What Are Pistachios?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

pistachios
(Photo: FPWing/Shutterstock)

Pistachios are the often overlooked nut that your dishes have been missing. While you might eat them by the handful as a snack, their distinctive flavor makes them an easy way to liven up a variety of dishes from fish to baked goods, and more.

What Are Pistachios?

Pistachios aren’t actually nuts. The little green morsels are actually the seed of the fruit of the pistachio tree. And while the pistachio belongs to the same family as the cashew, it’s also botanically related to sumac, mangoes, and poison ivy.

Native to Iran, Syria and Greece, they’ve been farmed for more than 10,000 years. In Iran, pistachios are called the “smiling pistachio,” while in China, they are called the “happy nut” because of the semi-opening of its shell. That opening, by the way, means the pistachios are ripe and ready to be harvested. 

It wasn’t until after WWII that farmers in California began cultivating U.S. grown pistachios. Today, in the U.S., you’ll find them growing in California, Arizona and New Mexico.

While they’re available in stores year-round, most pistachios grown in the U.S. are harvested by hand between late August and early October. As they fall off the trees when ripe, harvesting pistachios involves shaking the branches of the trees and then picking up the shell covered pistachios from the ground.

How to Cook With Pistachios

Pistachios are available shelled or unshelled. You can eat them as is, but you can also add them to sweet and savory recipes, including cookies, salads, and breadings for fish or chicken. You can also bake both shelled and unshelled pistachios with different seasonings. Simply mix them in a bowl with the spices of your choice (for unshelled pistachios, you’ll need to add more seasoning), place them on a cookie sheet and bake them for about 25 minutes at 350 F. 

What Do They Taste Like?

Pistachios are a little bit of magic in your mouth. They’re fresh and piney, salty and tangy.

Pistachio Recipes

Pistachios make a quick, healthy snack just as they are, but you can also add them to a variety of sweet and savory dishes.

Where to Buy Pistachios

Pistachios are available year-round at almost all supermarkets. Look for them in the nuts for snacking aisle as well as in the baking aisle. You’ll find a variety of kinds of pistachios including unshelled and shelled sold raw, roasted, salted, unsalted and even with different types of seasoning. For cooking purposes, it’s often best to buy either raw or unsalted pistachios.

If you’re purchasing the nuts in their shells, make sure the shells are ivory-colored, with an opening at only one end. Pistachios with large openings have often gone bad, and unopened shells can be impossible to open and also unripe.

Unshelled, raw pistachios should be yellow to dark green in color.

Storage

How to store pistachios depends on whether you bought shelled or unshelled nuts. 

Unshelled pistachios will stay fresh for up to three months in the pantry or the refrigerator. You can also freeze unshelled pistachios for up to a year. You’ll want to place unshelled pistachios in an airtight container before freezing. After thawing, if you notice the pistachios have lost their crunch, you can toast them on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 200 F.

Shelled pistachios, in contrast, will last for about 5 months in the pantry of the fridge, but they tend not to freeze well. 

Pistachios can become rancid, so check them for mold before using.

Nutrition and Benefits of Pistachios

Tiny little pistachios are packed full of nutritional benefits. They’re a source of protein, antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats, sugars, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, including Potassium, Phosphorus, Vitamin B-6, Thiamin and Magnesium. And at 159 calories per ounce, they make for a low-calorie, high protein snack.

Main Image Annotation: With a distinctive flavor, pistachios can be eaten as is or used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.

Pistachios

  • Mediterranean
  • Distinctive, fresh, piney flavor
  • Can be eaten as is or added to a variety of sweet and savory dishes
  • Store unshelled pistachios 3 months in the pantry or shelled pistachios for 5 months in the pantry or the fridge.
Article Sources
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  1. Rahavi EB, Altman JM, Stoody EE. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015–2020: National Nutrition Guidelines. Lifestyle Medicine. 2019:101-110. doi:10.1201/9781315201108-7