The pistachio, a member of the cashew family, is a small tree originating from Central Asiaand the Middle East. The tree produces seeds that are widely consumed as food.
Pistacia vera often is confused with other species in the genus Pistacia that are also known as pistachio. These other species can be distinguished by their geographic distributions (in the wild) and their seeds which are much smaller and have a soft shell.
Pistachio is from late Middle English “pistace”, from Old French, superseded in the 16th century by forms from Italian “pistacchio”, via Latin from Greek “pistakion”, from Persian “pesteh”.
Archaeology shows that pistachio seeds were a common food as early as 6750 BC. Pliny the Elder writes in his Natural Historythat pistacia, “well known among us”, was one of the trees unique to Syria, and that the seed was introduced into Italy by the Roman Proconsul in Syria, Lucius Vitellius the Elder (in office in 35 AD) and into Hispania at the same time by Flaccus Pompeius. The early sixth-century manuscript De observatione ciborum (“On the observance of foods”) by Anthimus implies that pistacia remained well known in Europe in Late Antiquity. Archaeologists have found evidence from excavations at Jarmo in northeastern Iraq for the consumption of Atlantic pistachio. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were said to have contained pistachio trees during the reign of King Merodach-Baladan about 700 BC.
The modern pistachio P. vera was first cultivated in Bronze Age Central Asia, where the earliest example is from Djarkutan, modern Uzbekistan. It appears in Dioscurides as pistakia πιστάκια, recognizable as P. vera by its comparison to pine nuts.
Additionally, remains of the Atlantic pistachio and pistachio seed along with nut-cracking tools were discovered by archaeologists at the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site in Israel’s Hula Valley, dated to 780,000 years ago. More recently, the pistachio has been cultivated commercially in parts of the English-speaking world, such as Australiaalong with New Mexico and California in the United States, where it was introduced in 1854 as a garden tree. David Fairchild of the United States Department of Agriculture introduced hardier cultivars collected in China to California in 1904 and 1905, but it was not promoted as a commercial crop until 1929. Walter T. Swingle’s pistachios from Syria had already fruited well at Niles, California, by 1917.
Pistachio is a desert plant and is highly tolerant of saline soil. It has been reported to grow well when irrigated with water having 3,000–4,000 ppm of soluble salts. Pistachio trees are fairly hardy in the right conditions and can survive temperatures ranging between −10 °C (14 °F) in winter and 48 °C (118 °F) in summer. They need a sunny position and well-drained soil. Pistachio trees do poorly in conditions of high humidity and are susceptible to root rot in winter if they get too much water and the soil is not sufficiently free-draining. Long, hot summers are required for proper ripening of the fruit.
The tree grows up to 10 m (33 ft) tall. It has deciduous pinnate leaves 10–20 centimeters (4–8 inches) long. The plants are dioecious, with separate male and female trees. The flowers are apetalous and unisexual and borne in panicles.
The fruit is a drupe, containing an elongated seed, which is the edible portion. The seed, commonly thought of as a nut, is a culinary nut, not a botanical nut. The fruit has a hard, cream-colored exterior shell. The seed has a mauve-colored skin and light green flesh, with a distinctive flavor. When the fruit ripens, the shell changes from green to an autumnal yellow/red and abruptly splits partly open. This is known as dehiscence, and happens with an audible pop. The splitting open is a trait that has been selected by humans. Commercial cultivars vary in how consistently they split open.
Each pistachio tree averages around 50 kilograms (110 lb) of seeds, or around 50,000, every two years.
The shell of the pistachio is naturally a beige color, but it is sometimes dyed red or green in commercial pistachios. Originally, dye was applied by importers to hide stains on the shells caused when the seeds were picked by hand. Most pistachios are now picked by machine and the shells remain unstained, making dyeing unnecessary except to meet ingrained consumer expectations.
The trees are planted in orchards, and take approximately seven to ten years to reach significant production. Production is alternate-bearing or biennial-bearing, meaning the harvest is heavier in alternate years. Peak production is reached around 20 years. Trees are usually pruned to size to make the harvest easier. One male tree produces enough pollen for eight to 12 drupe-bearing females. Harvesting in the United States and in Greece is often accomplished using equipment to shake the drupes off the tree. After hulling and drying, pistachios are sorted according to open-mouth and closed-mouth shells, then roasted or processed by special machines to produce pistachio kernels.
In California, almost all female pistachio trees are the cultivar ‘Kerman’. A scion from a mature female ‘Kerman’ is grafted onto a one-year-old rootstock.
Pistachio trees are vulnerable to numerous diseases and infection by insects such as Leptoglossus clypealis. Among these is infection by the fungus Botryosphaeria, which causes panicle and shoot blight (symptoms include death of the flowers and young shoots), and can damage entire pistachio orchards. In 2004, the rapidly growing pistachio industry in California was threatened by panicle and shoot blight first discovered in 1984. In 2011, anthracnose fungus caused a sudden 50% loss in the Australian pistachio harvest. Several years of severe drought in Iran around 2008 to 2015 caused significant declines in production.
|Pistachio production, 2016|
|Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations|
In 2016, world production of pistachios was 1.1 million tonnes, with the United States and Iran as leading producers, together accounting for 68% of the total (table). Secondary producers were Turkey and China.
The kernels are often eaten whole, either fresh or roasted and salted, and are also used in pistachio ice cream, kulfi, spumoni, historically in Neapolitan ice cream, pistachio butter, pistachio paste and confections such as baklava, pistachio chocolate, pistachio halva, pistachio lokum or biscotti and cold cuts such as mortadella. Americans make pistachio salad, which includes fresh pistachios or pistachio pudding, whipped cream, and canned fruit.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||2,351 kJ (562 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||10.3 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||
Link to USDA database entry
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Pistachios are a nutritionally dense food. In a 100 gram serving, pistachios provide 562 calories and are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value or DV) of protein, dietary fiber, several dietary minerals and the B vitamins, thiamin and especially vitamin B6 at 131% DV (table). Pistachios are a good source (10–19% DV) of calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B5, folate, vitamin E, and vitamin K (table).
The fat profile of raw pistachios consists of saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fatty acids include palmitic acid (10% of total) and stearic acid (2%). Oleic acid is the most common monounsaturated fatty acid (51% of total fat) and linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, is 31% of total fat. Relative to other tree nuts, pistachios have a lower amount of fat and calories but higher amounts of potassium, vitamin K, γ-tocopherol, and certain phytochemicalssuch as carotenoids and phytosterols.
In July 2003, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the first qualified health claim specific to consumption of seeds (including pistachios) to lower the risk of heart disease: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces (42.5 g) per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease”. Although a typical serving of pistachios supplies substantial calories (nutrition table), their consumption in normal amounts is not associated with weight gain or obesity.
Pistachio consumption appears to modestly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in persons without diabetes mellitus.
As with other tree seeds, aflatoxin is found in poorly harvested or processed pistachios. Aflatoxins are potent carcinogenicchemicals produced by molds such as Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. The mold contamination may occur from soil, poor storage, and spread by pests. High levels of mold growth typically appear as gray to black filament-like growth. It is unsafe to eat mold-infected and aflatoxin-contaminated pistachios. Aflatoxin contamination is a frequent risk, particularly in warmer and humid environments. Food contaminated with aflatoxins has been found as the cause of frequent outbreaks of acute illnesses in parts of the world. In some cases, such as Kenya, this has led to several deaths.
Pistachio shells typically split naturally prior to harvest, with a hull covering the intact seeds. The hull protects the kernel from invasion by molds and insects, but this hull protection can be damaged in the orchard by poor orchard management practices, by birds, or after harvest, which makes it much easier for pistachios to be exposed to contamination. Some pistachios undergo so-called “early split”, wherein both the hull and the shell split. Damage or early splits can lead to aflatoxin contamination. In some cases, a harvest may be treated to keep contamination below strict food safety thresholds; in other cases, an entire batch of pistachios must be destroyed because of aflatoxin contamination.
Like other members of the Anacardiaceae family (which includes poison ivy, sumac, mango, and cashew), pistachios contain urushiol, an irritant that can cause allergic reactions.
The improper storage of pistachio products in bulk containers has been known to start fires. Because of their high fat and low water contents, the nuts and especially kernels are prone to self-heating and spontaneous combustion when stored with the oil-soaked fiber/fibrous materials.
- Participants of the FFI/IUCN SSC Central Asian regional tree Red Listing workshop, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (11-13 July 2006) (2007). Pistacia vera. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T63497A12670823. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T63497A12670823.enDownloaded on 05 January 2019.
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- “History and Agriculture of the Pistachio Nut”. IRECO. Archived from the original on 8 July 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- Pliny’s Natural History, xiii.10.5, xv.22.
- D. T. Potts. A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, Volume 1. p. 199.
- Harlan Walker. Cooks and Other People. p. 84.
- James Strong, ed. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, s.v. “Nut”.
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- Esteban Herrera (1997) Growing pistachios in New Mexico, New Mexico State University, Cooperative Extension Service, Circular 532 
- Introduction to Fruit Crops (Published Online), Mark Rieger, Rieger asserts that pistachios began to be commercially harvested in the 1970s. 2006
- Fairchild, David (1938). The World Was My Garden. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. p. 174. ISBN 0-686-84310-X.; Commissioner of Horticulture of the State of California,Biennial report1905/06, vol. II:392.
- Liberty Hyde Bailey, Cyclopedia of American Agriculture: II.Crops, 1917, s.v.“Importance of plant introduction” p.
- Towards a comprehensive documentation and use of Pistacia genetic diversity in Central and West Asia, North Africa and Europe, Report of the IPGRI Workshop, 14–17 December 1998, Irbid, Jordan – S.Padulosi and A. Hadj-Hassan, editors
- Nugent, Jeff; Julia Boniface (30 March 2005). “Pistachio Nuts”. Permaculture Plants: A Selection. Permanent Publications. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-85623-029-2.
- Spiegel, Alison (2 February 2015). “Remember Red Pistachios? Here’s What Happened To Them”. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2017.
- Bolkan, Hasan (March 1, 1984). “Leaf-footed bug implicated in pistachio epicarp lesion”. California Agriculture. 38: 16–17.
- Parfitt, D.E.; Arjmand, N.; Michailides, T.J. (July 2003). “Resistance to Botryosphaeria dothidea in pistachio”. HortScience. 38 (4): 529.
- “California Pistachio Industry Threatened By Potentially Devastating Disease”. ScienceDaily. 12 January 2004. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
- Keim, Brandon (26 April 2011). “Australia Pistachio Disaster Hints at Agricultural Breakdown”. Wired Magazine-Science. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
- Erdbrink, Thomas (18 December 2015). “Scarred Riverbeds and Dead Pistachio Trees in a Parched Iran”. New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
- “Pistachio production in 2016, Crops/Regions/World list/Production Quantity (pick lists)”. UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT). 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
- Ardekani, A. S. H.; Shahedi, M.; Kabir, G. (2009). “Optimizing Formulation of Pistachio Butter Production”(PDF). Journal of Science and Technology of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 13 (47): 49–59. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2011.
- Ardakani; Shahedi, M.; Kabir, G. (2006). Optimizing of the process of pistachio butter production. Acta Horticulturae. 726. pp. 565–568.
- Shakerardekani, A.; Karim, R.; Mohd Ghazali, H.; Chin, N. L. (2011). “Effect of roasting conditions on hardness, moisture content and colour of pistachio kernels” (PDF). International Food Research Journal. 18: 704–710.
- Ardakani (2006). The vital role of pistachio processing industries in development of Iran non-oil exports. Acta Horticulturae. 726. pp. 579–581.
- Shaker Ardakai, A.; Mir Damadiha, F.; Salehi, F.; Shahedi, M.; Kabir, G. H.; Javan Shah, A.; et al. (2007). “Pistachio Halva Production”. Document Number: 29328. Iran Pistachio Research Institute.
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9 Health Benefits of Pistachios
Not only are pistachio nuts tasty and fun to eat, they’re also super healthy.
Technically a fruit, these edible seeds of the Pistacia vera tree contain healthy fats and are a good source of protein, fiber and antioxidants.
They also contain several essential nutrients and have benefits for weight loss, as well as heart and gut health.
Interestingly, people have been eating pistachios since 7,000 BC. Nowadays, they’re very popular in many dishes, including ice cream and desserts (1).
Here are 9 evidence-based health benefits of pistachios.
1. Loaded With Nutrients
Pistachios are very nutritious, with a one-ounce (28-gram) serving of about 49 pistachios containing the following (2):
- Calories: 156
- Carbs: 8 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 12 grams (90% are healthy fats)
- Potassium: 8% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 14% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 24% of the RDI
- Thiamin: 16% of the RDI
- Copper: 18% of the RDI
- Manganese: 17% of the RDI
Notably, pistachios are one of the most vitamin B6-rich foods around.
Vitamin B6 is important for several functions, including blood sugar regulation and the formation of hemoglobin, a molecule that carries oxygen in red blood cells.
Pistachios are also rich in potassium, with one ounce containing more potassium than half of a large banana (3).
Pistachios are high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. They also have several other important nutrients, including vitamin B6 and potassium.
2. High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are vital to your health.
They prevent cell damage and play a key role in reducing the risk of disease, such as cancer.
Pistachios contain more antioxidants than most nuts and seeds. In fact, only walnuts and pecans contain more (4).
In one four-week study, participants who ate either one or two servings of pistachios per day had greater levels of lutein and γ-tocopherol, compared to participants who did not eat pistachios (5).
Interestingly, the antioxidants in pistachios have been shown to be very accessible in the stomach and thus more likely to be absorbed during digestion (11).
Pistachios are among the most antioxidant-rich nuts around. They’re high in lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which promote eye health.
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3. Low in Calories Yet High in Protein
While eating nuts has many health benefits, they’re typically high in calories.
Fortunately, pistachios are among the lowest-calorie nuts.
With protein comprising about 20% of their weight, pistachios are second only to almonds when it comes to protein content (6).
They also have a higher ratio of essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, than any other nut (10).
These amino acids are considered essential because your body cannot make them, so you have to get them from your diet.
Meanwhile, other amino acids are considered semi-essential, meaning that they can be essential under certain circumstances, depending on the health of the individual.
One of these semi-essential amino acids is L-arginine, which accounts for 2% of the amino acids in pistachios. It’s converted into nitric oxide in your body, which is a compound that causes your blood vessels to dilate, helping with blood flow (6).
Pistachios have fewer calories and more protein than most other nuts. Also, their essential amino acid content is higher than any other nut.
4. May Help You Lose Weight
Despite being an energy-dense food, nuts are one of the most weight loss friendly foods on the planet.
While few studies have looked at the effects of pistachios on weight, those that exist are promising.
In one 12-week weight loss program, those who ate 1.9 ounces (53 grams) of pistachios per day as an afternoon snack had twice the reduction in body mass index as those who ate 2 ounces (56 grams) of pretzels a day (16).
Moreover, another 24-week study in overweight individuals showed that those who consumed 20% of calories from pistachios lost 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) more from their waistlines than those who did not eat pistachios (17).
One factor possibly contributing to pistachios’ weight loss properties is that their fat content might not be fully absorbed (18).
In fact, studies have demonstrated the malabsorption of fats from nuts. This is because part of their fat content is stuck within their cell walls, preventing it from being digested in the gut (6, 19).
What’s more, eating in-shell pistachios is good for mindful eating, as shelling the nuts takes time and slows down the rate of eating. The leftover shells also give you a visual clue of how many nuts you have eaten (20).
A study showed that individuals who ate in-shell pistachios consumed 41% fewer calories than individuals who ate shelled pistachios (21).
Eating pistachio nuts may aid weight loss. In-shell pistachios are especially beneficial, as they promote mindful eating.
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5. Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria
Pistachios are high in fiber, with one serving containing 3 grams (2).
Fiber moves through your digestive system mostly undigested. But some types of fiber are digested by the good bacteria in your gut, acting as prebiotics.
Gut bacteria then ferment the fiber and convert it into short-chain fatty acids, which may have several health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing digestive disorders, cancer and heart disease (22, 23).
Butyrate is perhaps the most beneficial of these short-chain fatty acids.
Eating pistachios has been shown to increase the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut more than eating almonds does (24).
Pistachios are high in fiber, which is good for your gut bacteria. Eating pistachios may increase the number of bacteria that produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids like butyrate.
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6. May Lower Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Pistachios may reduce your risk of heart disease in various ways.
Many studies on pistachios and blood lipids are conducted by replacing part of the calories in a diet with pistachios. Up to 67% of these studies have shown reductions in total and “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases in “good” HDL cholesterol (28).
Meanwhile, none of these studies showed that eating pistachios negatively affected the blood lipid profile (28).
One four-week study in people with high LDL cholesterol had participants consume 10% of their daily calories from pistachios.
The study showed that the diet lowered LDL cholesterol by 9%. What’s more, a diet consisting of 20% of calories from pistachios lowered LDL cholesterol by 12% (25).
In another study, 32 young men first followed a Mediterranean diet for four weeks. Pistachios were then added to that diet in place of its monounsaturated fat content, totaling about 20% of their daily calorie intake.
After four weeks on the diet, they experienced a 23% reduction in LDL cholesterol, a 21% reduction in total cholesterol and a 14% reduction in triglycerides (26).
Moreover, pistachios seem to lower blood pressure more than other nuts.
A review of 21 studies found that eating pistachios reduced the upper limit of blood pressure by 1.82 mm/Hg, while the lower limit was reduced by 0.8 mm/Hg (29).
Studies show that eating pistachios may help lower blood cholesterol. It may also lower blood pressure more than other nuts.
7. May Benefit Your Blood Vessels
The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels.
It’s important that it works properly, as endothelial dysfunction is a risk factor for heart disease (30).
Vasodilation is the widening or dilating of blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction is characterized by reduced vasodilation, which decreases blood flow.
Nitric oxide is a compound that plays an important role in vasodilation. It causes blood vessels to dilate by signaling the smooth cells in the endothelium to relax (30).
Pistachios are a great source of the amino acid L-arginine, which is converted to nitric oxide in the body. Therefore, these tiny nuts may play an important role in promoting blood vessel health.
One study in 42 patients who consumed 1.5 ounces (40 grams) of pistachios a day for three months showed improvements in markers of endothelial function and vascular stiffness (31).
Another four-week study had 32 healthy young men consume a diet consisting of 20% of calories from pistachios. It found that endothelium-dependent vasodilation improved by 30%, compared to following a Mediterranean diet (26).
Proper blood flow is important for many bodily functions, including erectile function.
In one study, men with erectile dysfunction experienced a 50% improvement in parameters of erectile function after eating 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of pistachios a day for three weeks (27).
But note that 100 grams is quite a large serving of pistachios, containing about 557 calories.
Pistachio nuts may play an important role in promoting blood vessel health. That’s because they are rich in L-arginine, which, when converted to nitric oxide, helps dilate your blood vessels.
8. May Help Lower Blood Sugar
Despite having a higher carb content than most nuts, pistachios have a low glycemic index, meaning they don’t cause a large spike in your blood sugar.
Perhaps not surprisingly, studies have shown that eating pistachios can have beneficial effects on your blood sugar.
In another controlled study, individuals with type 2 diabetes showed a 9% reduction in fasting blood sugar after having eaten 0.9 ounces (25 grams) of pistachios as a snack twice a day for 12 weeks (33).
In addition to being rich in fiber and healthy fats, pistachio nuts are rich in antioxidants, magnesium, carotenoids and phenolic compounds, all of which are beneficial for blood sugar control (6, 33).
Therefore, simply adding pistachios to your diet may help control your blood sugar levels in the long term.
Pistachios have a low glycemic index, which might promote lower blood sugar levels.
9. Delicious and Fun to Eat
Pistachios can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
These include as a snack, salad garnish, pizza topping or even in baking, adding a beautiful green or purple color to various desserts and dishes.
Some delicious and green-colored desserts include pistachio gelato or cheesecake.
And, like other nuts, they can be used to make pesto or nut butter.
You can even try sprinkling them over your favorite oven-baked fish, adding them to your morning granola or making your own dessert crust.
Last but not least, pistachios can be enjoyed on their own as a convenient, tasty and healthy snack.
Besides being a great snack, pistachios can be used in baking and cooking, adding a green or purple color to various dishes.
The Bottom Line
Pistachios are a great source of healthy fats, fiber, protein, antioxidants and various nutrients, including vitamin B6 and potassium.
Their health benefits may include a healthier gut, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, in addition to promoting weight loss and eye and blood vessel health.
What’s more, they’re delicious, versatile and fun to eat. For most people, including pistachios in the diet is a great way to improve overall health.