Have you ever wondered about how many nuts there are in the world? On second thought maybe I should qualify that question a little better. Have you ever wondered how many “tree” nuts there are in the world? Well, I’m glad you asked. You do know that not all nuts grow on trees?
Moving on, Peanuts, for instance, even though known popularly as nuts, are technically legumes not nuts and they grow on plants that you can grow in your garden. Some other nuts, such as hazelnuts grow on shrubs or bushes.
Of course, “shrub” has no botanical bearing, other than to provide a common way for people to differentiate between a shrub and a tree. Shrubs are more multi-stemmed, woody plants that grow less than 15 feet in height, whereas, “tree” refers to a woody plant with a central trunk and can grow to considerable heights.
Back to my original questions about quantity, globally, the tree nut growing brought in 4.6 million metric tons of nuts. That’s a lot of nuts.
We use a lot of nuts in many different ways. I’d like to concentrate on the more popular types of nuts that are out there. I’m talking about almonds, walnuts, pecans, and especially today, pistachios.
Here at the Market, we have quite a few vendors who have nuts at their booth in one form or another. Some have baked products containing walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or pecans like Katerina Original Greek, Arizona Sweets brittle, and Farmer’s Daughter with her Cashew Almond Toffee Bars.
Believe it or not, the United-States is the world’s leading producer and exporter of edible tree nuts, the world’s third-largest producer of peanuts, and the leading exporter of peanuts.
Almonds are the nuts grown mostly in the semi-arid regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. They are also grown here in California. Pecans are native to the USA, grown mostly in a large part of the Southern and Central United States, they come from a species of the hickory tree.
Walnuts come in two types: the English (also known as Persian) and black walnuts. English walnuts are thought to be from mainly the Middle East, but China leads the world production followed by California. Incidentally, as a side note, the Persian walnut is actually a hybrid of two North American long-extinct species around 3.45 million years ago. The walnut must have expanded from America to Europe and then spread to Asia and further expanded in Europe.
I’ll zero in on pistachios in a moment, but I want to mention the benefits of eating nuts in general. We all know that nuts can be eaten raw as a snack and be used to bake in a number of different baked goods from cookies to bread and pies. The healthiest way to eat them, though, is raw first and then toasted second to get the most health bang for the buck.
In general, nuts are good sources of fat, fiber and protein. The fat is monounsaturated fat, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. They are packed with a number of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, and vitamin E to boot. They have been observed to help reduce risk factors for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
Pistachios are ancient trees originating from Asia Minor (now Turkey), Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and even a little north into the Caucasus regions in southern Russia and Afghanistan. Pistachios are estimated to have been eaten for at least 9,000 years, but the earliest evidence is from a dig site at Jerome, near northeastern Iraq, from as early as 6750 BC.
Pistachios are one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible. The other being the almond. It was considered a royal food and it is even said that pistachios were a favorite of the Queen of Sheba, who demanded all her land’s production for herself and her court. Alexander the Great brought pistachios to Greece during his reign from 334 to 323 BC and then the Roman Emperor Tiberius carried them on to Rome in the first century AD. From there they spread rapidly to Italy and then throughout the Mediterranean.
California encountered the pistachio in 1854 when Charles Mason (no relation to John Landis Mason who invented the Mason Jar years later), a seed distributor for experimental plantings, brought the pistachio to this country. Some years later a few small pistachio trees imported from France were planted in Sonoma, California in 1875.
The evolution of the U.S. pistachio industry has been one great adventure. From its first commercial crop of 1.5 million pounds (680 tons) in 1976 to the record 2016 crop of over 900 million pounds (408,233 metric tons), it has only been uphill from there.
There are only three states in the USA that represent 100 percent of the commercial pistachio production: California (producing 99% of the total), Arizona, and New Mexico.
A few interesting facts about the small, green nut shaped like a peanut, but splits down one side when ripe: World Pistachio Day is February 26th, they are members of the Anacardiaceae family, which makes them cousins of cashews, the sumacs, and poison ivy, they don’t need bees to pollinate. The wind does it for them. Mangos are also a distant cousin.
“Arizona Grown Pistachios – Greener & Sweeter” can be had just by stopping by Sas-Z Nuts right here at the Market. Steve & Shirley have a 20-acre orchard, nestled in the shadows of the Chiricahua foothills in the Willcox AZ Bench, that is home to some 3,300 Pistachio trees.
In a past life, Steve was a civil engineer with a passion for building bridges and wound up in Phoenix working on I-10.
Pistachio trees take about seven years to mature and so they planted them in 1995 and then sat back to rest for those seven years waiting for the first harvest time. Steve kept active as he is a Shriner and has spent much of his time & energy away from the trees working for children. Shirley is a realtor by trade, but is cutting back her real estate time to concentrate on their SAS-Z Nut business.
They are proud members of the American Pistachio Association and Steve was even a board member for seven years and is a Past President of the Arizona Pistachio Association.
Sas-Z Nuts has been with the Market here for about eight years now. Last year he grew a remarkable 150,000 pounds green weight of nuts on just 20 acres of land. He ships domestically on a constant basis. He ensures he has a good supply of the once-a-year crop, by asking the processor that he works with in Bowie, to store 10,00 pounds in reserve for him.
His pistachios come in four seasoned flavors and a plain original. He seasons and packages about 20 pounds of a flavor in four and a half hours. So, no special orders of a different flavor are entertained.
We are, that he has chosen, the only farmers market booth he sets up at, although he does do fests and other special events from time to time. Some of these events I am sure come about due to the fact that all his neighbors are wine growers with tasting rooms surrounding his orchard.
Stop by Steve’s booth and pick up a bag or two of his highly nutritious and fresh Arizona grown Pistachios.
The Hone Ranger wants to thank all for the support he has received. It appears he will be back in full business pretty soon.
As always, many of the market vendors accept WIC Farmers Markets & Senior Farmers Markets Vouchers in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables. SNAP vouchers can be also used at some of the vendor booths. You can use your EBT card at the info booth for SNAP vouchers and Double UP tokens (unlimited amount right now).
We are looking forward to seeing you all at this coming week’s Market. For more information on all our vendors and the products they will be bringing, please see this week’s Farmers’ Market newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com. Also, check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sierravistafarmersmarket/.
Submitted by “Uncle” Ralph Wildermuth