Written by: on February 22, 2021 @ 8:00 am

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Pistachio Day
February 26, 2021!

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Pistachios are the seeds from the fruit of a small Persian tree, Pistachia vera. They have been cultivated for at least 3,000 years, widely in Central Asia to the Mediterranean region. Green and slightly sweet, pistachios are called nuts, but botanically are seeds. Related botanically to cashews and mangoes, pistachios are one of the oldest flowering nut trees, and are one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pistachios ripen in late summer or early fall growing so energetically that the kernel splits the shell. These trees are wind pollinated which means one male tree can produce enough pollen for 25 seed-bearing female trees. Female trees produce their first seeds at age five and can bear fruit for up to 200 years!

Native to western Asia and Asia Minor, the trees grew wild in high desert regions and legend has it that for the promise of good fortune, lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights. 

Thanks to their high nutritional value and long storage life, pistachios were an indispensable form of sustenance among early explorers and traders, including travelers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West.

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The kernels can have different colors, ranging from yellow to shades of green. They are usually about an inch long and half an inch in diameter. But if you want to taste one, you’ll have to crack open its hard shell first.

Have you ever seen a red pistachio? In the 1930s, importers began dyeing the shells bright red to disguise blemishes that occurred during harvesting. This practice made the pistachios more attractive to consumers. Though some enjoy the red color, many believe the red dye adversely affects the taste of the pistachio kernels.

Pistachios became a food as early as 7,000 B.C. They came to the United States in the mid-19th century and commercial production began in the 1970s when farmers began diversifying from the heavy almond industry. The first major commercial crop was harvested in 1976.

California, Arizona, and New Mexico make up all of America’s commercial pistachio production. You can buy pistachios shelled or unshelled, roasted, or salted. They are available in most grocery stores, and you can buy them in bulk from pistachio growers.

California is second only to Iran in pistachio production, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, a group of experts from Iowa State University, Kansas State University and the University of California, who serve as an information resource for agricultural producers.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Pistachio Farm, Bardeskan, Iran

Iran is universally known for producing some of the best quality pistachios in the world. In 2018, the global production of pistachios was about 1.4 million metric tons, with Iran and the United States as leading producers, together accounting for 72% of the total. Secondary producers were Turkey, China, and Syria.

In Iran, pistachios are known as the smiling nut.  In China, they are called the happy nut. Pistachios are also known as the green almond. No matter the name, they are delicious!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

We all know that pistachios are good, but we only eat the seeds. What happens to all those shells? What would you do with thousands of tons of leftover nutshells? It is a question that Turkey — the world’s third-biggest producer of pistachios, behind Iran and the USA, has been asking itself for years.

Usually discarded pistachio shells end up in landfills, but pistachio-loving Turks think they have found a far better solution by turning the shells into a biogas, an alternative fuel produced by the breakdown of organic matter.

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Biomass Heating Power Plant

Now Turkey wants to use pistachio shells to power its first eco-city, which will require fermenting tons of the green waste in so-called digesters, and then using the resulting gases, mostly methane, to generate heat.

The idea is not as odd as it sounds. For starters, the green city will be built in what is arguably the best possible location: Gaziantep Province. This southern region near the Syrian border is the heart of Turkey’s pistachio production, yielding more than half of the country’s pistachios!

“When you plan such environment-friendly systems, you take a look at the natural resources you have. So, we thought the ecological city could be heated by burning pistachio shells,” explains Seda Muftuoglu Gulec, the municipality’s expert on green architecture.

This peculiar source of energy is renewable and cheap because Turkey has plenty of shells to go around, so much so that it exported 6,800 tons of pistachios last year! 500 tons shy of the weight of the Eiffel Tower, according to the Southeast Anatolia Exporters Union.

Experts say turning pistachios into biogas, while untested, is not only technically feasible but also extremely convenient. Turkey claims that nutshells are the most efficient source of alternative energy in the region and could satisfy up to 60 percent of the city’s heating needs.

The planned 7,900-acre, nut-fueled city will be six miles from the province’s capital city, Gaziantep, and is expected to become home to 200,000 people.

This is Turkey’s first attempt at building an eco-city, and it will be the only one in the world that is heated by pistachios. In Australia, macadamia nutshells are already being turned into biomass. Meanwhile in Monterrey, Mexico, the methane generated from decaying garbage is being turned into electricity to illuminate city lights.

Clever people and scientists the world over are turning to green energy as a useful substitute for fossil fuels. Think about that next time you eat some pistachios!

Now, we all know that nuts contain fat….good fat, but fat none the less. The team at High Touch High Tech has come up with a FUN way to test if foods have fat. Check out the lesson plan, grab your supplies…and a handful of nuts, and try our Nutty Nutrients Fat Tester at home experiment!


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