At the end of the 19th century European botanists on a visit to the Middle East who saw the extensive pistachio plantations put forward the view that they came from Syria, Turkey and/or Mesopotamia. But in 1929-1930 Russian botanists on a visit to Central Asia found pistachio trees growing wild in vast expanses of the mountains and the plains, forming a kind of forested steppe on terrain of poor ecological composition.
The region where wild pistachio trees were growing extended over Northern Iran, Northern Afghanistan, Northern Turkmenistan, Eastern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and into Kyrgyzstan.
The Austrian botanist von Heldreich, who visited the island six times between 1848 and 1887, did not notice any pistachio plantations. .
Recently, from documents deposited in Aegina’s historical archives, it has been found that there were probably individual pistachio trees in Aegina before 1896.
The first organized commercial pistachio nursery was established in Aegina by Nikolaos Peroglou. Peroglou perceived that pistachio cultivation was worthwhile because the pistachio tree made few demands and pistachios sold at a high price. He therefore encouraged the spread of pistachio cultivation both in Aegina and in Greece generally.
People heeded his advice. Pistachio trees were planted around houses, in gardens and in the fields.
There was an expansion of pistachio cultivation on the island in the interwar years, with pistachios replacing grape vines, which had until then been the main crop. Nurseries were established to cover the needs. Aegina became the principal area for pistachio production in Greece and the pistachio was named “Aegina pistachio” or “pistachio of Aegina”.
There was a further expansion of pistachio production in Aegina, and in the rest of Greece, after the Second World War.
In 1996 the name “pistachio of Aegina” was registered in the official European Union gazette as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
Until the late 19th century the exact place of origin of pistachios was not known.
It is to be concluded from this that Central Asia is the place of origin of the wild ancestor of todays cultivated pistachio.
The first writer to use the word “pistakia” is the poet Nicander of Colophon (2nd century B.C.). Nicander also writes that “pistakia” are to be found in India and resemble almonds, adding that they have the quality of being able to protect one from scorpion bites. The word “pistakia” comes from the ancient Persian word “pista” meaning pistachio. This word is the root of the name for the pistachio in most languages: pistache (French), pistachio (English), pistashka (Russian), fustuk (Arabic).
THE PISTACHIO TREE IN THE USA
The pistachio tree arrived in the USA in 1890, and was established in California for the first time in 1904, but there was not much interest in it as a crop. In 1957 a variety from Iran, known as “Kerman”, was tried. This new variety combined with the good weather and soil conditions, along with the founding of the Union of Pistachio Growers of California, gave a great boost to pistachio cultivation. Today California is second only to Iran worldwide in pistachio production.
THE PISTACHIO TREE IN GREECE
There are no references to pistachios in Greece before the 19th century.
In 1838 the French naturalist Bory de Saint Vincent writes that he saw pistachio trees in Figaleia and in Pylos. In 1856 pistachio trees were also to be seen in Zakynthos. These were however individual trees, not plantations.
In 1860 the chocolate industry importer D. Pavlidis established the first organized pistachio nursery on his estate at Psychico. In 1869 Orfanidis started cultivating pistachio trees at the Municipal Nursery. Gennadios, who succeeded him in 1882, continued his work.
After the Second World War the pistachio trees began to spread in Greece. There was a sudden great expansion in pistachio cultivation between 1950 and 1960. Today there are pistachio nurseries in all of Greece, north and south, and in the islands.
THE FIRST ORGANISED PISTACHIO ORCHARD
The first organised pistachio orchard in Aegina was established by Nikolao Peroglou in the area of Ag. Eirinas / Limbones, near the sea, in 1896. Peroglou had bought an area of around 20 stremmata (One stremma =1,000 square metres). The largest part of this estate was planted with various nut trees, among which were pistachios. The poor soil and the location near the sea meant that most of the trees didn’t flourish, with one notable exception: the pistachio trees. From then on he substituted all the other trees with pistachio trees.
The pistachio tree matures very slowly. When the trees had reached 12- 15 years of age, Peroglou saw that the pistachio was a tree with few needs and that the nuts sold for a good price. The dried pistachio nuts sold for 3 – 4 drachmas an oka, at a time when bread cost 75 lepta (there were 100 lepta in a drachma) an oka. Moreover, he realized that the climate and soil in Aegina were suitable for the tree’s development.
So he decided to dedicate himself to the cultivation of pistachio trees. In 1916 he published a small book entitled “The Pistachio Tree” which describes everything that the cultivation of the pistachio tree needs. It prompted the Aeginitans to plant pistachio trees, he shared cuttings from his best trees and when he wanted to give a present, he would give a pistachio tree sapling. There are still two such pistachio tree presents flourishing in Aegina.
HE AEGINA PISTACHIO AS P.D.O
The Aegina Pistachio’ as protected designation of origin – P.D.O.
In 1994 the Aegina Pistachio entered the lists of products with protected designation of origin (P.D.O.)
The institution of products with protected designation of origin was a decision made by the European Union (EU) to protect the names of products from certain specified areas which are affected by illegal competitors using that name. The inclusion of the Aegina Pistachio as a product of protected designation of origin was ratified by the law P.D. 81/19.3.1993 after an application by the Aegina Agricultural Association after a presentation and proposal by the Farming Management Association of Pireaus, headed by the local agronomist Aristotelis Tekos, while the research into its economic expediency was made by the agronomist Michalis Moutsatsos.
According to the study, the reasons that the Aegina Pistachio was declared a product of Protected Designation of Origin, are:
The Aegina Pistachio is the product of a particular area as shown by its pan-Helladic fame and the name of the pistachio with the name of Aegina.
The Aegina Pistachio, due to a rare combination of factors, has an unique flavour which is what has made it famous.
The pistachio cultivation along with other factors has kept the population in Aegina, and there is no sign of the island becoming deserted like so many others.
In 1996 the Aegina Pistachio was registered as product of Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O) in the EU’s official gazette.
Text by: Anna Chitzanidis
Translated by: Louisa O’Brien