Pistachios – the Nut with issues

If ever there was a nut with identity issues, it’d be the poor little pistachio. Americans? We love ‘em dyed red. If you have them in ice cream, you’ll see it as a soft pastel green. Although some varieties of pistachios do have lightly rust-colored skins (especially if they are bruised) their primary color, the color of the meat of the nut, runs from light beige to bright green. So why are some dyed a bright red?

The Straight Dope has the answer: because years ago when pistachios were all imported into the U.S., the antiquated harvesting and processing methods in the Middle East often left blemishes on the hulls. So they dyed them to mask the unsightly marks. Red was chosen as red draws attention.

So when it comes to pistachios, remember this: They are almost never red, and are only slightly green.

These little nuts have been around for quite a long time. Archeologists have found evidence in a dig site at Jarmo, near northeastern Iraq, that pistachio nuts were a common food as early as 6750 BC. As you often see when it comes to popular foods, it became a favorite of those in power, which in turn made the pistachio associated with royalty and religion. Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient king of Babylon had pistachio trees planted in his hanging gardens. In the celebrated imperial court of Queen Belghais of Sheba, pistachios were a privilege for royalty and the elite…because Sheba thought the nut as a powerful aphrodisiac, and wanted the bliss of sexuality to be an upper class activity only. Back in the day, pistachios was the caviar of its time.

This occurred deep into the middle ages. Remember that trade affected cost, and the cost of importing pistachios into the regions of France, Italy and Spain made the little nut available only to those with money. Then, after pistachio plants made their way into the farm lands of Italy and Spain, they became more available to the general populace.

This probably explains its identity issue. Think about it – if you were once on the top of the heap, and then find yourself being sold in vending machines along side of Good n Plenty’s, then you’d want to disguise yourself as well.

At any rate, we move from walnuts to pistachios. I’m thinking about making baklava, maybe some Persian dishes and definitely ice cream. My goal with the ice cream making? To see just how green the ice cream becomes.

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