Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


HERE WE CELEBRATE Pistacia vera, a member of the cashew family not unrelated to poison ivy and positively replete with other fascinating tidbits (including the provocative headline above). 

The Basics. “The pistachio,” Wikipedia says, “is a small tree originating from Central Asia and the Middle East. The tree produces seeds that are widely consumed as food.” 

A salted roasted pistachio. Image by Muhammad Mahdi Karim edited by Noodle snacks from Wikipedia. 

We should pause here and discuss seeds versus nuts (which I always thought pistachios were). Wikipedia says, “A nut is a fruit consisting of a hard or tough nutshell protecting a kernel which is usually edible. In general usage and in a culinary sense, a wide variety of dry seeds are called nuts, but in a botanical context ‘nut’ implies that the shell does not open to release the seed (indehiscent).”

Wikipedia stresses, “… many nuts (in the culinary sense), such as almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and Brazil nuts, are not nuts in the botanical sense.”

That is, shall we continue botanically or culinarily? 

What’s worse, Wikipedia advises, “Pistacia vera is often confused with other species in the genus Pistacia that are also known as pistachio.” 

Well that’s certain to cause confusion, isn’t it? 

Etymology. “Pistachio” is from the late Middle English pistace (what Geoffrey Chaucer would have called them), via Latin from Greek πιστάκιον “pistákion,” and from Middle Persian pistakē. 

Now we’re getting somewhere, because to this day Iran is one of the world’s largest producers of pistachios. The U.S. is the other, though trees weren’t brought to California until around 1904, and then not from the Middle East but from China (where they were known as ‘happy nuts’). 

By the way, Wikipedia notes that, “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were said to have contained pistachio trees during the reign of King Merodach-Baladan about 700 BC.”

Image of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon from Wikipedia. The Tower of Babel is in the background. This hand-colored engraving is from the 19th century, so take its accuracy with a grain of salt on your pistachio.

Why Were/Are Pistachios Red? Actually, they were dyed red by American processors to cover unsightly but natural markings on the shells. The kitchn website says, “Dyeing pistachios red went out of style in the 1980s, when California growers became the largest source of pistachios for the American market and chose to distribute undyed nuts.”

Unshelled or Shelled? Pistachios are not easy to shell. But maybe the process is a therapeutic one. Or at least a limiting influence on how many pistachios one consumes per sitting. The Khoshbin Blog offers “Unshelled vs Shelled Pistachios: A Cost-Effective Analysis.”

Image from Khoshbin Group.

This first-rate study addresses taste and nutrition, price, diversity, versatility, shelf life, consumption, and even amusement. I won’t give away its conclusions; it makes for good reading whilst munching pistachios. 

Another Interesting Fact. The Interesting Facts website notes that “Pistachios Can Spontaneously Combust.” 

Geez. Just like Peter “James” Bond, one of the ill-fated drummers of the legendary (some would say fictional) British heavy metal group, Spinal Tap.

I cannot say why this drummer self-combusted on the Isle of Lucy, but Interesting Facts shares that pistachios are especially rich in highly flammable fat and “if they’re kept too dry and there are too many of them bunched together, they can self-heat and catch fire without an external heat source.”

Image from Interesting Facts. Source: Original photo by fcafotodigital/iStock. 

Per Interesting Facts: “Though exceedingly rare and easy to avoid if the proper instructions are followed, pistachio self-combustion is a real enough concern that the German Transport Information Service specifically advises that pistachios ‘not be stowed together with fibers/fibrous materials as oil-soaked fibers may promote self-heating/spontaneous combustion of the cargo.’ ”

To the extent of my research, the German Transport Information Service has no recommendations about the stowing of heavy metal drummers. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 


  1. Jack Albrecht
    November 30, 2022

    I’ve had Iranian pistachios. They are better than any others I’ve ever tasted. I wonder if Iran has been careful to limit the export of trees, or if it is just the climate that makes them so tasty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: