Heating nuts prior to use releases aromas that increase flavor. Warming can be accomplished by toasting in the oven, or by dry sauteing on the stovetop. Take care not to toast a nut too long or it will impart a bitter, burnt flavor to the dish. If possible, the oven method is the best. Spread the nuts on a pan in a single layer, place in a 300 degree F oven and roast, mixing periodically until they achieve the desired color. Time will vary based on the type of nut, the cut, and the desired finished color. Briefly warming nuts in the oven before adding them to batters will also help prevent them from sinking to the bottom.
Some nuts are referred to in size by a count. For example 18-20 Pistachios, 21-25 Pistachios, 240 Cashews, 320 Cashews. This refers to the number of nuts per ounce or pound. The higher the number, the smaller the nut. Just like shrimp counts in the seafood department!
The nuts that are highest in monounsaturated fat are almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Nuts are high in calcium, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E and fiber.
Shelled nuts can be stored, airtight in a refrigerator for up to four months or frozen for up to 6 months. In-shell pistachios do not freeze well because when they thaw, moisture can become trapped inside the shells.
California leads the world in almond production. Each spring much speculation begins over the size of the new year’s almond crop. The weather plays a crucial part in the development as it does in all crops. If it is too cold or if there is too much rain in California in February as the blossoms are forming on the trees, then the bees can’t get out to pollinate the crop! The term nonpareil comes from a French word meaning “having no comparison” or “having no equal.” Toasting almonds before using in recipes intensifies their flavor and adds crunch. Almonds are packed with calcium, fiber, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin E. Almond Measures:
One pound of almonds equals:
The Brazil nut is a 3-sided nut that is actually the seed of a wild-growing tree that towers high above the other jungle growth in South America’s Amazon River basin. Harvesting the nuts is a dangerous occupation because the heavy, falling pods cannot be seen as they crash to the ground. The pods contain from 8-24 nuts that are each enclosed in individual shells. These pods are generally opened on the spot, and the nuts move down the river, through various collection points to central gathering areas in the sea towns. Shelled nuts are graded and packed for export while the whole nuts are loaded on ships where they are ventilated and dried on their way to world markets. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a powerful antioxidant.
The cashew is the kidney shaped nut that grows on the outside and bottom of the cashew apple, a yellow-orange fruit. The cashew tree blooms once a year between November & January and the fruit ripens fully in two months. From harvest to final shelling, a great amount of hand labor is required. The cashew is encased by a honeycombed shell that contains a toxic, stringent oil that is capable of blistering human skin. The cashew tree is a distant relative to poison ivy and sumac, so even its foliage must be handled with extreme care. Processing includes several heating and steaming steps to remove the nut so that even a “raw” nut has already received a mild roasting.
Hazelnuts are also called filberts. They have a brown skin that can be removed by heating them at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes until the skin begins to flake. Place a handful of nuts in a dishtowel, then rub vigorously until most of the skin is removed.
The macadamia tree was first grown only for ornamental purposes. Macadamia trees first bear nuts from five to eight years, reaching full maturity at 15 years with a yield of only 55 to 100 pounds of in-shell nuts per season. The limited quantity of nuts, as well as the difficulty in shelling, makes macadamias very expensive. The harvest season begins when the nuts mature and fall from the tree. The hard brown shell is 1/2 inch thick and is covered in a fibrous husk. Unlike other nuts, the macadamia has no outer skin, and the light tan nut looks as though it has been blanched. The shelled nuts are placed in water, and the highest grade, (the largest nuts with the highest oil content), float to the surface and are scooped up. The nuts are then graded by size and style.
Peanuts became a cash crop in the south after cotton had depleted the soils and the boll weevil had destroyed much of the cotton. The peanut is actually a legume and is related to the soybean. Peanuts were thought so highly of by ancient Peruvians that they buried pots of peanuts with their mummified dead to nourish them during their journey to the hereafter. Peanuts are also called groundnuts and goobers or goober peas because after flowering, the plant bends down to the earth and buries its pods in the ground. Shelled peanuts should be refrigerated in an airtight container and used within three months. Peanuts are high in fat and rich in protein.
How many Peanuts?
Pecans are the only tree nut native to the United States. They are a member of the hickory family and were a chief winter food of Indians and colonists.
Pine nuts come from several varieties of pine trees. They are also known as Indian nut, pinon and pignolias. The nut is actually inside the pinecone, which must be heated in order to be removed. The labor-intensive process is one of the reasons that pine nuts are so expensive. Pine nuts are a primary ingredient in the making of Pesto Sauce along with basil, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
Pistachios date back to the Holy Lands of the Middle East, where they grew wild in the high desert regions. Legend has it that lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights for the promise of good fortune. A rare delicacy, pistachios were a favorite of the Queen of Sheba, who demanded all her land’s production for herself and her court. The natural color of the pistachio shell is light tan and the nutmeat is yellow-green. The familiar red pistachio is sprayed with food grade dye. In the past, water spots and other defects on the shell were concealed by the red dye. Today with improved processes and harvesting techniques, there is less damage to the pistachio shell and red dye is applied more as a tradition than a necessity. If the nuts are not processed (hulled and dried) within 12 to 24 hours, the shell will be stained. The California industry has invested millions of dollars in equipment to process its pistachios quickly to avoid staining and sell the nuts in their natural color shells. California processors dye a small percentage of their pistachios not by necessity, but to meet the desires of those consumers who prefer the colorful shells. Pistachios are rich in calcium, thiamin, phosphorus, iron and vitamin A.
English walnuts are also called Persian walnuts. They are a potent source of Omega 3 oils.
The most common use of flax seeds is to produce linseed oil, which is commonly used in paints and varnishes, but the tiny flax seed contains several essential nutrients including calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus and vitamin E. It’s also a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
It takes about 900,000 tiny poppy seeds to equal a pound.
Sesame Seeds may be the oldest spice known to man. The most famous reference to sesame seeds came in the tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. “Open sesame” was the magic password, which opened the door to the robber’s den. The phrase referenced the fact that ripe sesame pods burst open at the slightest touch, scattering their seeds. Sesame Seeds were brought to America by African slaves. In their dialect they are known as “benne” seeds and are still referred to today as benne seeds in Charleston and New Orleans.