As pistachios ripen, their shells naturally split open with an audible "pop." Legend has it that lovers would meet underneath moonlit pistachio trees at night—hearing the nuts crack open was a promise of good fortune.
There are many different pistachio varieties cultivated in Iran, Turkey, Syria, China, Greece and the U.S. (primarily California). California pistachios are mostly of the Kerman variety, distinguished by large, vibrant green nuts with open, naturally tan shells.
Pistachios are typically available shelled or unshelled, salted or unsalted, roasted or raw. Some are colored red (with vegetable dye) or blanched white.
The first pistachios marketed in the United States were from the Middle East. American importers dyed the shells red to disguise blemishes that occurred during harvesting and to make them more attractive.
The first Californian crop, harvested in 1976, produced nuts with clean, tan shells, but some were still dyed red because consumers were more familiar with them. Red pistachios are still offered today for those who prefer a more colorful shell.
When buying unshelled pistachios, make sure the shells are free of defects and partially open. Closed shells indicate the meat inside is immature and flavorless. The nuts are available year-round.
Store pistachios in an airtight container—they tend to draw moisture from the air, which makes them lose their crunch. In the refrigerator or freezer, pistachios will keep for up to a year.
• Sprinkle chopped pistachios on French bread slices smeared with Brie cheese.
• Toss with mixed baby greens, sliced apples and crumbled blue cheese.
• Add to your turkey stuffing mix to make pistachio stuffing.
• 1/3 cup in-shell pistachios = 1/4 cup shelled nuts.