Nuts are one of our favorite go-to snacks. Peanuts, cashews, almonds, and pistachios are as popular as potato chips and pretzels. But just how much do we know about our nuts?
Did you know there are over 50 types of nuts in the world? Not all are edible but can be used to make cooking oil and other products.
Unlike the junk food we all too often snack on, nuts pack a healthy punch. They are a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Not all nuts are equal. There are four distinct types of nut categories that you may not be aware of:
Let’s explore the various nuts, their culinary uses, and their nutritional benefits.
Types of Nuts
Here is a list of some of the world’s most popular nuts, including some of my favorites.
Almonds are one of the world’s most widely consumed nuts, dating back to 3000 BC. There is even mention of almonds in the Bible!
Technically, almonds fall under the category of drupe seeds, a seed or pit surrounded by fleshy fruit. Almonds can be eaten raw or toasted, whole or slivered, or ground into flour for baking.
Almonds are used to make traditional desserts like marzipan, cakes, and candied confections.
Almonds are a popular ingredient in pastries and cookies like biscotti. Almond butter and almond milk are also healthy alternatives.
Almonds are full of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, and potassium. If you regularly snack on almonds, you can strengthen your bones, lower cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Despite their diminutive size, pine nuts can have a big health impact.
These little nuts contain antioxidants, protein, and several nutrients vital to one’s overall good health.
These little nuts are often expensive due to the labor of harvesting them. Pine trees take anywhere from 15 to 25 years before they start producing seeds.
Pine nuts have no outer casing, making them a “naked seed” or nut-like gymnosperm seed. Pine nuts come from evergreens.
Originally cultivated in India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Italy created pesto by combining pine nuts with basil. The mild-tasting nut is also a popular topping for a salad.
As you may have guessed, Brazil nuts are grown in Brazil.
Since they are native to the Amazon rainforest, Brazil nuts are also grown in Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, and Venezuela. The Brazil nut tree is one of the largest and longest-living trees in the Amazon.
Since a larger fruit contains the Brazil nut, it is classified as a nut-like angiosperm seed. Brazil nuts are clumped together like orange wedges inside a fruit similar to a coconut.
Brazil nuts have a smooth texture and creamy taste, making them a staple of the South American diet. They are used to create many delicious baked goods and confections.
Brazil nuts also have crucial health benefits. This nut is known for its high selenium levels, a trace mineral that supports your immune system.
Brazil nuts can lower cholesterol, improve heart health, and help reduce pain due to inflammation.
Hazelnuts, or ‘filberts’, are the fruit of the hazel tree.
Next to the peanut, it may be one of the more favored nuts among children thanks to the well-loved cocoa spread Nutella.
Hazelnuts are used to make several popular desserts, like pralines, chocolate truffles, and chocolate bars.
Hazelnut oil is used for cooking, providing a distinct nutty flavor. Hazelnuts are also a main ingredient in the nutty-flavored liqueur Frangelico.
A native of Australia, the macadamia nut was an important food staple for Aboriginal people.
The nut found its way to Hawaii where its cultivation began commercially. Today, South Africa is the world’s largest producer of macadamia nuts.
Like the Brazil nut, the macadamia nut is a nut-like angiosperm seed. It is high in fat and low in protein. However, macadamia is a rich source of thiamine, iron, and vitamin B6.
If you are a dog owner, be especially careful where you store your macadamia nuts. Macadamias are toxic to dogs and can be lethal if consumed.
Pistachios are one of my favorite snacks. Half the fun is shelling the nut and tasting the mild, sweet flavor.
Pistachios can be salted, made into butter, or a paste handy for baking. Pistachios are also well-favored in sweet treats, like spumoni ice cream, baklava, and biscotti.
The pistachio, part of the cashew family of nuts, originally came from the Middle East and Central Asia.
Today, Turkey and the United States are the primary growers of pistachios, accounting for nearly 70% of global production.
Pistachios, like other nuts, are suggested to have the ability to lower the risk of heart disease. They are a good source of calcium, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
Who doesn’t like pecan pie? Another member of the drupe seed family is pecans.
This rich, buttery-flavored nut can be eaten on its own or in sweet treats like cookies, cakes, and praline candy.
Hickory trees are the only substantial commercial nut tree native to the United States. They are particularly prolific in Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico.
Pecans are a rich source of dietary fiber, magnesium, and zinc. The fat content of pecans consists of monounsaturated fatty acids.
Another popular nut for snacking is cashews. It has a buttery-smooth texture and mild flavor. I particularly enjoy salted cashews.
Like the pistachio, cashews are in the drupe seed category. The cashew tree produces the cashew apple, which contains cashew nuts.
The cashew’s outer shell must be removed as it carries a highly-allergic skin irritant comparable to poison ivy.
Originally grown in Brazil, cashews became a commercial crop once introduced to India and Africa. Cashews can be ground into a paste and used for curries, sprinkled on a salad, or used in an array of desserts.
Not only are cashews delicious, but they also pack a healthy punch. Loaded with antioxidants and fiber, cashews are known to increase energy levels and help prevent cancer and other immune-system deficiencies.
Although cashews contain fat, they are also a rich source of copper, magnesium, and potassium.
A member of the drupe tree family, walnuts come in a large shell that needs to be cracked open to get at the bumpy, lobed edible nut inside.
A multitude of different dishes and foods contain walnuts. They feature in chicken dishes, salads, breakfast cereals, or as my favorite, a topping on brownies. Walnuts can also be candied or pickled.
Walnuts contain higher amounts of antioxidants than most nuts. They are rich in omega-3 fats and may improve brain health in addition to preventing heart disease and cancer.
Walnuts differ from other nuts due to their higher percentage of polyunsaturated fat.
One of the most popular and versatile nuts in the world is the peanut.
Technically classified as a legume, it is in the same family as beans and lentils. This edible seed is often referred to as groundnut, as peanuts grow under the earth and must be dug up to be harvested.
Peanuts give us peanut butter and peanut oil. They are commonly used in Asian culinary dishes. Whether in the shell or shelled, peanuts are a good source of protein.
Peanuts are fatty nuts. But they also contain vitamins, amino acids, and minerals like potassium and iron. Peanuts are one of the most delicious nuts on our list.
Kola nuts are the seeds behind one of the world’s most popular beverages, Coca-Cola.
In the late 19th century, a pharmacist extracted the caffeine from kola nuts and combined it with sugar and other ingredients to create a carbonated beverage.
To this day, kola nut extracts are used in cola beverages and energy drinks.
The kola nut is a staple of West Africa. Kola trees can grow up to 60 feet in the African rainforest.
The tree produces a star-shaped fruit that contains several kola nuts about the size of chestnuts.
Unlike many of the nuts on our list, the kola nut does not have a list of health benefits. Due to the caffeine concentrations found in this nut, be cautious of side effects such as insomnia and increased blood pressure.
Considered the gourmet almond of the Mediterranean, Marcona almonds are similar to the almonds grown in the United States but have a sweeter taste.
They differ in appearance slightly, more round than flat, and the texture is comparable to the macadamia nut.
Marcona almonds are as versatile as the Californian almond, delicious as a snack on their own, or used in salads and other dishes where almonds are called for.
Use them in classic French macaroons, roast them with salt and olive oil, or experiment with new ways of eating the Marcona almonds.
Coconut is associated with tropical vistas. A member of the drupe seed family, the flesh of this tree fruit has many applications. Coconut milk and coconut water also have tremendous nutritional benefits.
The liquid and flesh of the coconut are full of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and electrolytes that aid in the control of cholesterol and heart disease.
The meat of the coconut can be grated or shredded and used in baked goods like cookies and macaroons and as delicious candy confections.
I think there’s nothing better than popping open a fresh green coconut and enjoying its soft meat and fresh coconut water.
I remember hearing the steam whistle in the park as the man selling roasted chestnuts from his little cart. When cooked, the flesh of the chestnut gets soft.
Chestnuts can be milled into flour and used for making bread, pasta, and cakes.
Chestnut stuffing is popular during the holidays and can be candied.
Unlike most culinary nuts, chestnuts do not provide much protein or fat. Chestnuts provide food energy from their carbohydrate content, much like rice or wheat.
Also unique to the chestnut is they provide a source of vitamin C.
Traditionally a Chinese delicacy, the ginkgo nut is usually reserved for special occasions like weddings and Chinese New Year.
Encased in a rather foul, cheese-smelling casing, the ginkgo nut must be handled with care.
Wear disposable gloves when extracting the nuts as the outer fleshy coating has toxic properties similar to poison ivy and can irritate the skin
Eating too many ginkgo nuts can also be dangerous. Although cooking ginkgo nuts can reduce toxicity, consuming too many raw nuts can cause poisoning on some occasions.
Acorns, once a food source for many different cultures around the world, are now primarily a snack for furry critters of the forest. Though, it is a part of the Korean acorn jelly “dotorimuk.”
Acorns grow from the oak tree and take anywhere from 6 to 24 months to mature.
They are an important part of forest ecology, providing food as well as regenerating tree growth.
As for humans, acorns have been used to make flour and a coffee substitute when supplies were low.
The pili tree is native to the Philippines. It is cultivated for its edible nuts that taste a lot like pumpkin seeds when eaten raw or pine nuts when roasted.
Pili nuts can be used in the making of candies and pili brittle.
Pili nuts are high in calories like most of the nuts on our list. However, they come with many health benefits as well. Pili nuts are rich in protein, antioxidants, amino acids, magnesium, and copper.
A moderate serving of pili nuts regularly can help reduce inflammation and cholesterol, strengthen bones, and improve brain health.
If you can source a way of getting pili nuts into your hands, they are worth a try.
Cedar nuts grow wild in the wilderness on the Siberian cedar. Not quite as long as the pine nut, cedar nuts have a similar taste and texture.
Considered one of nature’s most nutritious, raw superfoods, cedar nuts can be enjoyed as a snack or used as an ingredient in many Asian and Mediterranean dishes.
Cedar nuts are a good source of protein, antioxidants, amino acids, and B vitamins. Easy to digest, cedar nuts are a tasty way of improving your overall health.
Candlenuts are round, flavorful nuts from the Kukui tree, found in the Australian rainforest, Southeast Asia, and Hawaii. They are similar to the macadamia nut in taste and texture.
Candlenuts should not be eaten raw due to mild toxicity. When cooked, candlenuts are often used in curries and stews. They can also be roasted and enjoyed as a healthy snack.
Candlenuts have an oily content and can be used for purposes other than eating. The nut can be used just like a candle! The candlenut has also been used for hair treatment.
Types of Nuts
- Pine Nuts
- Brazil Nuts
- Macadamia Nuts
- Kola Nuts
- Marcona Almond
- Ginkgo Nuts
- Pili Nuts
- Cedar Nuts
A delicious alternative to snack foods that adversely affect our bodies, nuts can and should be included in our everyday diet for their many health benefits.
As we have discovered, almost all types of nuts are power-packed with nutrients that can help with weight loss, diabetes, heart, and liver disease, as well as provide a mighty boost to the body’s immune system.
No matter how you prefer to eat your nuts – made into bread, in a dessert, or by the handful– nuts will always be a delicious staple of healthy eating.
Learn more about food, like the different types of tea you can enjoy!
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