When the Obama administration lifted the decades-old embargo against the Iranian government earlier this year, local entrepreneur and Hyde Parker Yahnamore Zebulun immediately saw an opportunity. Zebulun holds fond memories of the taste of pistachios growing up in the 70s prior to the 1979 embargo. “I remember how delicious pistachios were when I was growing up,” he told the Chicago Defender.
Native to the Middle East, – namely Turkey, Syria, Greece and, especially Iran – pistachio trees have been cultivated there for thousands of years. This is particularly in the sun-soaked regions of Yazd and Kerman, so it stands to reason that some of the best pistachios would hail from this region of the world.
Zebulun, who was inspired by his many travels to Dubai and Egypt, says he always stopped by the pistachio stores. “On my last trip to Bahrain, I realized that I wouldn’t be making this trip again any time soon and wouldn’t have access to the pistachios I’ve come to love,” he insisted.
He started engaging Iranian farmers with the hope of doing business and was met with overwhelming rejection because of cultural reasons. “The farmers are very selective in who they want to work with and sell their pistachios to. And me being American, they were very hesitant.” It didn’t help that he had a Hebrew name, he told the Defender.
According to Zebulun, “pistachios in the Middle East, especially in Iran, are looked at as a status symbol within their culture,” he said. “When fathers give their daughters away in marriage, it’s their obligation to have the most expensive pistachios like the long Akbari nut.”
An important part of their everyday culture, pistachios are revered and included in every aspect of Iranian culture. From Norooz celebrations (Persian New Year), to weddings and funerals, pistachios are highly cherished and coveted. It could be considered an insult to enter someone’s house and not eat some of their pistachios.
A billion-dollar business annually in the U.S., pistachios are being looked at for their health benefits as well as for taste. According to the American Pistachio Growers Association, pistachios contain vitamin B6 and minerals like copper, phosphorus and thiamin. And when eaten instead of carbohydrate-rich foods, they helped maintain healthy blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetic patients.
Eating tree nuts helped lower mortality rates, a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine study concluded, the largest ever of its kind. The study analyzed the cause-specific mortality rates among 76,000 women and 42,000 men who were diagnosed with either cancer, respiratory or heart disease.
The study noted the causal relationship between eating nuts — a nutrient-dense food, rich in fiber and mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids — and lowered mortality rates. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you get your fats primarily from unsaturated sources such as pistachio nuts.
After his initial rejection, Zebulun came up with a plan to persuade the farmers to trust him and accept his business offer. “First of all, they don’t need my business. They’re wealthy and have business ties that they’ve been working with forever.” Zebulun took the unique approach of sending the farmers pictures of his travels throughout the Middle East with local natives from each country.
“When they saw that I was a Black American in the photos, everything changed,” he said.
For the past six months, Zebulun has sold out every shipment he has imported from overseas. Known as Iranian Gold Pistachios, he insists that the freshness is superb and goes from harvesting to client within 30 days. “I don’t keep any product past 30 days. They sell out fast, so everything is always fresh.”
Alice Baldwin, an SAIC student, tried the pistachios and noticed a difference with the first bite “They’re very hearty and purple on the outside,” she said. “I’ve never seen that. They taste organic and complex, depending on the size of the nut. Other pistachios all taste the same. These each taste slightly different but all within the same taste range.”
Clients love the rich, buttery taste, said Zebulun, and Bonnie Pugh, a home health care provider, says “the taste is tender and delicious and they’re not green.”
To place an order, go to Amazon.com and search for Iranian Gold Pistachios. Zebulun says they’re on sale for the month of July, and a 2-pound bag is $25.99 plus shipping. You’ll be glad you did.
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