10 sexy, nutty facts about Pistachios

  • Pistachios.
On our recent tour of the Heart of the Desert Pistachio grounds and processing plant, we got up close and personal with the nuts and learned:

  1. For pistachio sex, one male to 10 females will do. The taller male tree sprouts buds in March, and in April the wind pollinates the female trees, which are grown from a graft of a producing tree.
  2. Pistachios like it hot and dry. Heart of the Desert is located in Alamagordo, N.M., where the climate is remarkably similar to the pistachio’s original home in the Middle East, windy with long, hot summers. Only 2 percent of the world’s pistachios are grown in the United States, and 98 percent of that is produced in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Another small pocket is grown in Willcox, Arizona.
  3. Size doesn’t matter. One female tree will produce 18-20 pounds of nuts, regardless of its height.
  4. It’s time when it’s soft. The nut has an outside covering called a pericardium. When it gets soft like jello, it’s time to harvest. Most of the nuts pop open on the tree, but 15 percent, called “tights” are run through a high-powered air flow to force them open.
  5. It’s all over in eight seconds—the harvest that is. A specially designed machine grips the tree trunk, shaking it for eight seconds—any longer would damage the roots—and collects the nuts as the fall.
  6. You have to cool it down. The nuts are roasted at 265 degrees, the first eight minutes with the air blowing one direction, the second eight minutes with the airflow reversed. In between, the nuts are cooled down because the shells retain heat and could burn the nutmeat.
  7. Nothing beats the human touch. Heart of the Desert is one of the only plants that still uses humans to inspect the nuts before packaging. Just like the Lucy episode in the chocolate factory, women in hairnets sit by a conveyor belt, and pick out any tights or nuts with blemishes. In the two bags of nuts we bought, there was not one unopened nut.
  8. Cleanliness is next to godliness. The Heart of the Desert processing is pristine and kosher, inspected several times a year by rabbis. If you have germ phobias, buy your nuts here.
  9. Age is no factor. A pistachio tree will have a handful of nuts after five years, become mature at 15, and bear 20 pounds of nuts after about 22 years. It’s usually done at 75, but the oldest known tree is 700 years old in Iran and is still producing.
  10. Ah, bliss. The partly open shell of the pistachio has led Iran to label it the “smiling pistachio” and China to call it the “happy nut.”

One Comment

  1. Reply
    Kirstin July 31, 2015

    Everything I always wanted to know about nuts but was afraid to ask!

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