Pistachio (Pistacia vera) is one of around a dozen species in the genus Pistacia and the only member of the genus that is cultivated and grown commercially. Pistachio trees grow wild in the Middle East and Central Asia as far east as Pakistan and India. The nuts of wild Pistachio trees have been an important food for migratory nomads in Iran and Afghanistan. Major centers of commercial production are Iran, Turkey, and California (U.S.A.) (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAOSTAT website, 2010 data). The species was probably domesticated in central Asia.
The green kernels of pistachios have a distinctive and widely appreciated flavor. They contain around 18% protein and 55% unsaturated oil, but because of the value of the nuts as snack/dessert nuts, the oil is not extracted commercially. The nuts are sold raw or salted in their shells and are used in ice cream, baked goods, salads, and other culinary applications. The shells split longitudinally prior to harvest, making them easy to remove, which makes the nuts appealing sold in their shells.
Pistachio is a deciduous tree, up to 10 m in height, The large leaves have three to seven ovate leaflets, each 5 to 10 cm long. The flowers are borne in axillary racemes. The species is dioecious, i.e., male and female flowers are borne on different individual trees. The fruit is an ovoid drupe containing the edible seed (which is a "nut" in the culinary sense, but not in the botanical sense).
(Vaughan and Geissler 1997)
- Vaughan, J.G. and C.A. Geissler. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (revised and updated edition). Oxford University Press, New York.
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