What Are Red Pistachios and What Happened To Them?

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S.A. Yanes Published: August 9, 2021
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Many people, on some occasions, have turned to pistachio nuts in an attempt to turn a lackluster dish into something delightful. This is because they are slightly sweet with an underlying earthy taste. Sprinkle these tasty nuts over a salad or use them to give your muffins a delicious crunch, just like in these fantastic pistachio muffins and see how they elevate every bite. What many people don’t know, however, is their crimson-hued counterpart: the red pistachios.

There exist several pistachio varieties. The Iranian round and long pistachios and the salted and roasted ones. But are you aware of the long-forgotten red variation?

We did a deep dive to find out more about the enigma surrounding red pistachios. This guide will tell you everything you need to know concerning the crimson-colored nut. You’ll discover what they are, where they came from, and why they seemed to have disappeared. Plus, a few recipes where you can experience the sweet, nutty palate of these foodstuffs!

What Are Red Pistachios?

red pistachios

Pistachios, native to Asia and the Middle East, specifically Iran, belong to the cashew family. The pistachio nut itself usually appears in pale green color, whereas the nutshells are in creamy light beige. So, where do the red pistachios come from?

Years ago, there had been a bit of a buzz about these crimson-colored nuts. But, what are red pistachios exactly? Interestingly, their vibrant red color was all thanks to food coloring! Now, this probably leaves you wondering why pistachios were even dyed red.

Some say that these crimson nuts came into existence because of a Syrian importer named Zaloom. Intending to dominate the market, he dyed his pistachios red. Luckily, such a technique was so successful that red pistachios became a trend at that time. Another version tells us that pistachios were dyed to make them look more appealing, but dyeing pistachios red also goes beyond aesthetic purposes. During the drying process, it’s inevitable that pistachios would develop mottled markings. Not to mention, they undergo discoloration too. With such an unlikely appearance, food merchants resorted to dyeing their products to conceal the imperfections on the exterior. Well, these are just some of the fascinating stories behind these red-shelled nuts.

So, do red pistachios taste any different? Despite the artificial crimson color and a more vibrant exterior, they’re just as nutty and earthy as the regular ones. And not only do they transcend delicious palate to dishes, but they add crunch and color too!

What Happened to Red Pistachios?

Some people may have distinct and fond memories of red pistachios. Looking back, these bright red nuts reigned supreme in almost every store or grocery market. Today, it is a tad bit difficult to find them. So, what exactly happened to red pistachio nuts? Why aren’t pistachios red anymore?

Iran and other Middle Eastern countries were among the major importers of these nuts up until the 1970s. The United States imported most of its pistachio products from the said countries. However, dyed pistachios later took a fall in the 1980s.

The decline in the importations of dyed pistachios in the United States all started in 1979. At that time, there had been an Iran hostage crisis involving American diplomats and citizens. This appalling event, naturally, had deeply affected the relationship between Iran and the United States. Consequently, the United States enforced an embargo on all imports from Iran, including red pistachios.

Soon, there was a breakthrough in the production of pistachio nuts in the U.S. The number of pistachio producers increased gradually, benefitting every pistachio-loving American. To add, American pistachio producers also utilized new mechanized harvesting processes rather than the traditional ones. Such practice effectively eliminated the need for food dye. With this improved procedure, pistachios most likely would not discolor nor get stained. Even Iran pistachio producers followed suit.

Today, California produces approximately 98 percent of pistachios sold in the United States. And the United States is now the second-largest producer of pistachios next to Iran.

Where To Buy Red Pistachios

You can find the most popular pistachio varieties in the nearest local grocery store or your local farmers’ market. On the contrary, red pistachios are a bit hard to find, considering the disruption of their production.

Most pistachios nowadays are in their natural color, so it’s rare to see red varieties piled up at the produce section. Truth be told, red pistachio is now deemed as a novelty item. However, if you’re still keen on relishing the nostalgic vibe it brings, you can look for them online. They’re usually available during the Christmas season, being a seasonal product and ingredient for holiday dishes and all.

Recipes Where You Can Use Red Pistachios

Roasted Pork Loin with Cranberry-Pistachio Chutney Recipe

Though they have an artificially colored shell, red pistachios have a palate like that of natural pistachios. You can incorporate them into every meal that requires regular pistachios, from savory dishes to nutty desserts. Feel free to add them to these delectable recipes in place of the regular ones used in each dish, and they’ll taste just as exquisite!

  • Roasted Pork Loin with Cranberry-Pistachio Chutney – The cranberry-pistachio chutney only adds up to the flavor of the tender and juicy roasted pork loin. While this recipe calls for ordinary pistachios, you can use red varieties for added taste and visual effect. After all, the chutney already has a red color, thanks to the cranberry. It’s a perfect dish to share with your loved ones!
  • Pistachio Coconut Cookies – This easy recipe gives a nutty spin to your favorite chocolate cookies! You’ll only need a handful of ingredients to whip up these chocolate chip cookies. This dessert leans on regular pistachios for the nutty palate, but you can replace them with crimson ones. That is if you wish to make the cookies look more fun and appealing.
  • Saffron Pistachio – Flavored nuts make for a delicious snacking. Amazingly, the nutty palate of pistachios blends perfectly with other flavors. In this recipe, the delicate floral flavors of saffron enhance the taste of pistachios. For a more colorful snacking experience, replace the beige pistachios with the crimson ones.

Red Pistachios Are Just Regular Nuts Dyed Red

Red pistachios have once dominated the market. Although not as popular as before, these crimson-hued pistachios are sure to add a festive touch to your dishes. If you’re lucky to have found these rare pistachio nuts, go ahead and make delicious meals with our easy recipes!

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S.A. Yanes

S.A. Yanes is a fiction writer, poet, book blogger, and content editor. At Recipes.net, she writes food ingredient guides, product reviews, and more. Prior to that, she has worked in a publishing house and was the brand manager of an up-and-coming writing and reading online platform. She has written numerous short fictions as well as engaging bible stories for children. She's also a certified foodie with an immense love for anything cheesy and chocolatey.

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