When I was growing up, pistachios were red. They were dyed and your fingers and tongue were always red after you ate them.

English: Pistachios Español: Pistachos

Pistachios (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why were they red?

In 1912, brothers John and Frank Germack, ages 12 and 7, immigrated from Syria to New York, where they started a food wholesale business, importing foods from the Middle East to satisfy a large and growing immigrant population from Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

Eventually, the company expanded to Detroit, where they set up the Germack Pistachio Company in 1924, specializing in Turkish pistachios.

During the Depression, the company sold the nuts in penny packages in vending machines as a cheap, healthy snack. Frank came up with the idea of dying the nuts red during this time for two reasons – to make them stand out from other vending machine offerings and to disguise blemishes on the shells the nuts picked up when they were knocked from trees during harvesting.

They also sold pine nuts and cashews, but it was the pistachios that were distinguished with the label, “Germack Red Lip Pistachio Nuts” that we all remember. Though they continued to sell the natural shelled nuts, the red ones became their trademark.

The Germack Pistachio Company is still in Detroit. Its retail store is near the site of the original factory, in the Eastern Market. The company is led by third generation family owner Frank Germack, III.

They sell more than 100 products now, including lightly salted, unsalted, in-shell or shelled pistachios, as well as three varieties of spicy pistachios – garlic, spicy Cajun and zesty salt & pepper.  They roast California pistacios in-house and offer the smaller variety roasted Turkish pistachios.

They still sell Germack Red Lip Pistachios. For those of you who want to indulge with red fingers, you can get the red pistachios and any of their newer options at their web site germack.com  


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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