Approach with caution
Pistachios are a member of the Anacardiaceae family—one that includes poison ivy, sumac, mango and cashews—and contain urushiol, which is an irritant that can cause allergic reactions.
Iran, the United States and Turkey are considered to be the major producers of pistachios (pistachio trees are also found throughout the Middle East), but China is the world’s top pistachio consumer. The country’s annual consumption is approximately 80 000 tons. The US comes in second at 45 000 tons per year.
The fruit produced by a pistachio tree is called a drupe, which contains an edible, elongated seed. A single tree averages approximately 50 kg of seeds—that’s nearly 50 000—in two years.
Don’t judge by colour
Pistachio shells are naturally beige, so any found in stores that are green or red have been commercially dyed after picking. This practice used to be done to hide stains on the shells when pistachios were picked by hand. These days, the seeds are picked by machinery, so dying is not necessary, but is still used because of consumer expectations.
Pistachio ice cream is said to have been invented in the 1840s by James W Parkinson in Philadelphia.
Pistachio shells are recyclable. Washed and dried shells (this isn’t necessary if the shells are unsalted) can be used as a fire starter, a liner at the bottom of houseplant pots for drainage and soil retention for up to two years or mulch for shrubs and other plants that need acid soils. Salted shells have uses, too, including being placed at the base of plants to keep slugs and snails at bay. Shells—salted or not—also make for handy craft supplies. V