21/07/2012 09:52

There are literally hundreds of varieties and types of 'culinary' nuts.
Nuts come in all different sizes, shapes, colours and taste. Nuts are harvested, in one form or another, in almost every country in the world. They are often eaten as a snack or used in all kinds of dishes for added flavour. Try toasting your nuts! The heat brings out their sweetness and makes them more crunchier.

How to store Nuts ~ Although they may look like a non-perishable food item, nuts can go rancid very quickly because of their fat content. Shelled nuts go off faster than those still in their shells. It's a good idea to store nuts in the fridge or the freezer. It varies really on how long nuts keep, but one rule of thumb is - A month at room temperature...Up to six months in the fridge...Up to one year in the freezer.

Nuts should be kept in a non-metal, airtight container. To check nuts for freshness, just give them a shake - if they rattle, it means the nuts are old and are beginning to dry out. So best to chuck em!

ALMONDS ~ There are two categories of almonds, sweet and bitter almonds. Bitter almonds are generally used for extract for flavouring in syrup and liqueurs. Uncooked bitter almonds contain cyanide, which can be lethal if enough of them are eaten. Sweet almonds are the type that is eaten. Enjoy them whole as a snack, or try them sprinkled on salads or cooked vegetables. Almonds are used in all kinds of dishes, but because of their sweeter flavour are most often used in desserts.

Whole natural almonds are great for snacking. Blanched almonds are typically whole, but have the skins removed. They’re often used as garnish. Slivered almonds have been sliced into thin slivers, but still have lots of crunch. They’re great to use as toppings on dishes like salads, pasta or cooked vegetables. Sliced are also used as toppings in savoury dishes, but are also often used to top cakes, muffins and pastries. Ground almonds can be added to a breading mixture that goes on meat or fish. They are also the ingredient in making marzipan- almond paste. I make marzipan for covering rich fruit cakes, like my Christmas cake. You can make your own ground almonds by putting almonds in the blender or food processor.


BRAZIL NUTS ~ These large, crescent-shaped nuts are the seeds of a giant evergreen tree in the Amazon forests of South America. The tree can exceed heights of one hundred fifty feet. The tree produces large spherical fruits that resemble coconuts. Inside the fragile outer shell of the fruit is a tough and fibrous inner shell which contains about twelve to twenty-four Brazil nuts which are encased within their own thick dark brown coloured individual shell. When the large fruits ripen they fall to the ground. Falling from a height of one hundred fifty feet makes for dangerous collection. One must be careful to make sure no fruits come crashing down on their head! Brazil nuts can be eaten raw, roasted and are often used in baking, they go very well with chocolate too. Brazil nuts are popular in the UK where they are associated with Christmas time.


CHESTNUTS ~ We see the chestnuts round the festive season being sold here in the UK. A bag of roasted chestnuts is a great treat to warm you up on a cold day!

Chestnut trees are often confused with the Horse Chestnut, the Beech, and Chestnut oak, none of which bear edible fruit. Sweet Chestnut trees bear fruits in the form of greenish burrs with long prickly spines that contain three nuts to a burr. Enjoy these little treats as a snack. They taste great added to your vegetables, lovely mixed with brussel sprouts for Christmas day lunch, or added to winter salads and puddings. Also great added to sauces or soups as a thickener, and as a natural flavour enhancer. Shortly after they're harvested much of their starch turns to sugar, giving them a lovely sweetness and adding a pleasant balance to a savoury meal.

Just look at what you else you can do with these little nuts!

Before cooking the Chestnuts, the most important step is to cut the shell to prevent the nut from exploding whilst cooking! Some cut a slit across the face of the nut, others cut a cross into the pale end (hilum).

Bake ~ Preheat oven to 200 C. Place chestnuts onto baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes, turning after about 5 minutes, or until the shells split and the flesh is easily pierced with a pointed knife.

To pan roast, grill or barbeque ~ Cook, turning occasionally in a pan over a medium heat, under the grill, or on the BBQ for 10-12 minutes or until the shells split as above. It doesn't matter if the outer shell turns black in parts as this will be removed prior to eating.

Microwave ~ Place chestnuts in a single layer to cover a microwave-safe plate. Cook uncovered on 850 watts-high-100% for 2-3 minutes. It is very easy to overcook when microwaving, so beware, and start with less time to be on the safe side.

Boil ~ Place chestnuts into a pan of cold water, bring to the the boil, cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until flesh is tender.

Peeling chestnuts ~ It is easier to peel chestnuts while they are still warm and damp. Wrap the cooked chestnuts in a tea towel to keep them warm while you are peeling the others. Remove the outer shell and also the inner brown skin or 'pellicle', as this can sometimes taste quite bitter. Boiled chestnuts are probably the easiest ones from which to peel the pellicle, though if you dry roast or grill them, it is not so important to remove all the pellicle prior to eating. Different varieties vary in their ease of peeling.


CASHEWS ~ are actually the kidney-shaped seeds that grow dangling beneath a fleshy stalk known as the 'cashew apple', the fruit of the cashew tree. The cashew fruit actually looks more like a pear than an apple. The cashew apple which is juicy, thick-skinned, brilliant yellow, red, or scarlet colour, can be used for juices, syrups and liqueurs. Cashew nuts are eaten on their own as a snack or as an ingredient in various sweet and savoury dishes. Whole or chopped cashews provide crunch and substance to Asian stir-fries, noodle dishes and curries.


HAZELNUTS ~ are globe-shaped or oval nuts with a hard brown shell. They're used in savoury dishes including soups and sauces, such as romesco sauce.They're also excellent in baking and can be ground, like almonds, for use in cakes and biscuits. As with most nuts, hazelnuts have an affinity with chocolate. They're also a key ingredient in praline. Cobnuts which grow in Britain, are a type of hazelnut. Read more about them here...Cobnuts.


PEANUTS ~ are actually a member of the pea family and aren't true nuts, as they have to be dug out of the soil to be harvested. Also known as groundnuts, the pods develop after the pollinated flower stalk has grown down into the soil, where the nuts develop.You can get peanuts in the shell, unshelled, whole, salted, unsalted, roasted, chopped or chocolate covered! Peanuts can be used in a wide range of sweet and savoury recipes, they make a great topping for all kinds of dishes- chopped peanuts are often used as a topping in Thai dishes and Asian stir fries. Peanut butter is delicious on toast too!


PECANS ~ are native to North America where they're still used in abundance, especially in cakes, pies and cookies. They're perhaps most famous for their role in the all-American pecan-pie. Pecans have a great buttery flavour and can be eaten by themselves or used in various types of cooking. Pecan trees are very large and can produce for hundreds of years.


PISTACHIOS ~ These nuts have really been around the block, they originated in the Middle East, were mentioned in the Bible, and even have an ice cream flavour dedicated to them! Use shelled pistachios to top rice or other dishes the same way you would with other nuts.

PINENUTS ~ Yes, they do come from a pine tree! Pine nuts are an edible seed, found inside pine cones. Apparently, they are incredibly difficult to extract. These nuts have a sweet, creamy crunch, and they’re great to keep on hand to sprinkle on salads or pasta. You can eat them plain or toasted, They’re also a key ingredient in pesto.

Toasting Pine Nuts ~ They toast up very quickly in a fry pan, which brings out their natural rich flavour. Start by putting the nuts in a single layer in a frying pan with no oil in the pan. Toast the nuts on medium-high temperature. Keep moving the nuts around the pan with a wooden spoon. It will take just a few minutes for them to toast. Do not walk away! Do not take your eyes off them nuts! They can go from beautifully toasted to burnt, in the blink of an eye!

Tip - This toasting method can be applied to toasting all nuts.

 WALNUTS ~ There are over 15 varieties of walnuts, all walnuts are edible but the English walnut is known as the most delicious. Walnuts are commonly eaten as a snack and used in all kinds of dishes. They add texture and crunch to salads. Pair them with goats cheese, or stir them into a classic Waldorf salad. Chopped walnuts are often called for in cookie, bar and loaf recipes, and are often paired with maple flavour in desserts. Pickled walnuts can be eaten with cold meats and cheeses - they go particularly well with blue cheese.