Pistachio good HDL-cholesterol levels in the blood (1).

Pistachio nuts (Pistacia
vera, Anacardiaceae) have long been
cherished as the symbol of health since ancient times. The kernels of pistachio
are enriched with many health-benefiting nutrients essential for optimum
health. Pistachio kernels are a rich source of many antioxidant phytochemical substances,
such as carotenes, vitamin-E, and polyphenolic antioxidant compounds. They are
the storehouse of minerals such as copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron,
magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Regular consumption of pistachio in the diet may
help lower total as well as bad LDL-cholesterol and increase good
HDL-cholesterol levels in the blood (1). Pistachio is
the only edible crop of 11 species in the genus Pistacia. The pistachio
is native to western Asia, where still found growing wildly in Turkey, Syria,
Iran, Iraq, India, Lebanon, Palestine, southern Europe, Asia, and Africa (2). Iran is the main producer of pistachio in
the world.  Most of this product is
exported to other countries. The European Union (EU) has traditionally been one
of the major destinations for Iran’s pistachio. Contamination of agricultural
products with mycotoxins including a?atoxins, ochratoxin, and fumonisin is one
of the major challenges encountered by producers (3). Species
of the Aspergillus are responsible for various plant and food secondary
rot, with the consequence of possible accumulation of mycotoxins (a secondary
metabolite that has powerful teratogenic, mutagenic and hepatocarcinogenic
effects (4). They can contaminate agricultural products at different stages,
including pre-harvest, harvest, processing, and handling. Changes due to
spoilage by Aspergillus species can be of
sensorial, nutritional, and qualitative nature, including pigmentation,
discoloration, rotting, development of off-odors, and off-flavors (4). This fungus is common all over the world as an
air and soil mycoflora found in live and dead animal and plant organisms. It is
particularly interested in colonizing nut kernels and oily cereals. Peanut,
corn, wheat, rice, pistachio, and almond are the major products infected by
this fungus. Iran has about 316,000 hectares of pistachio orchards and produces
about %57 of the world pistachio. More than %60 of the world pistachio export
is done from Iran to other countries, well showing the economic significance of
this product for the country. Iran is also recognized as the biggest and most
important producer and exporter of pistachio in the world, among other
pistachio producing countries (5). Contamination of pistachio nut by Aspergillus
species and their mycotoxins are the most serious challenge for pistachio
production, consumption, and exportation in the world. Factors influencing
infection of pistachio nuts to mycotoxin include cracking of pistachio nuts
(especially early hull splitting pistachios), environmental
factors, cultural practices, frequency and time of irrigation, animal
manures, and harvesting date (6). Aspergillus species not only cause physical damages to
pistachio nuts but also reduce the quality of pistachio since they produce
toxic secondary metabolites, such as aflatoxins, ochratoxins, and fumonisin
(6). Ochratoxin A
(OTA) was discovered as a secondary metabolite of a strain of Aspergillus
ochraceus. OTA exhibits intestinal fragility, nephrotoxicity,
immunosuppression, teratogenicity, carcinogenicity, and cytotoxicity in hepatic
cell lines (7). The OTA inhibits carboxypeptidase A, renal
phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, phenylalanine tRNA synthetase, and
phenylalanine hydroxylase activity. Formation of free radicals has been
considered as one of the mechanisms for the carcinogenic/toxic effects of OTA (8). Fungi from two genera are known to produce
ochratoxins. In the genus Penicillium, OTA is produced by P.
verrucosum and P. nordicum, and in the genus Aspergillus by A.
ochraceus, A. melleus, A. auricomus, A. ostianus, A. petrakii, A. sclerotiorum,
and A. sulphureus, all in section Circumdati (formerly the A. ochraceus group). Aspergillus
alliaceus and Aspergillus albertensis, formerly placed in
section Circumdati but recently shown to be more closely related to
section Flavi, have also been described as OTA producers (9). Some members of Aspergillus section Nigri
(formerly the Aspergillus niger group) such as Aspergillus
niger var. niger and Aspergillus carbonarius have been
reported as ochratoxigenic fungi (7). Several food products worldwide face the
risk of OTA contamination, including coffee, cereal grains, processed foods,
beer, grapes, wine, cocoa, nuts, and dried fruits (10). A survey on contaminant fungal flora of some
nuts showed that 49% of market pistachio have fungal contamination, and Penucillium,
Mucor and Aspergillus with 26, 24, and 20% were found to be the
most dominant spoilage agents, respectively (11). This study was conducted to evaluate the
incidence and prevalence of Aspergillus species in the main pistachio
orchards of Iran and OTA production potential of Section circumdati
isolates in vitro.

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