With an antiquity of around 9,000 years, the pistachio is one of the oldest edible nuts on earth. Originating from the Middle Eastern countries of Iran, Syria and Greece, the pistachio belongs, like the cashew, to the family of the Anacardiaceae. The fruit of the pistachio differs from all other nuts because of its characteristic green color and the semiopening of the shell, which in Iran is called the "smiling pistachio" and in China the "happy nut." This singular morphology makes the pistachio the only edible nut that does not need to be shelled for roasting and salting, serving as its own natural "wrapping" for easy consumption. Both a male and female pistachio tree are required to produce edible nuts. Pistachios are pollinated by wind, and therefore do not require bees.
Cultivated in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Syria and Italy, pistachios are marketed primarily in their in-shell form -- roasted and salted -- but they can also be purchased unsalted and shelled. California produces 98.5% of the nation's pistachios. They are mainly used as a snack, although because of their rich, buttery taste, they're perfect in salads, desserts, pasta and main dishes too.