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My Pistachio Farm Tour

Sharon Palmer

I am absolutely fascinated with learning more about how foods grow. So it was really exciting to be invited to a pistachio farm tour by the American Pistachio Growers. The trip started out in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the U.S. We dined at the James Beard award-winning   The Slanted Door, which was a special treat. The food is modern Vietnamese, inspired by hot chef Charles Phan, and it’s so good! I sampled a number of plant-powered dishes, such as lettuce vegetable rolls, glass noodles with vegetables, and hodo soy beanery organic tofu with mushrooms.

Fried tofu and lettuce rolls at The Slanted Door 
Menu cover
Hodo soy beanery organic tofu with shitake mushrooms
The Slanted Door: Glass noodles with vegetables 
At the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco

Pistachios and Health

The next morning, we departed from San Francisco via bus to visit the pistachio farms. Along the way, we learned a lot about pistachios. I’m a big fan of nuts—including pistachios—and I recommend that everyone should have one or two handfuls a day. A number of studies document the heart health benefits of eating nuts regularly. In addition, nuts may have benefits for weight loss, as they increase satiety and help make you feel fuller for longer. And regular nut consumption has been linked with reducing the risk of cancer and maintaining healthy blood glucose levels.

What’s so special about pistachios?

  • They’re high in fiber, providing about 3 grams per serving (1 oz)
  • They’re rich in plant proteins—providing about 6 grams (10% DV) per serving—about as much as you find in an egg.
  • They’re rich in lots of essential vitamins (B vitamins) and minerals (potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, copper).
  • They contain phytochemicals, such as polyphenols, lutein and zeaxanthin, which provide antioxidant activity.
  • They provide phytosterols, plant compounds that lower cholesterol.
  • They are rich in healthy fats.
  • You get 49 pistachio nuts in a serving—far more than other nuts.

That’s why pistachios make the perfect snack, and they are routinely incorporated into athletic performance diets, such as for the riders in the Tour De France and athletes on USC sports teams.

A mountain of lovely pistachios!

Pistachios: On the Farm

So, how are pistachios grown and harvested? They have an interesting story! They just began cultivation in the US—first in California, and then in Arizona and New Mexico—in the 1970s, when agricultural experts noticed that the native pistachio in Iran might be suited for growth in similar climates in the US. Its first commercial crop was harvested in 1976, yet today it’s grown into a major crop for the US, who is the number one global producer of pistachios!

It all starts with the pistachio tree. The trees are grafted onto root stock to help improve disease resistance. It takes about 6 – 10 years for a pistachio tree to mature and bear nuts. They are pollinated by the wind—not bees. They are ready for harvest in late August to early October when the hull blushes and starts to split. That’s when the pistachio shakers come and shake the pistachio trees, in order to loosen and harvest them.

Fresh pistachios just harvested from the tree—complete with outer hull

I got to visit a farm and see how the pistachios grow on the tree and watch the pistachio shakers shake the trees. I even ate a pistachio straight from the tree. It was so fresh and delicious!

A pistachio I picked fresh from the tree—with outer hull intact

Once harvested, the pistachios are processed by removing their outside hull, and then washing, drying, and sorting. They can be stored in a cool dry place for up to 18 months after harvest. I got to observe the pistachio processing plants—following the harvest from the orchards all the way to the package. So interesting to see how these delicious nuts are simply processed to get them into the package that you buy at the store!

Sorting nuts at the pistachio processing plant

Eating on the Pistachio Farm

During our pistachio farm tour we had the amazing opportunity of eating at two pistachio farms. For lunch, we ate a lovely meal at the farm of Richard and Maxine Paslay in the Central Valley. It was a scorching hot day, but under the shade of the trees it wasn’t so bad! The pistachio meal featured lots of delicious plant-powered foods, including a salad with nectarines, figs, golden raisins and citrus vinaigrette, heirloom beets, and whole grain bread with pistachio butter.

My plant-powered lunch on the pistachio farm—check out that gorgeous green pistachio butter!

For the piece de resistance, we ate dinner at the farm of Larry and Janice Lowder, who grow pistachios. Their home was so lovely, and we ate an outdoor farmstead dinner under the stars. We ate delicious farm fresh foods, such as roasted figs, heirloom tomato salad, freshly baked stoneground breads, roasted vegetables, and couscous. One of my best meals ever!

At the Lowder farm for an outdoor dinner under the stars! 
The adorable Lowder family (dogs included) welcome us to their farm, with Judy Hirigoyen (right), Marketing Director for American Pistachio Growers, who organized this amazing farm tour.
Roasted farm fresh vegetables at the farm dinner
Couscous with pistachios at the farm dinner

Note: I am not a spokesperson or profiting from these products or companies; just providing my own unsolicited opinion about popular products, services, and organizations in the food world today!

2 thoughts on “My Pistachio Farm Tour

  1. i will be in San Francisco area on labor day weekend and is interested to join a pistachio farm tour. Is there a place near San Francisco that you can recommend even if it is 2 hours drive away.

    • Hi, I am not familiar with any pistachio farms in the San Francisco area (the one I visited was a few hours south of San Francisco, and it was a private tour), but I suggest that you search for one and contact them to see if they allow for private tours. Good luck!

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