Pistachio trees have grown in the Middle East for thousands of years. They are considered a delicacy in this region and was mentioned in the Old Testament (Genesis 43:11). Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba demanded all her land’s production for herself and her court. Through the conquests of Alexander the Great and the travels of Roman Emperor Tiberius, the nut reached Greece, Italy and Spain. Upon reaching central Europe, it was called the “Latin Penny Nut” because of its introduction from the Italian sales route over the Alpine passes. After World War II the pistachio gradually changed from and expensive baking additive to a popular snack.
During the 1880’s imported pistachios became popular in the United States, being distributed in vending machines installed in underground train stations, bars, and restaurants.
It was soon recognized that California’s Central Valley, due to its fertile soil, hot, dry climate and moderately cold winters offered the ideal growing conditions for the nut. In 1929, American botanist, William E. Whitehouse, journeyed to Persia to collect pistachios. This pursuit came to a close in 1930, when he returned to the USA with a collection of approximately 20 pounds (10 kilograms) of individually selected nuts.
After many years of experimenting (pistachio trees take seven to ten years to mature) the American Pistachio Industry began to flourish. Word of the new crop spread and plantings began to emerge throughout California in the 1960’s. In 1976, it produced its first commercial crop of 1.5 million pounds (680 tons) and it continues to build upon that success today (record crop of over 900 million pounds (408, 233 metric tons) in 2016).