Pistachio nut is not native to the regions around Singapore. In fact, I don't remember eating it during my childhood days at all. The type of nuts I was familiar with were those found on the Kachang Puteh stalls which were usually outside cinemas. Interestingly, Pistachio is one of the earliest snacks dating back to the prehistoric days. For more than 9000 years, human have been snacking on the nut and it is one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11).
Due to its high nutritional value and long storage life, pistachios were frequently carried by earlier travelers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West.
Pistachio originated from the Middle East but today, California is one of the major producers in the world, second to Iran. It is a hardy desert plant and is highly tolerant to harsh weather conditions. However, it cannot withstand high humidity and that probably explains why it is not found in this region.
The nut has a hard shell and a characteristic open hull when it is ripe. Its split hull resemble a 'laughing mouth' and thus it is also known as 'smiling nut' in Iran and 'happy nut' by the Chinese (开心果).
Pistachio plants are 'polygamous'. In the orchards, one male plant usually goes with 8-12 female plants. Female trees produce their first 'offspring' at about age five and can go on for a long time till they are 200! In fact, Iran claims that they have a 700-year-old tree still living. Wow! Perhaps there is truly some correlation between being happy and longevity :)
The nuts are usually harvested during end summer / early autumn. Mechanical tree shakers are used to shake the nuts off the trees and the nuts must be hulled and dried immediately to preserve their delicacy quality. Quite an amusing sight, actually. Take a look at the video if you are curious to see how the nuts come raining down.
There are many researches done on pistachios as a health food. It is found that pistachios are ranked as one of the top nuts to improve heart health. This is due to the rich content of phytosterols, a type of plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce cholesterol. Another study also found that eating pistachios may reduce your body's response to the stresses of everyday life.
What a coincidence - eating the 'happy nut' can indeed make you happier, or at least, less stressed.
Pistachios are also great as a cooking ingredient. There are tons of recipes on how the nuts can be used to form part of a dish. One of the most popular uses of pistachios is ice cream, a creation credited to a James Parkinson in the 1940s.
The next time you munch on Pistachios in front of the TV, don't discard the shells. Even the shells can be useful. For example, you can use them as drainage chips in pots and plants. Not only you can save some money during this credit crunch time, the shells also serve as snail deterrent as they dislike the sharp edges and the salt on the shells.
As I was checking out about all the nutty facts, I found one thing really fascinating about pistachios. Apparently, these nuts are highly flammable when stored in large quantities. They are prone to self-heating and spontaneous combustion because of their high fat and low water content. I cannot imagine our Lunar New Year pistachio packet, sick of being left alone for too long and decides to set itself aflame on my food console table.
Inspired by the wonderfulness of Pistachio yet? You can consider becoming a fan of Pistachios on Facebook and get nutty about it!
It's indulgence time and be happy...