About Pistachio Nuts
About Turkish Pistachio Nuts | About California Pistachio Nuts
Why Are Pistachios Sometimes Dyed Red?
Native to the Middle East, pistachio nuts have been on the dining landscape for a very long time archaeologists have discovered remnants of pistachios in the ruins of villages dating back 9,000 years! Commercial plantings began in the 1800s in Iran, which today is the world's largest producer of pistachios.
The pistachio is a drupe, botanically related to the cashew, peach and mango. Pistachio trees capable of reaching 30 feet in height take 10 to 15 years to begin producing significant quantities of nuts, often alternately bearing a large crop one year and a small crop the next. In addition to Iran, pistachio trees also grow in Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Greece, Italy and in the Western U.S. areas that typically experience long, hot summers and cool winters.
A hard shell that begins to open on the tree as the nut matures surrounds the kernel that we eat. When the shells do not open naturally, they can be split artificially, by hand or machine. The hard shell is covered by a soft, fruity husk that is removed during processing.
Turkish and California pistachios are generally the only varieties available to us in the United States. Greece, Italy and Syria produce too few nuts to export. Iranian pistachios have been unavailable since the mid-1980s, when the California pistachio industry convinced the U.S. government that Iran was "dumping" its pistachios here at below-market prices. The Commerce Department imposed duties totaling around 300%, making it far too expensive to sell them in the States. A year later, the government placed an embargo on all Iranian products. The Clinton Administration lifted the embargo on Iranian foodstuffs but refused to eliminate the high duties on pistachios from Iran. Current expectations are for several more years to pass before the duties are reduced or eliminated. Some Iranian pistachios occasionally trickle into the U.S., and Zenobia will offer them here as we receive them. Be sure to regularly check this site for availability!
Bottom line, pistachio nuts are not all the same. Their size, flavor and openness depend upon where and how they are grown and how they are processed. So, as you purchase your pistachios, you have a choice:
If flavor is more important, try Turkish Pistachios
If appearance and openness is important, try California Pistachios
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Pistachio Fact & Fiction:
Why are pistachios sometimes dyed red?
The California pistachio industry often explains that this is done to hide blemishes on the shells. Actually, there's a different reason:
In the Middle East, pistachios were often left in their reddish husks and were brined before roasting. This gave the shells a pink cast. When pistachios were first imported into the U.S., processors attempted imitating the color by using red dye. They found that the coloring made the nuts more noticeable in retail displays and made the nuts even redder! (Middle Eastern people, who until recently were the biggest pistachio consumers, were accustomed to eating nuts with blemished shells and wouldn't care whether or not the nuts were dyed.)
Amidst current trends toward more natural foods, consumption of dyed red pistachios has declined dramatically in recent years.
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