Pistachio belongs to the Ancardiaceae family. This tree grows in areas where the winter is very cold and the summer is hot and long. Pistachio tree can tolerate different extremes in temperature: Up to 45° C and lower than -25° C. This plant is very strong against drought and hot weather in summer. Pistachio trees are Second (after the date palm) which can survive for long periods of time without water. Their roots reach Deep into the soil to find water. Depending on the environment in which the tree is planted, a pistachio tree Will start to fruit between 7 to 10 years after being planted and continue to live and fruit for about 80 to 100 Years.
It is outwardly a very wide tree and has many branches which spread around it and sometimes its width is about seven meter. The crop of this is nearly red or white and grows in a cluster like grapes. There is a hard shell around the edible kernel of pistachio.
Pistachio History and Origins:
Pistachio trees have grown in the Middle East for thousands of years. Pistachios have always been a desired delicacy in this region. Pistachios are mentioned in the Old Testament(Genesis 43:11).
In Persia(Modern day Iran), pistachio trade and ownership of pistachio groves meant riches and high status. Legend has it that pistachios were favorite of the queen of Sheba, who demanded all her land’s production for herself and her court. Through the conquests of Alexander the Great(334-323 BC) the nut reached Greece. Later under the rule of the Roman Emperor Tiberius(First Century AD), the nut was introduced into Italy and Spain.
Pistachio Crossed the Alps:
North of the Alps, the Pistachio remained unknown for a long time. Upon reaching Central Europe, it was called “Latin Penny Nut” because of its introduction of the Italian sales route, over the Alpine passes.
While the Pistachio was used from early on in various ways for cooking in Italy, North of Alps it was used primarily as an expensive addition to bakery goods. Only after world war two did the pistachio image gradually change from an expensive baking additive to a popular snack.
The origin of American Pistachios:
During the 1880s, imported pistachios were popular in the USA, especially with Persian immigrants. The pistachio received further distribution through vending machines installed in the underground in stations, bars, restaurants, and other common locations. Although in recent years American’s growers increase their production significantly, still Iranian pistachio has more favorite among consumers due to the unique taste and attractive appearance.
Pistachio Health Benefits:
An important way for men to keep fit is to reduce the risk factors for health problems that they face as they age. Maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels is one of the most important things a man can do. several studies suggest that including pistachios as a part of a well-balanced diet helps support healthy cholesterol level in individuals with already healthy cholesterol levels.
More and more men are interested in maintaining a healthy weight as well. According to nutrition experts, a key component to weight maintenance is eating small snacks throughout the day. Snacks are an important part of a balanced diet.Pistachios are a one-stop shop, containing 3 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 11 grams of heart healthy fat per serving- about 49 nuts. Additionally, pistachios may be even lower in calories than previously thought. Exploratory clinical studies suggest that when consumed in moderation, pistachio may help support healthy blood glucose levels in individuals with already normal blood glucose.
Athlete Health and pistachio Nutrition:
Nutrition is important for athletes, whether exercising for health or training for competition. A healthy diet ensures that both professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts are giving their bodies with fuel required to perform their best and recover quickly. Whatever your goals, be sure to consume a balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat from meals and snacks, and stay hydrated.
Pistachio nutrition can help. These little green nuts provide a healthy, portable snack option that you can use to fuel up before exercising and refuel after. Protein is a particularly important part of athlete nutrition, helping to build and maintain muscles. In fact, studies have shown that ingesting protein prior to exercise may help to reduce post-exercise soreness. Pistachio has 6 grams of protein per serving(49 nuts). That’s the same amount of protein found in a one-ounce serving of soybeans.
How we grow our pistachios:
Pistachio is a kind of tree that is born from its seeds. There are some specific species of pistachio which we use as seed (Small Badami). After selecting seeds in good condition we put them in water for 1 to 2 days and then put them inside wet cotton bags and leave them in a humid and warm place (from 20 to 30 degree). After one week the seeds start to sprout, we choose strong sprouts and transfer them to our garden.
In the beginning of spring, as the weather becomes warmer, sprouts start to grow and they appear on the ground. At this time the plants are very vulnerable, so we have to protect them against some animals such as birds and rabbits. To take care of them, we cover them with some bushes. Irrigation is very important in this period and it has to be done regularly every 6 to 10 days.
After two years, in winter, we cut trees and their branches to make them prepared for the hybrid. As spring starts, trees bring new branches and in the beginning of summer, we do grafting with other species' new branches. It is a very sensitive job and the type and quality of future product depend on it. A specific sort of pistachio is suitable in each land. In our area, from a long time ago, Fandoghi is the most common sort. However, recently many growers have shifted to Kaleghuchi, Ahmad Aghaei and Akbari.
After hybrid, it takes around two years until pistachio starts to crop but amount and quality of the first crop do not have commercial value. It takes approximately 10 to 12 years until pistachio trees become mature enough for a good harvest. Naturally, this period highly depends on soil, water, and climate conditions.
After 10 years pistachios become mature and since then, year by year their harvest becomes more. At 15 years, they become completely mature and give the maximum crop. However, we should know that pistachio has good and weak harvest alternately (it is called on & off year).
During winter, we usually buy completely natural fertilizer (Manure) from some local livestock keepers. Traditionally, growers use fertilizer of sheep but recently they also use fertilizer of cow and chicken. For a long term and sustainable farming, it is very important to choose appropriate fertilizer. It also affects deeply the taste of the final product, so we use only natural fertilizer. In the US, they mostly use chemical fertilizers and it can be a reason why there is a big difference between Iranian pistachios and U.S Pistachios.
Water is the most important asset in the desert. Although pistachio is a strong tree against hot and dry weather, proper irrigation is still crucial for a good crop. Persia has a long history in water engineering. They used to extract and transfer water in the desert from long distances. One of the oldest and the most advanced methods for extracting water in the world is called Ghanat which was invented by Persian and still in many areas of Iran growers use Ghanat. Some of these Ghanats stretch around 90km long.
While some growers still use water from Ghanat for irrigation of pistachio’s garden, others use the electric pumps for extracting water from a deep well. We irrigate our farm with the water which is extracted from deep wells in distance of around 70km far from our farm and it is carried by piping.
About the timing of irrigation, there are some points we always have to be careful about. According to the experiences gained during many years, growers perfectly know that pistachio trees need a different amount of water in each season. They also know that quality and quantity of crop highly depend on a proper supply of water. Usually, at blooming season and middle of summer, trees need the maximum amount of water, so we usually do irrigation every 24 days. However, in winter trees need less water, so irrigation every 45 days is enough. Two weeks before the harvest time, we do not do irrigation because at this time fruits are most vulnerable to insects and Aflatoxin. High moisture increases the probability of occurrence of Aflatoxin, so irrigation in this time of the year is very risky.
Control Plant pests:
One of the main reasons for an occurrence of insects is contamination in or around gardens. We are very sensitive with this and each year during winter we clean our garden from any contamination. For example, in winter when we cut dry branches and prune trees, we don’t leave them in the garden. We gather them in one place and burn them. Another strategy is to wash trees with cold water during spring and summer. It is a very useful method that makes trees clean and fresh during hot days of summer. If insects appear, we control them by the chemical anti pest. We consult agriculture experts to choose the most suitable anti pest and its dose according to detected insects. However, we are not allowed to use any kind of anti pest 45 days prior to harvesting.
It is not wrong if we say that harvest season is the most important and sensitive time for farmers. It usually starts in the middle of September. Harvesting has to be done exactly in the right time, a late or early harvest can highly damage crops, both in terms of quality and quantity. In fact, early harvesting is better than late since it helps to prevent the occurrence of Aflatoxin. The timing of harvest in each area is different because it depends on climate and location of gardens. Before harvesting, we check our garden every day. We determine the right time of harvest by our experience and observing the condition of fruits. We can recognize the right time of harvesting by looking at external shells of pistachios that change their colors from green to red and also they become soft. Bellow you can follow the steps of pistachio ripening according to its color:
Since the quantity is high, it is important to harvest speedy. Even a little delay could affect the quality of final product. Harvest is usually done manually. After picking up all the fruits, we carry them to a factory by truck for processing.
We do processing work in our own factory which is located 30km far from our garden. Our factory has some advantages. Firstly, in comparison with most of the factories in our area, it is more modernized. With modern machines damages to pistachios during a process is minimum and final product's quality is very high. Secondly, we have two processing lines, so that we can process speedy. If pistachios stay for a long time in the soft shell, the probability of occurrence of Aflatoxin increases, so speed is very important.
After unloading pistachios from truck to factory, our pistachios are transferred to a machine by a conveyor which removes external soft shells. More than 95% of shells are removed in this stage and the rest will be separated by another machine.
In next step, pistachios will be washed twice by special machines. Then they are carried by a conveyor to the dryer which decreases the moisture level of pistachio to around 25%. After dryer, we transfer pistachios to sorting machine. In this stage, all bad shape and those pistachios that still have external shell are separated. Also, close mouth pistachios are separated from open mouth. In below figure you can see the whole process from beginning until the end:
After sorting and decreasing moisture to under 25%, our pistachios are carried to open air and spread on a concrete land to be exposed to the sunshine for 24 to 48 hours. During this time we stay in the factory for supervision of processing and also protecting pistachios from birds. While pistachios are spread on the concrete land, they need to be replaced every 3 to 4 hours to make sure that both sides of pistachios are exposed to the sunshine and obtain a uniform product. At this stage low quality, bad shaped, and bad colored pistachios are again removed by labors.
After 24 to 48 hours, the product is ready and we usually pack them in 70kg poly bags and transfer them to store. We transfer 70 kg poly bags to the new workshop, where we do double sorting; once by machine and once manually. At this stage, if any bad shape and bad color pistachios are found, they will be removed. After double sorting, we take samples from whole product according to European standard guideline and send it to a laboratory in Rafsanjan which is confirmed by EU standard organization. This test is for recognition of the level of Aflatoxin. Since we have direct control on all production stages, our products come with the highest quality standard which matches with EU standard.
If a test result satisfies our standards, we move for next step which is packing in 50kg or 25kg poly bags and seal them. Fortunately, in Sirjan, we can do all custom jobs, so immediately after packing, we can move for loading. It helps us to minimize the time to reach the market and the final consumers. Customs and a standard organization of Iran also take some samples from the final product and do a test again. It has to pass their standards and requests, otherwise they don not permit exporting.
After loading in Sirjan, the cargo moves toward the port (Bandar Abbass) which is close to Sirjan, approximately 350km. We transfer our product by reefer containers to make sure about keeping quality of product. (The temperature of container is set between 3-6 degrees Celsius)
Price in the local market:
The Price of pistachio in the local market usually depends on production quantity of each harvest. If production is high, prices are usually stable but if production is low, prices will increase. Normally, at the beginning of harvest season (Sep) market experience a high price because there is no any product in market and demand is high. After two weeks from the beginning of harvest season, prices become more stable and then decrease. Another factor which influences the price of pistachios in the local market is a condition of exporting. Iranian pistachio is known as a premium product in European and international markets because of its taste and also diversity in shape and size. These characteristics push Iranian pistachios' price higher than its competitors. Also, we could say that the Chinese market gives influences on the price of Iranian pistacho. In recent years, the local market witnesses an increase in price.