Nutfruit Magazine

The official voice of the INC

16 December, 2020 Country Product Spotlight

Iran's Pistachio Industry in Perspective

Iran's Pistachio Industry in Perspective

Pistachio cultivation and trade date back to thousands of years in Iran, with about a century of industrial production and export as an agricultural commodity. The unique organoleptic characteristics of Iranian pistachio nuts make them versatile and universally appreciated both as a snack and as an ingredient.

Behrooz Agah is the grandson of the originator of the modern international pistachio industry. His family’s involvement with pistachios started about  100 years ago. Behrooz is a third-generation pistachio farmer/trader. He currently leads the Agah Group, which has been producing and exporting pistachios from Iran to customers worldwide. Behrooz is a founding member of Iran Pistachio Association and the INC Ambassador to Iran.
Pistachios have been valued by the aristocracy from Rome to China since ancient times. In contrast to most other nuts, the hard shells of pistachio nuts split during the final stages of nut ripening, while still on the tree. The presence of such a cleft in the shell facilitates the thorough flavoring of the kernel with salt and/or other spices, while the presence of the hard shell around the kernel permits roasting at high temperatures so as to accentuate the exquisite aroma of the nut. The shelling of open in-shell pistachio nuts by hand can be an engaging pastime. These features make pistachios unique and an exceptional snack.
Significantly, raw dried in-shell pistachio nuts have an exceedingly long shelf life. Pistachios are also an exceptional source of healthy nutrients in the human diet. The unique flavor and color of the kernel makes pistachios an excellent choice of a topping or ingredient as a condiment. All these attributes have resulted in a rapid expansion of pistachio consumption throughout the world during the past 100 years. Nevertheless, there remains a large portion of the global population that is not familiar with this nut and the many different ways it can be consumed. Thus, there exists a substantial untapped global market for the world's pistachio industry.
Iranian pistachios have unique attributes that make them desirable for their international customers. The many pistachio nut varieties of Iranian origin have an intense taste-profile resulting from their higher oil content. A high oil content allows for roasting at higher temperatures, that in turn brings out the unique flavor of Iranian pistachio nuts. Iranian pistachios come in many different varieties, shapes and sizes. This gives consumers in different parts of the world with different preferences a wider choice. Another significant attribute of Iranian pistachios is a high meat content, on average, ten percent higher than other origins. At the commercial level, the large number of producers, buyers, exporters, and importers of Iranian pistachios makes for conditions of perfect competition in its market.
Iranian pistachio production trends for the past 10 years reveal a level of stability that will continue into the future. The establishment of new plantations and improvements in horticultural practices in mature orchards will compensate for production decline in areas affected by water resource decline. As a result, Iran's pistachio production is predicted to stand at an average of around 200,000 metric tons on a dried in-shell basis. Furthermore, increasing geographical diversity of production areas in Iran will result in less severe fluctuations of production volume from one year to the next. At the present, pistachios are cultivated in 27 of Iran’s 31 provinces. The trend in new plantings, along with rejuvenation and re-grafting of existing orchards, is shifting the composition of Iranian pistachio production from dominance of round to long varieties, specifically, Akbari and Ahmad-Aghayi. Hence, a continuing trend toward increasing availability and price competitiveness of long varieties is expected in the near future.
There has been significant progress on aflatoxin and pesticide residue control in different sectors of Iran's pistachio industry. At the grower level, numerous improvements such as conversion from flood to drip irrigation, exponential increase in the technical know-how of small farmers with the advent of social-media conduits, application of residue-free pesticides, improvements in agricultural practices, plus timely and speedy harvest have been major contributors. Improved awareness of pistachio processors has resulted in much better control of aflatoxin contamination during the fresh processing phase. On another front, currently a number of Iranian processing companies possess the most globally-advanced know-how for reducing aflatoxin contamination in commercial pistachio nut consignments. Furthermore, Iranian pistachio exporters have become more experienced in matching the different needs and product specifications of importers in various countries with different regulatory MLs and different qualities of their purchased raw materials. There is also a recent trend towards vertical integration among numerous players in all three sectors of Iranian pistachio industry, namely: farming, processing and trade, in order to guarantee quality and traceability from the farm to destination markets.
Most pistachio exports from Iran are raw, in bulk, as dried in-shell, natural kernels or green peeled pistachio kernels. In-shell pistachios are consumed as a snack. However, natural pistachio kernels can be consumed both as a snack or as an ingredient in the food industry. Owing to a gradual decline of global pistachio prices from its peak in 2016, natural kernel shipments show a fast-growing trend in global markets. Green peeled pistachio kernels are used as an ingredient in foods, pastries, chocolates, ice creams and processed meat products, where a small quantity of the green kernel gives an aura of luxury and distinction to the product. Moreover, pistachio oil which has found popular appeal as a natural ingredient in gourmet salad dressings and hypoallergenic cosmetics seems to have the potential for promotion in an expanding niche market for pistachio products.
Meanwhile, Iran's pistachio industry is facing a number of challenges. The lock-downs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a reduction in processing capacities, in addition to disrupting the flow of pistachios through sales channels in different markets. Although pistachio consumption in most countries was not drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the unprecedented nature of the issue and the uncertainty of longer-term general economic outlook seems to be the main concern. Iranian pistachio exporters are also facing foreign trade and banking restrictions resulting from the unilateral US sanctions against the country. Furthermore, in the absence of the country’s oil and gas revenue due to sanctions, the government of Iran has imposed regulations on the handling and return of all foreign currency proceeds from exports, which has created several challenges for Iranian pistachio exporters. However, it is hoped that these latter challenges will be resolved soon with a shift in the political atmosphere.
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