The Greek island of Aegina is known internationally for its pistachios, or fistikia, which are considered to be of the highest quality in the world.
Pistachios were first planted and cultivated on a large scale in Aegina, a Greek island in the Saronic Gulf not far from Athens in the mid-19th century.
The pistachio tree, which is native to Iran, was first brought to the island and the Greek mainland in 1860, and the trees flourished in the Mediterranean climate and unique terrain of Aegina.
Now, Greece is Europe’s largest exporter of the pistachio and the sixth-largest in the world, making the pistachio an integral part of the country’s agricultural output.
Aegina pistachios are unique
While pistachios are found around the world, the variety found in Aegina, called koilarati, are rare and exceptionally delicious.
The vast majority of the island’s pistachio trees are found on the west side of Aegina, were the land is less mountainous and the soil is dry and rich in calcium carbonate.
Surprisingly, the lack of irrigation, proximity to the sea, and unique composition of the soil on the island actually help to create the unique taste of Aegina’s pistachios.
The trees thrive on the island, as their fruits, which contain the pistachio nut, ripen under the heat of the Greek sun.
Pistachios, as many know them, are actually the seeds of the tree. They are contained within the pistachio fruit, which is quite small and edible.
As they ripen, the pistachio seed’s hard shell audibly pops inside the fruit, indicating that it’s time to harvest them. Pistachio trees blossom in April, when the fruits start to grow. They are ready to be harvested in August.
When the nuts are ready to be collected, almost everyone on the island helps to harvest them with a special long stick used to knock down the little fruits.
The pistachios from Aegina are different from other varieties of the nut in that they have a sweeter, more complex flavor that needs no salt or other flavoring, making it the perfect snack.
For their unique qualities and cultural significance, pistachios from Aegina have been declared a Protected Designation of Origin product by the European Union since 1996.
Aegina produces around 800 tons of pistachios a year, and the nut is a fundamental part of the island’s culture.
The Aegina Pistachio Cooperative is made up those who depend on the crop for their livelihood. Many of the members are either farmers, who plant, maintain, harvest, and process the nut, or of those who market and export the delicious pistachio.
Surprisingly, over half of the island’s residents are members of the cooperative, which was formed in 1947.
Aegina, the perfect weekend escape from Athens
The island of Aegina, only seventeen miles from the Greek capital of Athens, is a gem of the Saronic Gulf which enchants visitors with its simplicity, history, and beauty.
It is definitely a place where history played its part in shaping and making this island distinct.
Aegina has many stories to tell, and the Athenians know that quite well.
From the moment a traveler leaves the port of Piraeus, forty-five minutes are more than enough to completely transport him or her, physically and mentally, to this little piece of paradise.
Aegina’s history stretches back before Minoan times, and it played a role in the 1800s Greek war of Independence against Ottoman rule, as well. Visitors can gaze upon ancient temples, Byzantine churches, and the simple and distinct Greek island architecture, which exudes harmony and order.
One of the most iconic landmarks of Aegina is the ancient temple of Aphaia.
Located within a sanctuary complex dedicated to the goddess Aphaia, the temple stands on a 160-meter (530-foot) peak on the eastern side of the island, approximately thirteen kilometers (eight miles) east of the main port.