Nuts

NUTS and SEEDS — raw, BLANCHED AND TOASTED, puréed or ground into FLOUR — add flavor, nutrition and texture to baking recipes.

WHAT ARE NUTS?
Nuts are the large seeds of fruits, with hard external husks that are taken off and then are called shelled nuts. (The exception is the peanut which is a root legume). They contain a lot of fat and calories. Some nuts are cholesterol free, rich in protein and high in the "good" fats that have been found to decrease the risk of heart disease.

The most important consideration regarding the dietary benefits or disadvantages of nuts is how they are processed and packaged. Exposure to light and air may cause the nuts to become rancid. Roasted nuts or nuts cooked in oils can transform the beneficial fatty acids to saturated fats. Roasted nuts are also deficient in some nutrients. When nuts become rancid, or when they experience mold growth, they can actually be carcinogenic. It is important that you look for nuts that have been kept away from light and are tightly packaged. The bulk bins that most health food stores sell nuts in have see through tops that allow constant light to penetrate. Some of the more progressive stores have covered the tops of the lids with pictures of the nut inside. If left out in containers or bags, they should be eaten within a month. Nuts will store longer in a cool, dry place in closed containers than if left opened or in damp areas.

SARAH SAYS: Toasted nuts are less likely to sink in cake and bread batters.

Definitions:

  • Chopped and Ground Nuts: Measure nuts in a dry measuring cup AFTER chopping or grinding for use in the recipe.
  • Finely ground toasted nuts: Nuts that are ground in a food processor until they are very fine, but not yet butter. 
  • Finely chopped toasted nuts: Nuts that are chopped with a little more coarsely than finely ground. 
  • Medium chopped toasted nuts: Nuts that are chopped with a knife into 1/16- to 3/8-inch pieces. 
  • Coarsely chopped toasted nuts: Nuts that are chopped with a knife into 1/4-inch or larger pieces. 
  • Nut Meal: Processed into fine particles with a food processor, meal can be used to encrust fish or dredge for sautéing or baking.
  • Nut Butter: Roasted nuts processed to a rich buttery consistency to stand alone. Nut butters are easy to make. Pulse medium-size amounts of any type of skinned nut in a food processor until it turns to butter. Add a little salt to taste and voila!!
  • Nut Paste: Essentially the same as nut butter, with the addition of natural sweeteners. Ideal for marzipan, icings, ice cream and bakery fillings
  • Nut Oil: A fragrant full-flavored oil processed from nuts. Perfect in salad dressings and sautéing.

ALMONDS: Not just for sweets, the almond gives a classy touch to savory dishes as well. They are a member of the rose family along with peaches, apricots, etc. Nutritionally, almonds are probably the best all around nut. Their fat content is less than most, about 60 percent, and the protein concentration is nearly 20 percent.

Almonds are also are good sources of plant-based protein and monounsaturated fats. High in oleic acid, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol and heart disease, and in fiber, which aids in digestion. They are also cholesterol-free and rich in calcium, fiber, iron, folic acid and vitamin E. Almonds contain a compound called amygdalin, commonly known as laetrile, which has caused almonds to be considered as a cancer-preventing nut. Use raw or roasted in steamed or stir-fried vegetables; in cookies, breads, and muffins. Mix in hot and cold cereals.

Like all nuts, almonds are best kept refrigerated for short-term use or stored in the freezer for longer-term use. Less familiar than these whole nuts are some almond products available in local natural-foods stores. Almond butter, made from roasted and ground nuts, is a pleasing alternative to peanut butter. Almond milk, prepared by initially soaking almond meal in water, is said to have soothing and healing properties. Almond oil, which is used in the manufacture of cosmetics because of its beneficial effect on the skin, can be used as a moisturizer and for massage. (It takes 1000 pounds of almonds to make 1 pint of almond oil.)

ALMOND EXTRACT

ALMOND FLOUR OR MEAL OR NUT FLOUR 

ALMOND PASTE: Made from blanched and ground almonds, sugar and flavoring, such as almond extract and optionally egg whites (I use safe egg whites*). Almond paste is used in cookies, coffee cakes or in other pastries and desserts. The addition of it gives the recipe a tender moistness; the almond flavor isn't pronounced, but adds a delicate hint of sweetness. 1 pound almond paste = 1 1/2 cups

Almond paste, in tubes or cans, can be purchased from the baking aisle in the supermarket (I use Solo Brand) or can be made at home. To keep the almond paste from oiling while combining it with the sugar, handle the mix as little as possible. If your almond paste becomes too stiff to handle after storage, place in top part of double boiler and heat over hot, not boiling, water until sufficiently soft to handle. Or, warm in the microwave (about 30 seconds on low power) until pliable.

QUESTION: What is the difference between almond paste and marzipan? (See Frangipane, below)
SARAH SAYS: Marzipan contains more sugar and is more finely milled; almond paste has a larger proportion of nuts and therefore more almond flavor. Marzipan uses almond paste as its base, but it is sweeter and more pliable. In addition to almond paste, marzipan contains powdered sugar, egg whites* and additional liquid to make it pliable. It can be colored and then kneaded into a smooth paste and used to wrap or layer cakes and candies. Marzipan is also shaped into figures of animals, fruits, and vegetables. *Since marzipan is so good to eat raw and my family likes to eat pieces of it, I use safe egg whites (pasteurized powdered egg whites) for safety.

BRAZIL NUTS: Rich, creamy flavor. High fiber. Brazil nuts are a good source of protein, yet are also about two-thirds fat, of which over 20 percent is saturated. Brazil nuts are rich in calcium, as well as magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc and iron.
CANDLENUT: Candlenut is the name of a tropical nut used in Malaysian cuisine. It derives its peculiar name from the fact that the oil of the nut is also used to make candles. Candlenuts are available only roasted, whole, or in pieces, because raw they are highly toxic. The function of the candlenut in satays or curries is to flavor and thicken.

CASHEWS: Rich in oleic acid, copper, magnesium and calcium, which protects bones and reduces the risk of heart disease. Cashews have some magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. Cashews are lower in calcium than most other nuts, and they have a lower fat and higher carbohydrate level. Sweet and creamy flavor and texture. Good as a snack with dried fruit. Top off grains, vegetables, or chicken and seafood recipes.

Cashews are native to the Americas, but widely cultivated in India and Africa since the 16th century. You never see cashews for sale in the shell because between the outer and inner shells covering the nut is an extremely caustic oil. The outer shell must be roasted or burned off with the oil (the smoke is also an irritant). The kernels are then boiled or roasted again, and a second shell is removed.

The cashew family includes: cashew, sumac, varnish tree, smoke tree, mombin, kafir plum, mango, pistachio, Peruvian pepper tree and poison ivy.

Cashews are native to the Amazon region, and were introduced to India by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Today, India and East Africa are the world's largest producers.

Oil from cashew nut shells is used in insecticides, brake linings, and rubber and plastic manufacture. The milky sap from the tree is used to make a varnish.

CHESTNUTS: Known as castagne in Italy. There are many varieties of chestnuts and the trees are common throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States. Chestnuts can be roasted, boiled, pureed, preserved, and candied. Choose unblemished shells that show no sign of drying. Chestnuts are very high in starch and lower in protein and fats than other nuts. Chestnuts have lower levels of most minerals compared to other nuts, but they are still very rich in manganese, potassium, magnesium, and iron.

CHESTNUT: See NUT FLOUR

COCONUT (seeds)

Apple Rose Frangipane TartFRANGIPANE: Crème Frangipane is a rich pastry cream flavored with ground almonds and used to fill or top pastries and cakes. The name has a very unusual origin. In the 16th century an Italian nobleman, Marquis Muzio Frangipani, created a perfume for scenting gloves. It was popular in Paris, and pastry cooks flavored pastry cream with almonds and called it 'frangipane', presumably to take advantage of the scents popularity.

HAZELNUTS: Forrmerly known as "filberts", hazelnuts are the fruits or seeds of a small shrub or tree that usually grows between six and twelve feet tall. They come from trees from both Turkey and Oregon. They are a very good source of linoleic acid (an essential oil) and vitamin E. Hazelnuts have a fair amount of the B vitamins and are rich in most minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, and potassium, as well as some trace minerals, including zinc and selenium.

HICKORY NUTS: Hickory nuts are delicious, but usually are very difficult to remove from the shell, and it is almost impossible to get them out in big pieces. I have found shagbark hickory to be one of the best and one of the more easy ones to crack open.

MACADAMIA NUT: Also known as the Queensland nut. The macadamia nut is closely associated with Hawaii but originated in Australia. A fleshy white nut with a coconut-like flavor. In Asia, it is used in savory soups and stews. In the US, the macadamia is used mostly in sweets. the nuts have an extremely high fat content.

MARZIPAN: Marzipan is a sweet, pliable mixture of almond paste and sugar. It can then be rolled into a thin layer, used to cover a cake with or from which colorful and realistic looking miniature fruits and vegetables are made. It can also be used use in other recipes. Marzipan should store in the refrigerator for six months if it is well-wrapped. If not needed, seal well, and freeze. To keep the almond paste from oiling while combining it with the sugar to make marzipan, handle the mix as little as possible.

NUT FLOUR

PEANUTS: The most common of all nuts, peanuts are in fact not a true nut but a legume or pea. Many people eat roasted and salted peanuts more than the fresh variety. Some people are highly allergic to peanuts, so be careful when using peanuts or peanut oil in a recipe to serve to your guests.

Three major types of peanuts are grown in the American South and Southwest: Runners: Runners, which were introduced in the Seventies and are now the most popular type, are primarily made into peanut butter; Virginia peanuts: Virginia peanuts are sold roasted in the shell, and; Spanish peanuts: Small round nuts with a reddish-brown skin, Spanish peanuts are used in candies and peanut butter, and are also packed as salted nuts. 

Peanuts are about 25 percent protein and very rich in nutrients. Their fat content is about 50 percent of the nut, about 20% saturated, 80% unsaturated. The B vitamin content of peanuts is better than that of most nuts, probably because they are a bean. Potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus are highest of the minerals, while calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese are also found in substantial amounts.

Peanuts are sold oil-roasted, dry-roasted, blanched, and boiled (boiled peanuts are very popular in peanut-growing regions). A mild roasting of the peanut may make it a little easier to digest and not lower the nutrient value too much. Peanuts are always sold partially defatted. They are roasted under pressure in safflower or sunflower oil, a process which--strange as it seems--removes about 60% to 80% of the fat. Defatted peanuts are available salted and unsalted. There are a number of peanut products available, primarily peanut oil and, of course, peanut butter.

Peanuts, in and out of the shell, are in supermarkets year round. Shelled peanuts are sold vacuum packed in cans, jars, and in small, snack-size bags. Peanuts in the shell, roasted or unroasted, are sold in bags and sometimes in bulk in the supermarket produce department.

The greatest consideration when handling peanuts is providing proper storage at home. The high fat content of peanuts makes them susceptible to becoming rancid from prolonged exposure to heat, light, and humidity. It is important to discard peanuts that are discolored or even slightly moldy or rancid since they can be easily contaminated by aflatoxin, a mold that has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals, though not in humans.

Shelled peanuts should be refrigerated once the vacuum-sealed package is opened. A jar should be closed tightly. Transfer peanuts from non-recloseable packages to plastic bags or freezer containers. Shelled peanuts will keep for up to one year in the freezer. If they are properly wrapped, freezing will not significantly affect their texture or flavor. They need not be thawed for cooking purposes. Nuts for eating should be thawed at room temperature and then toasted or freshened in the oven briefly before serving.

Do not chop whole peanuts until you are ready to use them.

Raw unshelled peanuts, however, keep very well for about six months if stored in a cool, dry place.

Peanut Butter: Natural brands, available in the grocery store are what I prefer; they contain no preservatives, additives, or hydrogenated fats. However, when enclosing peanut butter in chocolate, such as when making Buckeyes, I have found that it's best to use the store bought kind. Many commercial peanut butters have hydrogenated vegetable oil, which emulsifies the peanut butter, avoiding the layer of peanut oil floating on the top of natural peanut butter or floating on top of the chocolate layer. You may want to add a bit of powdered confectioners sugar to the mix to absorb excess oil if using all-natural peanut butter.

You can also grind peanuts to make peanut butter. If you do want to make your own, it couldn't be simpler: just process the peanuts in a food processor until the butter is as chunky or smooth if you like it. Add a little oil and/or salt, if you wish. Because it does not contain preservatives, homemade peanut butter should be kept in the refrigerator. Use any peanut butter for sauces, marinades, dressing for pasta, vegetable dips, and of course, sandwiches.

PECANS: Pecans contain small amounts of vitamins A, E, and C, niacin, and other B vitamins. They are low in sodium and high in most other minerals, including zinc, iron, potassium, selenium, and magnesium. Copper, calcium, and manganese are present as well. Good quality pecan halves are crisp and plump. Use in pies, cookies, and muffins; granola and hot cereals. Top off bitter greens, and savory grain pilafs. Store properly to retain freshness; tend to go rancid quickly.

PINENUTS: Also known as pignolias and pinon. The pine nut is the seed of the stone pine. Creamy in appearance and contains a light pine taste. Often in utilized Italian, Spanish, and Middle Eastern cooking.

PISTACHIOS: A good source of B vitamins (very little vitamin A), oleic acid, calcium, magnesium, iron and folic acid, a compound that lessens the risk of heart disease. Pistachio nut in its natural state, is green with a tan shell. During the l930's some pistachio distributors began dying the shells red to make their product stand out and to hide blemishes created during harvesting. This practice continues today, as that red shell is still what many customers recognize. Since the shells split open naturally when the nuts are ready for harvest, and the dye is applied following that, you may want to consider looking for the tan shells in their natural state - with the green nut. Pistachios can add flavor to any of your favorite recipes. They add taste, texture and color as well as good nutrition! Try our Basil Pistachio Parmesan Pesto Recipe.

Some tips:

  • 1 cup in-shell pistachios = 1/2 cup nutmeats.
  • Pistachios stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator have a shelf life of one year; in the freezer, they have a shelf life of two years.
  • To restore pistachios that have lost their crispness toast the nutmeats at 200 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes

WALNUTS: Native to Asia and grow on walnut trees inside green pods which turn brown and wood like when dried. The walnut is about 65 percent fat, with over 75% of that being valuable unsaturated fat, with essential fatty acids. Walnuts are very versatile as they can be eaten raw or used in baking, and cold pressed walnut oil is very good cooking oil. Walnuts have a modest mix of vitamin A, the Bs (including biotin), C, and E. Their mix of minerals is similar to that of most of the other nuts, with many at good levels. They are also very high in potassium and iron. Use in cookies, breads, muffins, granolas and hot cereals. Top off grains and beans, or add to stuffing. Sprinkle over green salads with goat cheese. Store properly to retain freshness; tend to go rancid quickly.

SARAH SAYS: Walnuts can get a black coating when baked inside batter or dough. It's because the batter is not acidic enough. The trick is to toast them first before adding and they'll retain their nice brown outsides during baking. Essentially, this protects them from turning black

Black Walnuts: Although it is tempting to put Black Walnuts in the same class as the more commonly eaten English walnut, the two have completely different tastes. Black Walnuts are richer in oils so the taste is richer, however an English walnut is easier to shell and is thus, more commonly used. Their extra oil content, however, means they lose their flavor more quickly after they're shelled.

Shelling Black Walnuts are difficult to do! I suspect that nature has given black walnuts a much harder shell than usual to protect their abundant natural oils from rancidity.) The best method for shelling Black Walnuts that I have used is to place them loosely in a bag and run over them with a tire on your car! You can also just buy the nuts shelled, although perhaps not as much fun.

Other Recipes