Pistachios are exceptionally nutritious nuts that come from the Middle East where they have grown for millennia. They have been a desired delicacy there and pistachio cultivation was a lucrative business bringing prestige and wealth. Nowadays, they are grown all over the world in regions with a warm, dry climate and their popularity could not be greater.
Pistachio nuts are rich in protein with one ounce (a handful) providing around six grams. The same quantity supplies 1.2 milligrams of iron which is not a huge amount but certainly helps to top up your intake (the recommended daily dose is 7.8 milligrams for men and women over 50, and 14.8 milligrams for women of reproductive age).
Another nutrient pistachios offer is vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – an ounce covers almost a third of your recommended daily intake. This vitamin is vital for healthy nervous and cardiovascular systems and energy metabolism.
Pistachios are also an excellent source of vitamin E – a handful supplies 1.7 milligrams and in the UK, the recommended daily dose is three milligrams for women and four milligrams for men. Vitamin E is needed for a strong immune system, healthy eyes and skin and it’s an antioxidant, too. As a fat-soluble vitamin, it needs fat to be absorbed and pistachios contain both so are an ideal source.
The green pistachio colour gives away another group of pistachio nutrients – they are rich in antioxidants that protect our tissues from damage and may help prevent cancer. Two of these are lutein and zeaxanthin and they are particularly important in protecting eye health.
While pistachios contain healthy fats, they are lower in fat than most other nuts – only 13 grams per ounce. At the same time, they are rich in phytosterols, which help to lower your cholesterol levels, and potassium, which lowers your blood pressure – altogether, this makes them great for heart health.
Lastly, these little nuts also contain small amounts of other important minerals, such as calcium, manganese, potassium, selenium and zinc.
Pistachio trees need long, dry and hot summers with low humidity and cool but not freezing winters, which means they can only grow in certain geographical regions. Even though they need dry climate, they are quite thirsty so irrigation can be an issue. Some pistachio orchards use collected rainwater and those are the most sustainable.
Pistachio trees only begin to produce high-yield crops when they are 15-20 years old but then can continue producing fruit for centuries. However, pistachios have a biennial cycle so they only produce a full harvest every other year, which is why they are more expensive than most other nuts.
As the main pistachio producers are Iran, the US, Turkey, China and Syria, there are likely to be differences in worker treatment and pesticide use but there have been no major cases that would raise any red flags.
How to use pistachios?
Roasted salted pistachios are a great snack but there are many more options – use pistachios as a topping for both sweet and savoury dishes, make sweet treats with them or try pistachio butter on toast. For inspiration, see pistachio recipes at our Vegan Recipe Club.