US and Iran in fierce pistachio rivalry

California growers are spearheading output of the popular green nuts, helping the US surpass Iran in production.

By Bruce Kennedy Feb 18, 2013 9:42AM

Men go through the pistachio smoking and flavoring process in a small factory in the main bazaar on October 6, 2011 in Tehran, Iran (Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)
 Iran and the United States have been at odds for decades over a variety of issues. But competition between the two countries over pistachio production has apparently become a matter of national pride.

Iran has long been the world’s largest producer of pistachios. The Associated Press says pistachios are among the nation’s top non-oil exports, with production there at over 200,000 tons a year and accounting for about $1.5 billion annually. Pistachio production also employs hundreds of thousands of Iranians, and much of that produce is consumed domestically.

Iran’s Fars News Agency recently described the U.S. as a "key rival" in pistachio production, and just last month noted that the Iranian pistachio, "which enjoys high health standards and good quality, has beaten the American rival even in the U.S. market for years."

But now comes word of a change in global pistachio dominance, with the U.S. reportedly surpassing Iran in production of the green nuts.


The state of California produces the majority of American pistachios. And according to, California's 2012 pistachio crop came in at nearly 600 million pounds, with growers there expecting to produce a billion pounds of the nuts annually by 2020.

The American Pistachio Growers say commercial pistachio production in California brings in more than $1.16 billion to California’s economy -- and more than $15 million in two other pistachio-growing states, Arizona and New Mexico.

And pistachios are a high-profile business in the U.S. as well. The Wonderful Pistachios brand, based in California, ran a big-budget commercial during the recent Super Bowl broadcast.

Iran, meanwhile, has announced a six-month ban on its pistachio exports to help regulate prices there.

First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told Iranian state TV on Friday the export ban would help bring down the cost of pistachios, which have doubled over the past month.

But Asadullah Asgarovladi, chairman of Iran’s chamber of exports, reportedly called the government’s pistachio export ban a mistake that could cost the country up to $600 million.

The ban will not affect the Iranian pistachio market, he explained. Pistachios are a popular luxury item in Iran, and distributors there have snapped up pistachio supplies ahead of the upcoming Nowruz spring festival.

The one thing the Iranian export ban will do, Asgorovladi lamented, is benefit the United States. “To reach Iran in terms of pistachio exports at the world market, the U.S. needs to invest about $2 billion,” he said, "and us banning the exports will make their job easier."

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Back in the 1960's, Iran was the only country producing pistachio nuts. I used to be able to purchase them from a Greek deli, in Chicago's Greek Town. The extra large were delicious, and expensive. Then some Iranian stole and sold some small pistachio trees (seedlings). They ended up in California. Once the California trees started producing, they took over the market, because of lower prices. But the California pistachios don't have a tenth of the taste/flavor of the Iranian pistachios.
Feb 18, 2013 6:31PM
In California pistachios are a "dirty" crop - grown on marginal soil on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley using vast amounts of heavily subsidized water diverted from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary. 
It is a toss up between our President and theirs.  It would cost us less if we gave our President a Billion dollars to quit.
Feb 18, 2013 4:00PM

Hope they eats their nuts & also their pistachios with the shell on


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