Happy World Pistachio Day!

CC BY 2.0. Mike Tidd

You need more of these little green nutritional powerhouses in your life.

There is something in your pantry that, as the legend goes, the Queen of Sheba said was only fit for royalty. This wonderful food has been found in ancient archaeological sites, dating back to the 6th millennium B.C. in Afghanistan and Iran. It was allegedly introduced to Italy by the Roman emperor Tiberius, and from there spread throughout southern Europe and North Africa, having a significant impact on the cuisine of those regions.

I'm talking about the humble pistachio, a small green nut whose official day of celebration is today. World Pistachio Day always falls on February 26th and is a great opportunity to remind ourselves of why we should be eating more of these tiny nutritional powerhouses.

Pistachios like desert climates and are grown primarily in the United States and Iran; these two countries produced 68 percent of the global harvest in 2016 (1.1 million tonnes) – this despite the U.S. not harvesting its first commercial crop until 1976! Turkey and China are secondary producers. Pistachios are related botanically to cashews and mangoes, and are one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

The nuts come from trees that take 7 to 10 years to mature, and the nut is actually an edible seed, at the center of the tree's fruit. Wikipedia offers details about the unmistakable split shell of a pistachio:

"When the fruit ripens, the shell changes from green to an autumnal yellow/red and abruptly splits partly open. This is known as dehiscence, and happens with an audible pop. The splitting open is a trait that has been selected by humans."

The nuts are healthy, packed with nutrients including beta carotene, phosphorus, vitamin B6, thiamine, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and the highest level of carotenoids (a heart health-promoting antioxidant) compared to other nuts. TIME reports,

"Both raw and roasted pistachios contain a lot of fat: about 13 grams, which is 17% of the recommended daily total. But most of it is monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy type that can help lower levels of bad cholesterol. Pistachios are also a good source of protein; a serving contains about 6 grams."

Better yet, a 1-ounce serving contains roughly 49 nuts, which means you will feel like you're eating a lot when you're actually not. Take this a step further by choosing pistachios in their shell. A 2011 study published in Appetite found that people who had to crack shells to reach the nuts stopped eating sooner than those who ate shelled pistachios and ended up taking in 41 percent fewer calories. "The accumulation of shells appeared to act as a visual, psychological cue to stop eating" (via SF Gate).

Pistachios are not just good for snacking; they're great for cooking and are prized in Middle Eastern cooking. Learn how to incorporate them into your own foods. Use them in pesto, in breading for fish, in salads, baked goods, hummus, and trail mix. Get some gourmet inspiration from Bon Appétit's pistachio slideshow.