It’s Throwback Thursday and, just like we did last month, we’re taking a trip through nut history. This month, we’re taking a look at history of some more favorites: pistachios, pecans and almonds.
Native to Central Asia and the Middle East, pistachios – members of the cashew family that have been cultivated since early 7000 B.C. – are one of the oldest flowering nut trees. Given their unique look and taste, pistachios have been mentioned in different cultural legends throughout time. For example, many biblical accounts claim that the Queen of Sheba deemed pistachios a treat to be enjoyed exclusively by royalty. Some accounts describe her as even forbidding commoners from growing them for personal use. Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was rumored to have pistachio trees in his fabled hanging gardens.
Pistachios flourish in hotter climates, thus making them a natural fit for many regions throughout Central Asia and the Middle East. Eventually, as interregional trade picked up pistachios spread to the Mediterranean, where they became something of a delicacy among all social classes, not just royalty. Though pistachios are commonly enjoyed as snacks today, they were rarely eaten as snacks early on. Instead, the pistachio was used in a variety of other culinary fashions. In Italy, the pistachio was utilized very heavily in cooking. In the Alps, the pistachio was used extensively as an addition to baked goods. After World War II, however, the image of the pistachio slowly shifted and it finally became the popular snack that it is today.
The American pistachio industry started off slow, taking over 50 years for the nuts to truly catch on as a popular snack. The impetus behind the surge in popularity? Smuggling.
In 1920, botanist William Whitehouse smuggled over 20 pounds of different pistachios from Iran into Chico, California. In those 20 pounds of nuts was the Kerman pistachio, which revolutionized the American pistachio industry. Now, California accounts for over 98% of American pistachio production. Since its first commercial crop in 1976, which weighed in at 1.5 million pounds, the commercial pistachio industry has taken off. Pistachio production saw a record year in 2007, when it reached 415 million pounds in the United States.
Just three states – California, Arizona and New Mexico – are accountable for all of U.S. commercial pistachio production. California, America’s nuttiest state, comprises 98.5% of U.S. commercial pistachio production with over 250,000 acres planted throughout 22 counties. There are 850 producers in the United States and the annual “farm gate value”* of pistachios represents more than $1.16 billion to California’s economy and more than $15 million to Arizona and New Mexico.
The pecan is widely considered to be one of the most valuable North American nut species because it’s the only major tree nut that is naturally grown in North America. Originating in eastern and central North America, the pecan was a staple in the diets of Native Americans and early colonial settlers. Meaning “all nuts requiring a stone to crack” in Algonquin, the pecan was found to have a softer shell than other nut species in the area and thus became a favored snack. Because of it’s availability, the pecan was used as a major food source throughout autumn and winter by many Native American tribes throughout the United States and Mexico.
Pecans began being planted for cultivation in the United States in the late 1700’s, with the first recorded pecan planting taking place on Long Island in 1772. By the early 1800’s pecans became a key export, with French and Spanish colonists shipping pecans to the West Indies. Now, the pecan industry is booming with the United States producing up to 95% of the world’s pecans from over 10 million pecan trees.
Almonds have been cultivated for centuries, though they weren’t classified and named until 1753 when Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus named them. Tracing their origins back to central and southwest Asia, the almond is rumored to have evolved from the same primitive stock as the peach. As it is a member of the “drupe” family – a nut that is surrounded by a fleshy fruit – it’s not hard to imagine that peaches and almonds are closely related. As the crop evolved, almonds were discovered to be a sweet, enjoyable snack. Nomadic tribes even created trail mixes consisting of almonds, dates and pistachios. These mixes helped them sustain themselves on journeys.
Today, the almond industry is booming – especially in the United States. Despite a recent drop in production, the United States is still a leader in the almond industry. Some articles claim the United States contributes about 38% of the world’s almonds, while other reports claim that figure is closer to 80%. Regardless, the United States is still responsible for over one million tons of almonds per year.
Here are Truly Good Foods, we know our nuts. From nut history to cultivation requirements to state-by-state production figures, we make sure we stay on top of every little detail about every nut we carry. That’s what keeps us ahead of the pack. Take a look at our expansive line of nut mixes today.