Fresh pistachios are gorgeous. They have a cream colored shell with a pink and green seed. They are buttery, sweet, and slightly pungent, a flavor that is hard to describe.
Several years ago, I was working for a Persian guy in Santa Monica. We became good friends. So one day he invited me to go to the local farmer’s market. At that time I wasn’t into foods yet, but thought it would be interesting to see.
I have had roasted pistachios from the store, but this is where I tried fresh ones for the first time. I never thought about of how they grew or what they looked like raw. They look like tiny mangoes! It certainly never occurred to me that people ate them fresh.
To be honest, after that walk to the farmer’s market I haven’t had the raw ones again. But I did remember it was around my birthday, so periodically I tried to look for them during the fall. I never came across them until yesterday when I walked into a Persian market. And there they were! I couldn’t resist buying them and sharing with you, guys!
They say good things come in small packages. This can’t be truer than with one of my favorite types of seeds. Pistachio. Yes! Botanically it is a seed. However, it is thought of as a nut in the culinary world.
For centuries, the health benefits of pistachios have been recognized by societies all over the world. They are packed with vitamins and minerals. They are loaded with healthy fatty acids and phytochemicals. The antioxidants are good for heart health and promote health and wellness. Pistachios are also high in fiber, protein, and full of amino acids.
These beauties grow on a tree called pistacia. There are male and female pistacia trees. One male tree can pollinate 12-15 female trees. The trees begin producing in 5-7 years. Once they fruit, they continue to produce for many years. The fruits grow in clusters similarly to grapes. They are biennial bearing and reach full maturation in 20 years.
Pistachios are related to the cashew or sumac family known as Anacardiaceae. The most common plants in this family are mango, poison ivy, poison oak, sumac, cashew, and pistachio. You can read more about them at Wikipedia.
Pistachios are grown commercially in Turkey, Iran and the United States. Iran has the largest acreage of land dedicated to growing pistachio. It is the world’s top producer and exporter.
California has a dry climate so it is a perfect environment for growing pistacia. Pistachios are picked in September or October for about three weeks. In the United States advanced production, growing, and harvesting techniques make it one of the top producers of pistachios.
Similar to an avocado, the unprocessed pistachio kernel is creamy and buttery.
At this stage, the fresh pistachios can be puréed for custards, pesto, and ice cream. Traditionally, when making roasted pistachios, they are first soaked in brine for a day. The salty taste comes from the brine. The next day, they are spread over a baking sheet and allowed to drain, then dry. Then they are baked for 10-12 minutes at 350˚F. They can also be pan-roasted until they turn toasty brown.
Because heat releases oil, they should be allowed to cool. This gives the oil time to be reabsorbed back into the seed.