Pistachio, pistache (French), Pistazie (German), pistacchio (Italian), pistacho/alfonchigo (Spanish), pistáchia (Portuguese), fistashka (Russian), antep fistigi (Turkish), fustuq (Arabic), pista (Persian), pistutasho (Japanese)
(Pistacia vera – Family Anacardiaceae [Pistaciaceae])
Pistachios are native to parts of West Asia and the Levant between Turkey and Afghanistan. The earliest traces of them being eaten in Turkey and the Middle East date back to about 7000 BC. Improved cultivation has taken place over thousands of years and now extends into India, the Far East, the southern US, Mexico, Europe, and Africa. The nuts come from a small, slow-growing, deciduous tree that spreads to about thirty feet, forming forests at altitudes of 3,000 feet and upwards, particularly in Syria, Damascus, and Mesopotamia.
There are about twelve different species of Pistacia, and nearly all exude turpentine (especially the terebinth tree) or a mastic (an edible resin) and just a few yield small edible nuts. Only P. vera produces the popular pistachio nut, which is actually the kernel of the stone found in small fruit. The delicately-flavoured fruit grows in clusters like grapes and is technically classified as a drupe. When the fruit is ripe, it gapes open at one end to expose the kernel – a condition called “khandan” (laughing, in Iranian). The shell may be ivory or red according to the variety, but it is often dyed red for marketing purposes. The kernel is unique among the nuts as it is a pale-green all the way through, and not just on the surface. The deeper the green, the more it is valued. Chlorophyll is responsible for the green colour, and varieties are markedly different in this respect. To peel, they must be soaked in boiling water for about five minutes, drained, and patted dry. The skins can be removed by rubbing them with a towel.