Pistachio Oil

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Pistachio oil is one of the relatively less known of the edible oils. It is used mainly for drizzling on salads and is used in French cuisine where they call it huile de pistache. The cold pressed oil is obtained from roasted pistachios and it has a very strong pistachio like nutty aroma and a unique flavor. It can also be used for skin care and conditioning of hair because of the nutrition it provides. As we shall see, pistachio oil has remarkable nutritional value as it provides not only healthy fats (like omega-9 and omega-6), but also Vitamin E, carotenoids and chlorophyll.  



Source

Pistachios are one of the most loved nuts. They are roasted and then slightly salted, which makes them so sumptuous. Pistachio is actually a drupe. Its biological name is Pistacia vera and it belongs to the same family as the cashew nut, Anacardiaceae. Foods of this family often contain a toxic and irritant compound called urushiol, which is known to cause painful sores when you come in contact with it. However, modern methods of mechanical plucking, quality control and processing have made the pistachio oil safe to use.  

Pistachio Oil
Pistachio Oil (Image:Shutterstock)

The pistachio tree is native to Central Asia. There are many sub-varieties of this species, but only one of them is the common pistachio. Others are wild varieties. They are not used to extract any oil. The tree has been renowned in history for its resistance to drought and salinity. It is now grown in Iran, California in the USA, and most of the countries bordering the Mediterranean ocean, like Italy, Spain, Tunisia etc.  

Color and Aroma

Cold pressed pistachio oil is greenish yellow in color. The green is somewhat a mix of olive green and lime green. It is pleasing to the senses. The aroma is characteristically nutty and concentrated, so the oil smells much more than the roasted nuts.  



Properties

  • Nutrient – First of all, pistachio oil is edible. Our body can obtain many nutrients from the foods that are prepared using pistachio oil as one of the ingredients. So, it acts as a tonic.  
  • Anti-inflammatory – A study has found that pistachio oil may help in reducing inflammation in the body. It was found to be active in reducing inflammation brought on by food choices that aggravate inflammation. [1] 
  • Antioxidant – The presence of Vitamin E makes this oil relatively safe from rancidity in comparison to other edible oils that lack in the vitamin. This is because Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. The carotene compounds and chlorophyll add to the antioxidative power.  
  • Pain Relieving – It is good at reducing mild aches.  
  • Antiseptic – It prevents the formation of sepsis on wounds.  
  • Decongestant – This may be attributed to any of the aromatic compounds that make up its wonderful smell.  

Pistachio oil is not among the popular bunch of edible oils. As a result, research interest is a bit low. There must be many more beneficial effects that pistachio oil must be providing which need to be explored and verified.  

Health Benefits and Uses

As a Gourmet Oil

Pistachio oil is very costly. It is used in a number of French recipes and we can get some ideas on how to use it from the French.  

  • Pistachio oil is mixed with lemon juice and drizzled on a salad. It goes best with bitter greens. French cooking makes use of it as a special salad dressing.  
  • Bakery products – It is used in the mixture for cookies to add wholesome nutty goodness to them.  
  • Chicken recipes can be topped off with a few drops of pistachio oil.  

Pistachio oil for Skin

Add about 10 drops of pistachio oil in another Mediterranean based oil, the olive oil (about 100ml). Mix it well. Now, this oily mix can be applied as a massage oil for the face and those areas of the skin that are in need of conditioning, like the elbows, knees and ankles. Its nutrition repairs the skin from within. The carotenoids prevent the skin from UV damage and keep the skin taut and elastic. Vitamin E, being a powerful antioxidant helps to keep the skin youthful. The healthy facts in the oil like oleic acid act as moisturizers and repair the barrier function of the skin. This prevents the skin from losing moisture from the skin itself, which makes us look dehydrated and weak. Carotenoids are helpful in timely generation of new skin cells and shedding of older skin cells. But, the quantity of carotenoid compounds is much lesser than certain meat products, like livers. So, you may not notice any increased need for exfoliation.  

However, we still do not know about the comedogenicity of this oil. So, it is best to avoid using it on active acne breakouts.  

Pistachio oil for the Hair

The oil provides nutrients like omega fatty acids and vitamin E that nourish the hair. Pistachio oil is now getting popularity even in salons for its applicability in hair repair.  

It is good at untangling knots because of the Vitamin E in it. When applied on wet hair that has been washed by a shampoo, it locks in the moisture and helps to keep the hair heavy and shiny. It adds strength to the hair shafts and can reduce split ends. For hair styling, a hair straightener can be used after massaging about 5ml of pistachio oil into the hair shafts. This is done to get a wavy pattern going, which looks amazing. It can also be added to hair coloring serums to enhance the final result and provide some oil to the hair which may be stripped by the colors.  

However, pistachio oil has a strong nutty smell, which may be off-putting as it may smell like food. So, it is advised to use only a small quantity of oil as a serum for the hair fibers. This is because it is to be used mainly as a leave-in conditioner. 



Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Roasted pistachios can yield up to 50% of its weight as oil. The cold pressed oil is mainly comprising of fatty acids, whose composition is mentioned below.  

Fatty acid  Carbon Notation  Percentage (%) 
Oleic acid  C 18:1  55.3 
Linoleic acid  C 18:2  29.6 
Alpha-Linolenic acid  C 18:3  0.51 
Palmitoleic acid  C 16:1  1.31 
Palmitic acid  C 16:0  12.2 
Stearic acid  C 18:0  1.05 

Source :2 

This composition is from pistachios obtained from Argentina. There can be minor variations in the fatty acids in pistachios grown in different regions, say for example California or Spain. But, we do notice that it is quite a healthy oil by modern standards. Major percentage of oil is unsaturated fats, which are believed to be healthier than saturated fats for the heart, although saturated fats too have an immense role to play in our body.  

Oleic acid (also called omega-9), which is mostly known for its emollient properties for the skin (natural moisturizer) and for its role in reducing the risk of coronary artery disease, is now being studied for many more therapeutic purposes. Oleic acid enhances the absorption of nutrients via the skin. So, applying pistachio oil on the skin would enhance the absorption of vitamin E and carotenoids. When it gets metabolized in the body, it also protects the nerves. [3] 

Linoleic acid (LA) (also known as omega-6) is even more important for our body because we cannot synthesize it naturally. It needs to be taken through diet. People who do not take enough fats or who have poor absorption of fats may suffer from a deficiency of LA. The symptoms are reduced immunity (only in kids) and a scaly dermatitis. LA is also a prerequisite for the manufacture of a class of compounds within the body called as eicosanoids. These regulate many important functions, like dilation and constriction of blood vessels. [4] 

A good amount of oleic and linoleic acid makes this oil well suited for skin and hair conditioning. However, it lacks in omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed to balance out some of the inflammatory actions of omega-6. An edible oil should have a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.  

Vitamin E in pistachio oil is mainly in the form of gamma tocopherol, which is only one of the 8 forms of the Vitamin E. The relative proportion of tocopherols within the total Vitamin E can be seen from the table below.  

Tocopherol  Amount (in micrograms/gram of oil) 
Alpha-tocopherol  33 
Gamma-tocopherol  804 
Delta-tocopherol  60 

Source: 2 

This rounds up to about 900 µg/g of oil. So, if we take 5 gm of oil per day, we end up taking 900×5=4500 µg of Vitamin E. In milligrams, it is 4.5 mg  of Vitamin E per day which is almost one-third the daily RDA of Vitamin E (15 mg/day). So, we can now better appreciate the density of pistachio oil nutrition. This gets absorbed either way, whether by applying on skin or eating salads.  

Pistachio oil is one of the few oils to also provide carotenoids. These are the class of compounds that add yellowish to reddish color to our foods, like orange to carrots, and reddish to tomatoes and bell-peppers. Some of them can be used by the body in the same way as vitamin A (retinol) which is great for skin cell recycling. Others are used as antioxidants. 1 gm of pistachio oil provides about 50 µg of carotenoids.  

The distinguishing factor in pistachio oil’s nutrition is chlorophyll, the green pigment which the leaves use to synthesize food and that which sustains all life on this planet. Chlorophyll comes in many forms and it is a powerful anti-inflammatory for us humans [5]. It is also believed to boost the production of red blood cells and thus make our blood powerful. Some of the health benefits of green leafy vegetables is due to chlorophyll present in them. Possibly, the reason for the golden greenish color of pistachio oil is due to it.  

Side Effects and Toxicity Issues

Pistachio oil, when care is taken that urushiol from other parts of the tree does not get in, is a fairly safe oil. There is no reported toxicity in the material safety data sheet [6]. However, as it contains some aromatic compounds, one should do a patch test before applying it on the desired region of the skin. It is not suited well for use as a cooking oil.  

Buying and Storage

Much of the production of pistachio comes from the USA and Iran. There is difficulty in obtaining cold pressed oil (which is the same as extra-virgin oil). One can also buy organic pistachios and get them expelled at a nearby unit, if the owner obliges. It should be stored in a dry place. It can tolerate temperatures of about 25°C but above that may harm the quality of the oil. The shelf life is usually only 6 months, but in colder climates, it may extend a bit.  

References 

  1. Effect of pistachio oil on gene expression of IFN-induced protein with tetratricopeptide repeats 2: a biomarker of inflammatory response. Zhang J. et al Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.  
  2. Argentinian pistachio oil and flour: a potential novel approach of pistachio nut utilization. Marcela Lillian Martinez et al. Journal of Food Science Technology. 
  3. Oleic acid – Science Direct.  
  4. Linoleic Acid – Science Direct. 
  5. Chlorophyll revisited: anti-inflammatory activities of chlorophyll a and inhibition of expression of TNF-α gene by the same. Subramonium A. et al, Inflammation. 
  6. Material Safety Data Sheet – Pistachio Oil, RBDW. SoulKitchen.co.uk 

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