Glossary of Foods: Pistachios

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Pistachios are kind of like potato chips — you can't eat just one! Whatever it is that makes them so good, it's nice to know these delicious little nuts are also healthy. They're the perfect snack — delicious and nutritious, plus they keep your hands busy opening shells, which may or may not keep you from eating the whole bag!

pistachios

Pistachios are a member of the cashew family (no wonder they're so good). The nuts are actually seeds that come from a tree native to Central Asia and the Middle East. Pistachio trees have been cultivated in other parts of the world, including Australia and the United States. Pistachios grown in the United States are almost all from California. Pistachio trees are best grown in desert conditions where sunshine and hot days are plentiful, and they do not tolerate humidity. The trees can grow to 30 feet tall and produce seeds for centuries if provided with ideal growing conditions.

>> Read more: Glossary of Foods: Tigernuts

The seeds from the pistachio tree are contained within a small fruit that grows in grape-like clusters. Full fruit bearing does not occur until the tree is 15 to 20 years of age. The oblong  yellow or green seed kernels are protected by a thin, hard, ivory-colored shell that splits when mature. When you find a pesky pistachio with an unsplit shell, it's likely that it was not mature at the time of harvest, or it was grown under unfavorable conditions. A fully mature tree produces up to 50 pounds of seeds every year.

pistachio fruit clusters on tree

Pistachios are high in good fats that help lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol. They are also high in antioxidants, which fight inflammation and protect blood vessels to also reduce the risk of heart disease. Antioxidants also protect the body from cell-damaging free radicals. Pistachios are plentiful in vitamin B6 which helps the body produce healthy red blood cells and white blood cells, thereby improving the health of the immune system. While a few pistachios will provide these excellent health benefits, they are also high in calories, so be sure to eat only one serving at a time!

Pistachios make a tasty, crunchy addition to salads and trail mix. Surprisingly, they are also a popular dessert flavor. Find pistachios in ice cream, cakes or alongside chocolate. Check out these 13 pistachio recipes for creative ways to use this delicious nut.

>> Recipe: Pistachio Bread