15 Fascinating Things I Learned at the American Pistachio Growers’ Conference

Whaddaya know about pistachios? Here are 15 fascinating things I learned at the 2020 American Pistachio Growers’ Conference!

Food writing can be a pretty sweet gig.

First of all, as an introvert, I’m perfectly happy tapping away in my living room in my PJs most days. And then there’s the fun free samples I get offered–everything from salmon jerky to banana milk to plant-based ice creams. Besides which I really just enjoy writing, and (as you probably deduced from the name of this blog) I absolutely LOVE food.

But last week I had a food writer experience that topped everything I’ve seen so far. Not long ago, I got an email from the PR rep for the American Pistachio Growers, who had seen an article I’d written on the up-and-coming, new-but-ancient grain freekeh. He wrote to inquire whether I’d be interested in attending the APG’s annual conference to hear some exciting new research on pistachios…and possibly write about them in the future.

Oh, and bonus? The conference was being held in beautiful Monterey, California. And–strange-but-true additional tidbit–the keynote speaker was Dr. Mehmet Oz, whose daytime TV show I happened to be a guest on a few months back for a personal story from my past. This time, though, I’d be the one asking him the questions in a Q & A about pistachios.

Anyway, attend I did, and holy WOW, the pistachio people treated me right! As a relative newbie in my career, I’m not used to being wined and dined, so it was pretty fabulous to be given a front-row seat at the conference, taken out for a couple of amazing seafood dinners, and led on a glorious hike at Point Lobos State Park.

(Oh, and I can’t forget to mention my auspicious meeting with the American Pistachio himself.)

I had the chance to talk with several pistachio growers, attend info sessions presenting the latest research on the nuts, and of course, sit down for an interview about pistachio nutrition with Dr. Oz. (Frankly I was a little doubtful at first about his expertise on pistachios, but he was actually very knowledgeable!)

All in all, it was a super informative couple of days that taught me so much about these healthy little nuts. I totally drank the pistachio Kool-Aid–and I thought I’d share some of the interesting facts I learned! Here are 15 fascinating things I learned at the American Pistachio Growers conference.

1. Pistachios were just recently discovered to be a complete protein–and the discovery was kind of an accident.

Not familiar with the concept of complete protein? Foods with complete protein contain all nine essential amino acids (the kind your body can’t produce and needs to get from food). Most complete proteins are meat or dairy products, so it’s a big deal that American roasted pistachios were just discovered to be a vegan/vegetarian source.

Here’s the funny thing: When the American Pistachio Growers had their product analyzed, they only wanted to see if it could be labeled as a “good source” of protein. In the process, they got the surprise result that pistachios are a complete protein as well!

2. Pistachios are a good source of protein and fiber.

Six grams of protein and three grams of fiber per one-ounce serving mean pistachios can help keep you full and boost digestion.

3. They’re one of the lowest-calorie nuts.

Compared to pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts, pistachios are a relatively low-calorie nut, with 160 calories per serving. Bonus: Your digestive tract doesn’t actually break down nuts in their entirety, so you actually absorb fewer calories than what’s listed on the nutrition facts label–up to 15% fewer, in fact.

4. No one knows how pistachios were brought to the U.S.

According to nut growing legend, some unknown traveler to the U.S. brought (or perhaps smuggled?) a pistachio bush from the Middle East at some point in the mid-20th century. But no one really knows how pistachio plants made their way to this country.

5. The U.S. pistachio industry is only about 40 years old.

Whoever it was that brought the first pistachio plant, it probably only happened around the 1960s. From there, the pistachio industry began to take root (literally) in the ’70s.

6. Pistachios only grow in three U.S. states: California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Well, isn’t my home state special? Arizona is one of just three states where pistachios are grown. Outside the U.S., they primarily grow in Turkey and Iran, with a few farms in other Mediterranean countries.

7. Pistachio trees require very specific conditions to grow–like a Western wind and a certain number of hours below 38 degrees F.

This is why they only grow in a very few places on Earth!

8. American pistachios grow on trees. Everywhere else, they grow on bushes.

Another unknown in the pistachio growing world: When pistachios were brought to the U.S., did someone graft them with a tree? For whatever reason, American pistachio farms consist of trees, while elsewhere the nuts grow on bushes.

9. Ounce for ounce, pistachios have as much protein as an egg.

One egg = 6 grams of protein. One ounce of pistachios also = six grams.

10. …and more potassium than bananas.

Bananas aren’t the only potassium rockstar. A serving of pistachios has 290mg of this micronutrient–6% of the recommended daily value.

11. The reason you don’t see pistachio milks, butters, and other products is an issue of supply, not feasibility.

Since pistachios don’t grow just anywhere, there simply aren’t that many of them–and there’s only so far they can go in the food supply. That’s why you don’t see them as butters, milks, flours, and other products, as you do with almonds or cashews. Pistachios certainly could be used in these ways; there’s just not enough of them (yet) to be made into all these products.

12. For this reason, the American Pistachio Growers focus on marketing their nuts primarily as snacks.

Pistachios are perfect for snacking, so that’s the direction APG has taken with marketing their limited quantity. Among their spokespeople are professional soccer players and snowboarders.

13. We don’t really know how long pistachio trees can live.

According to the growers I spoke with, this is also an unknown, since the trees have such a short history. So far, the belief is that they may live 100-200 years.

14. Pistachio extract has been shown to have antimicrobial properties.

In addition to their many health benefits as a snack, pistachios’ extract has been shown to contain antimicrobial properties. In the future, we may see medicines made with pistachio extract.

15. One serving of pistachios is 49 nuts.

Why not 50? I’m not sure, but a one-ounce serving comes out to 49 nuts.

So what do you think? Now that you know more about the little green nuts, are you ready to get your ‘stash on? I certainly am!

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