by Kerry Acker
Move over, almonds and walnuts, there's a new superstar nut in town! With the California pistachio industry making a big push to turn more Americans on to the wonders of the creamy, buttery, heart-healthy nut (even Snoop Lion is on board, as well as Psy); worldwide consumption of pistachios skyrocketing (with China now the leading importer); and chefs using pistachios in ever more ambitious ways, it seems this humble tree nut is enjoying its moment in the sun. Here, five things you should know about the pistachio, plus loads of sweet and savory recipes:
--The United States is currently the world leader in pistachio production, having surpassed Iran in 2010. And sales are booming, with exports doubling over the past six years from 100 million pounds to almost 270 million pounds.
--Clocking in at about 3 to 4 calories per nut, pistachios--a.k.a. "skinny nuts"--have fewer calories than just about any other nut. (Plus, studies have shown that if you eat pistachios in their shells, you will eat less overall; the act of shelling slows consumption, and the leftover shells serve as a visual cue to the eater to limit intake.)
--Pistachios contain more potassium, which can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, than any other nut.
--Eating pistachios may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer. Pistachios are an excellent source of phytosterols, plant compounds that have been found to decrease levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and they are packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants (including the carotenoids beta-carotene and lutein, which gives the pistachio kernel its distinct green color).
--Red pistachios don't exist in nature! Pistachio importers used to dye the nuts red--and sometimes green--to hide blemishes resulting from traditional harvesting methods.
Fascinating stuff, right? But, let's face it, the thing we love most about pistachios is, well, their deliciousness. And we've got loads of inventive sweet (beyond baklava) and savory (pestos! salsas! crusts!) recipes that make excellent use of one of our favorite nuts. Here are just a few: