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Everything You Need To Know About Nuts

Packed with protein, fibre and essential “healthy” fats, nuts are a must have in the kitchen. They are often enjoyed just as they are, but are also an essential ingredient in a diverse selection of recipes.  All nuts have a different nutritional makeup and shelf life, so here’s a look at how to select and store six of our favourite varieties.

Walnuts

Walnuts are rich in an omega-3 fat called ALA which studies indicate is good for your heart health. This omega-3 has been shown to reduce inflammation in cell culture and animal studies.  Studies also suggest that walnuts can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and decrease blood pressure. In short, we can’t afford not to be eating them.

Walnut Varieties:

The two most common types of walnuts are the English walnut and the black walnut. The walnuts we’re most familiar with are the English variety. They are thinner and boast easier-to-crack shells. The black walnuts have a bolder, earthier flavour with shells that are tougher to crack. Black walnuts are also likely to stain your hands or any surfaces they meet.

How to Select and Store Walnuts:

Walnuts that are already shelled are convenient, but keep in mind they go rancid rather quickly. Look for nuts that are pale and plump, and avoid those that are shriveled. For whole nuts, take care to avoid any with discolouration or mold.

Whole walnuts can be kept at room temperature for several weeks. Once you open packages of shelled walnuts at home, store them in the refrigerator or freezer. If kept in the freezer they will be good for up to a year.

In addition to eating a few walnuts out of hand to ward off cravings, they are very versatile and  can be added to salads and sprinkled over dips, tossed into baked goods like cookies and cupcakes and stuffed into squash.

Almonds

Almonds do grow in some parts of Ontario, but most of the almonds consumed here are imported. An excellent source of vitamin E, magnesium, fibre and protein, almonds are cholesterol free and research suggests that they are heart-healthy.

Almond Varieties:

Although there are different types of almonds, most of the ones sold in stores are simply labelled as “almonds.” Nonpareil almonds are the most common because of its great nutty flavour and crunchy texture. They have a thin shell that can be cracked easily and boast an appealing shape and light brown skin.

How to Select and Store Almonds:

Almonds are sold in a variety of forms and are usually bought shelled or unshelled. Shelled almonds can be purchased raw, roasted or blanched (no skins) and then further categorized as whole, halved, sliced or slivered. For maximum freshness, look for whole almonds and chop them yourself instead of buying the pre-cut kind. When buying unshelled almonds, give them a shake. If you can hear the almond rattling around, there’s a good chance it’s showing signs of aging and beginning to shrivel.

Due to their high fat content, almonds can go rancid quickly if they are not stored properly. An unopened package of walnuts can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year, but will last even longer if kept in the refrigerator or freezer. An opened package of almonds should be transferred to a lidded container and stored in a cool, dry place – ideally the refrigerator – for up to three months.

Cashews

Native to Brazil, cashews are never sold in their shell as it contains the same toxic substance found in poison ivy. More than just a snack, cashews are an excellent addition to many Indian dishes, and can be blended into a butter or soaked and turned into a dairy-free milk.

Cashew Varieties:

There isn’t only one type of cashew grown, but rather several different categories based on size, weight, etc.

How to Select and Store Cashews:

Widely available in roasted form, cashews can be bought salted or unsalted, as well as whole or in pieces. Raw cashews are not easy to find. Purchase cashews in a vacuum-packed jar or can for maximum freshness. If you do decide to buy them in bulk, make sure they are well-covered and the bin is stored in a cool, dry place.

Cashews contain oleic acid, boosting their shelf life and lasting longer than peanuts or almonds. However, their high oil content means then can turn rancid quickly, making them perishable. Store cashews at room temperature for no more than a week or so, or refrigerate them for up to 6 months. Like most other nuts, they fare well when kept in the freezer, and will last for a year when preserved that way.

Pecans

Golden brown on the outside and beige on the inside, pecans are available in a variety of sizes. Pecans can be bought in several forms included whole, halved, or chopped into pieces.

Pecan Varieties:

There are over 500 types of pecans, most of which are names after Native American tribes. Despite the vast amount of variety, most pecan production comes from just a few varieties, and their difference is minimal. In reality, a pecan is just a pecan, and the distinction between the types is mostly in the size and shell thickness.

How to Select and Store Pecans:

When buying shelled pecans look for nuts that are plump and uniform in size and colour. Unshelled pecans should feel heavy for their size, and be unblemished and free of discolouration and mold.

Shelled pecans should be stored in a freezer-safe bag or lidded container in the freezer for up to 2 years, or in the refrigerator for up to 9 months. Unshelled pecans can be stored for between 6 to 12 months but must be kept in a moisture-free container to prevent mold from growing.

Filberts (Hazelnuts)

Turkey produces 74% of the world’s filbert (hazelnut) supply, but is facing production decline due to an aging farming population and global demand, creating a growing market for Ontario farmers. An excellent source of B vitamins, filberts have more folate than any other nut.

Filbert Varieties:

Filberts are also known as hazelnuts and cobnuts, and the which terminology you use is likely based on where you live. In North American, we’re likely to refer to them as hazelnuts, whereas they would be called filberts in Europe. Cobnuts are another type of hazelnut, but the physical distinction is difficult for the naked eye to see.

How to Select and Store Filberts:

Available in the shell or shelled, hazelnuts can be bought raw, roasted, whole, chopped or ground. Unshelled filberts should feel heavy for their size. If buying shelled nuts look for plump ones with taught skin.

Like almost all other nuts, filberts are delicate and perishable. They should be stored in a lidded container in a cool, dry place for up three months, the refrigerator for 6 months and/or in the freezer for up to one year.

Peanuts

In addition to being responsible for every kid’s favourite sandwich spread, peanuts offer a variety of health benefits and pack a serious nutritional punch. Rich in monosaturated fats, they are heart-healthy and believed to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Peanut Varieties:

There are four basic varieties of peanuts: runners, Virginia, Valencia and Spanish. Each is distinctive in size and flavour.

Virginia peanuts account for most of the peanuts roasted and sold in their shells.

Spanish peanuts are mostly used for candy and peanut butter, as well as standard salted nuts.

Valencia peanuts are small and usually contain three or more peanuts per pod. They are usually roasted and sold in the shell.

Runner peanuts are large and generally used for making peanut butter.

How to Select and Store Peanuts:

Shelled peanuts are usually available in prepackaged container and bulk bins. If purchasing from a bulk food store, make sure the bins are covered and stored in a cool, dry place. Also, look for a store that has good turnover of product to ensure the freshness of the nuts. Regardless of how you buy the peanuts, make sure they are moisture-free and don’t smell musty or rancid.

Whole peanuts – those still in their shell – are usually available in bags or bulk bins. Peanuts should feel heavy for their size and shouldn’t rattle in the shell, a sign that the peanut is shriveling and drying out. Also, look for peanuts that are free of blemishes, cracks and discolouration.

Store shelled peanuts in a tightly sealed lidded container in the refrigerator or freezer. Shelled peanuts will keep in the fridge for three months and the freezer for six months. Don’t chop peanuts prior to storage, but instead so it just before serving or using in a recipe. Unshelled peanuts should be stored in a cool, dry place, but can also go in the refrigerator or freezer, extending their shelf life to nine months.

A Source of “Good Fat”

Most of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated fat, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. While they do contain some saturated fat, they are not typically a source of trans-fat.  Here’s just one article about nuts and nutrition, authored by Ruairi Robertson who has a BSc in Human Nutrition and a PhD in Nutrition and Microbiology.