Nut benefits: expert guide to nuts
Pip & Nut founder Pippa Murray sings the praises of nuts and nut butter in this run-through of the key nuts that are useful in butters and some information about their nutritional benefits. Learn how to transform any of these into nut butter
Almonds are harvested once a year in California, and if you ever want to go and see something really beautiful, head to California in February to March, when you’ll see Sacramento covered in light pink and white blossoms, the first stage of the cycle of almond crops.
Almonds are packed with magnesium, and vitamins, like vitamin B2, which make hair shiny and nails strong. They also contain naturally high levels of protein.
They grow near the tops of 150-foot trees in hard casings similar to coconuts. Each case has 20 to 30 nuts snuggled inside, arranged like the segments of an orange. The cases fall off the trees when ripe, and are easily heavy enough to kill a person.
The cashew tree is native to the Brazilian Amazonian rainforest. A cashew tree bears numerous, edible, pear-shaped false fruits, called cashew apples, and on the bottom you’ll see the cashew nut. Nutritionally, cashews have a lower fat content than most other nuts.
COBNUTS & HAZELNUTS
Hazelnuts and cobnuts are the same thing. While hazelnuts are dried, cobnuts are sold fresh, which gives the nuts a seasonal market. With the exception of almonds, this is the nut with the highest content of vitamin E.
Macadamia contain high amounts of vitamin B1 and magnesium. Besides having a great omega-3 to omega-6 ratio – which helps in fighting inflammation – macadamia nuts contain the largest amount of mono-unsaturated fatty acids of any nut.
The beneficial plant fat in peanuts, which is about 80% unsaturated (considered good fat) can help lower cholesterol levels when it replaces saturated animal fat in the diet. Peanuts and peanut butter are also naturally cholesterol free.
If you happen to be feeling stressed, eat a handful of pistachios. They have a significant amount of potassium that helps in lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Pistachios are also called skinny nuts – one pistachio nut has just three calories!
The country that consumes the most pistachios is China, totalling an impressive 80,000 tons a year – that’s the equivalent in weight of 28,000 elephants or eight Eiffel Towers!
Due to their appearance, with the shell shaped like a human skull and the kernel resembling a brain, walnuts have always been regarded as brain food. Recent studies have shown that they do indeed promote brain function because of their omega-3 fatty acid content.
A quick word on palm oil
Palm oil is taken from the fruit of the oil palm tree and originates in western Africa, but flourishes wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. It can be used in everything and anything. In the case of peanut butter, palm oil is often used as an emulsifier.
The problem with palm oil is that the industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests are cleared for the development of oil palm plantations.
Work is being done by organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, who work with plantations to ensure palm oil is sustainable and complies with various globally set standards. So, when buying, it’s best to look for ‘sustainable’ on the label.
How to make any nut butter
Heat the oven to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2. Spread 300g of your chosen nuts out in a single layer on a large baking tray. Roast for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.
Tip the nuts into a food processor with a pinch of sea salt and blitz for 10 minutes until smooth and glossy, stopping and scraping down the sides every so often. It will look crumbly, and then form a ball, but keep blending until it becomes runny. It will keep in an airtight container or jam jar for three months.