prevent the age-related regeneration of your eyes.
The antioxidants which help give pistachios their green colouring, lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eyes from cellular damage, which may help your eyesight as you grow older.
Nutritionally, pistachio nuts have an impressive profile which can make them a great choice when used as part a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Pistachios contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
The following nutritional information is based on a 1 ounce serving, which is around 49 kernels:12
Pistachio powder, or pistachio flour as it may be known is literally ground pistachios and it makes a great flour alternative.
If you’ve been bitten by the baking bug and you’re looking to keep things gluten-free, ground pistachio is good choice!
It can be a little more expensive compared to traditional flour, but in terms of its health benefits, pistachio powder will also have no added sugars, be low in fat and low in cholesterol. It tastes great too, so it's a win win!
Raw pistachios are a healthy snack, but you should be cautious about eating them roasted with salt. Overeating salt is associated with poor health outcomes and has a significantly negative impact on the heart.
If you’re allergic to pistachios, you should avoid eating them in all circumstances, consumption may cause:
Those with a cashew nut allergy are almost always allergic to pistachios and should avoid them too.
Last updated: 28 May 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.