Generally, nuts grow in tropical and subtropical climates, contain significant amounts of fat and are best to buy unshelled.
Due to their high fat content, nuts are often roasted and salted. Nut aficionados prefer to buy their favourite food in the shell and to enjoy them at their best.
Shelled, processed, and packaged nuts tend to turn rancid, particularly if they are stored in warm environments (storage and retail stores).
North Americans consume peanuts, almonds, filberts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts and chestnuts in large enough quantities to warrant wide distribution.
Young people turning vegetarian help increase nut consumption and wider availability. For vegetarians, nuts are important. The body produces naturally, most but not all the essential amino acids. Meats provide all, and do some nuts.
Peanut (arachis hypogaea) (ground nut, earthnut) is technically a legume but regarded as a nut. These nuts contain more protein, minerals and vitamins than beef liver and are fatter than heavy cream.
The pods ripen underground and are commonly 25 – 50 mm long with two to three seeds in them, oblong, roughly cylindrical with rounded ends. The shells are spongy. Native to tropical South America, peanuts were introduced to China, West African countries, India and the U S A by missionaries, adventurers, conquerors, and entrepreneurs looking for profitable crops.
West African countries and the U S A produce significant amounts of peanuts on sandy, well-drained loam soils.
Peanuts are grown mostly for oil extraction. Peanut oil has a very high smoke point, and thick texture, which Chinese chefs like for wok frying. Peanuts are used in bakery products, candies, and as snacks. They are marketed salted and roasted in the shell, roasted and salted, honey roasted, and in form of peanut butter.
Some cattle ranchers feed peanuts to their animals, and in Georgia pig farmers allow their animals forage on harvested peanut fields. Pigs, ‘finished’ by eating peanuts yield extraordinarily flavourful hams for which Smithfield in Georgia is famous.
A relatively large percentage of the population is allergic to peanuts.
Almonds (prunus dulcis) are native to southwestern Asia and may be sweet or bitter. The almond three grows larger than the peach tree, lives longer and is beautiful in its fine green-white leaves. Sweet almond trees thrive between latitudes 28 – 40 N and 20 – 40 south.
Jordan and Valencia in Spain are famous for their tasty almonds, but the U S A, Spain, Italy, Iran, Portugal, and Morocco are large exporters.
Manufacturers use bitter almond oil as a base for flavouring extracts and liqueurs. Almonds contain small amounts of protein, iron, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B and high amounts of fat.
They are available fresh, ground and mixed with sugar in almond paste, slivered, slivered and toasted, whole, roasted and salted, salted and skinned, and covered in sugar paste.
Buy almonds in the shell for freshness. Shelled California grown almonds are fine if purchased from stores with a high turnover. Classic French recipes use almonds, as do many Asian cuisines. Almonds are considered to be the tastiest and most nutritious of all nuts.
Almond oil is used in perfumes, soaps, and as food flavouring.
Filberts (hazelnuts) are native to the North Temperate Zone. The tree grows up to 36 metres in height, but today commercial growers restrict growth to three to six meters for ease in cultivation and harvesting. Filbert trees grow best on well-drained soils and require abundant sunshine.
The brown roundish or oblong nut is generally one to four centimetres long and may be marketed in the shell, shelled, shelled and skinned, shelled, skinned, salted and roasted, and roasted.
Europeans produce hazelnut butter sold under the brand name Nutella.
Turkish hazelnuts from Trabezun on the Black Sea coast and from around Barcelona in Spain are considered the tastiest and used in fine chocolates. Oregon in the U S A is a large filbert producer and exporter. Hazelnuts are used in pastries and for out of hand eating.
Brazil nuts (paranut, butternut, cream nut, castanea) is the edible seed of a large South American tree and one of the major traded nuts in the world. The hard walled fruit is eight to 18 centimetres in diameter and globular in shape. The woody capsule contains eight to 24 nuts, arranged like the sections of an orange. Each is covered by a very hard, thick, brown shell and triangular. Brazil nuts are very high in fat and proteins. Ripe capsules fall to the ground and are easy to harvest. Nuts are removed, dried, washed and shipped. The Brazil nut tree can reach 45 metres or more in height.
The nut is best purchased in shell. Those shelled and stored in warm storage rooms have a rancid taste. The pecan (carya Illinoinensis) tree belongs to the walnut family and is native to the temperate North America. Occasionally the tree reaches a height of 50 metres with a trunk measuring two metres in diameter.
The nuts have brown mottled shells and vary greatly in size from 100 – 500 per kilogram. Shape varies from long, cylindrical with a pointed apex, to short, and roundish.
Pecan possess a rich a distinctive flavour and texture with a high content of fat of any plant reaching levels of close to that of butter.
The U S A is the largest pecan producer in the world (Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi). South Africa and Australia also grow pecans, but only for local consumption.
Pecans are widely used in pastry production, pies, candies and confections.
Walnuts are native to southern Europe, but grow in North and South America and the West Indies. Black walnuts (jungland nigra) grows in eastern U S A and England whereas junglans regia (common walnut) in the Caucasus including Persia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia and Italy.
The Black walnut tree is 20 – 30 metres in height with a 60 – 90 centimetres trunk diameter.
The nut contains a sweet, oily seed and is enclosed in a yellow green husk. The tree matures slowly (many take up to 150 years) and can live up to 250 years. It needs fertile, well-drained soil.
Walnuts are marketed in the shell, shelled as nutmeat and in pieces.
Walnuts are used in pastries, ground in cakes, may be dipped in caramel, and pressed for fine-textured oil mostly used in salad dressings.
Walnuts should be stored in cool areas to prevent rancidity.
Cashew nuts are appended to the cashew apple. This subtropical evergreen tree likes fertile soil and high humidity, and can reach 12 metres in height. The half moon shaped, bean thick nut appended to the cashew apple can reach two-and-a-half centimetres in length.
Native Central and South America, the cashew tree was transplanted by Portuguese missionaries to East Africa and India in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The fruit is pear-shaped and the nut grows at the end of the fruit which is three times bigger than the nut. The rich and distinctively flavoured oily nut must be salted, roasted and/or dried for preservation. Cashew nuts feature frequently in Indian chicken and vegetarian dishes for flavour and textural contrast. Chinese cooks also use cashew in a number of chicken dishes.
In western cuisines, cashew nuts are seldom, if ever, used, but people eat them out of hand, particularly in roasted and salted form while enjoying beer.
The pistachio tree or shrub belongs to the cashew family, and is considered to be at home in Iran. Commercial pistachio (pistacia vera) are used for food, and grown in warm and temperate climates. Pistachios grow from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean.
California is a large producer of pistachio, but the best tasting specimens originate in Persia.
The tree grows up to a height of nine metres. The white fruit grows one-and-a-half to two centimetres long; they tend to split at one side without discharging the nut, a greenish kernel in a thin, tightly adhering reddish skin. Female and male trees are planted in a 1:5 ratio to ensure adequate pollination.
For most, pistachios are the most refined of all nuts in taste and texture.
They are marketed in the shell dyed red, or not, shelled or ground. Pistachios are used in fine pates, baklavas, in pastries, candies, and in some Italian sausages.
Pistachios contain high amounts of fat, and must be stored in cool areas. It is best to buy pistachios in shell.
Chestnuts are native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, and can reach a height of 30 metres. European chestnuts native to Eurasia and Northern Africa are called sweet or Spanish or Eurasian chestnut, as distinct from Chinese chestnut which can reach a height of 18 metres and grows up to an altitude of 2400 metres. The bur-like fruit contains two to three nuts, enveloped in a shiny, thick brown inedible skin which can be removed after boiling or roasting.
Most chestnuts consumed in North America are imported from Italy (Abruzzo), and only in season November to December.
In Europe, chestnuts are candied, pureed, ground to flour, roasted or boiled. Chestnut puree is used in soups or pastries. The flavour and texture of chestnuts are pleasant, distinct, mild and floury. Best season in Europe is from October to January.
Macadamia an evergreen tropical ornamental tree originates in the coastal rain forests of north eastern Australia, but today grow in South Africa, Zimbabwe, South and Central America. Hawaii is a major producer.
There are two species (smooth and rough shelled). Macadamia trees like rich, well-drained soils, and require a minimum of 130 centimetres of rain annually. Macadamia trees can reach a height of 18 metres.
Ripe nuts fall to ground, harvested, machine hulled, dried, roasted and salted for preservation. Macadamia’s contain high levels of fat and must be marketed roasted and salted for wide distribution. The nuts contain high levels of calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B, and 73 percent fat.
They are difficulty to grow, slow to bear and with limited range of suitable terrain. These nuts are in short supply and high in price.