October 22nd is National Nut Day! A celebration of all things…nutty!
Created in 2015 by the Liberation Foods Company to let people know all about Fair Trade Nuts and the small farms they come from, the idea took hold. It’s no wonder. Nuts have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years!
Ancient Romans made treats of sweetened or candied almonds. They also reportedly used walnuts to thicken dishes up. Kind of like how we use cornstarch or flour today!
While things like almond milk and nut flours may seem like a new idea, they were popular in the Middle Ages.
Going way, way back, anthropologists say nuts like wild almonds, water chestnuts, acorns, and pistachios were part of the diets of early humans. They even found nut-cracking tools made of stone dating back to the Pleistocene period.
What Makes Nuts So Popular?
Nuts are quite the versatile snack.
In ancient times, they were popular because, hey, you don’t have to hunt down a nut! Plus, they stay fresh for a long time and come in handy packaging (their shell) which makes them quite portable.
Some shells are a little more difficult to pry off than others, but nut shells came in handy, too. They could be used as fuel for a fire. Modern humans use nut shells for polishing and cleaning, and even as a filler for dynamite!
Walnuts were used in ancient Greece as a medicine. It was “prescribed” in a variety of preparations for everything from bad breath to gangrene! They viewed the walnut as a gift from the gods.
Aside from crazy remedies, nuts do pack a lot of nutrients and good fats. They provided a convenient source of nourishment throughout history.
What Kinds Of Nuts Can You Find In The World?
There are lots of types of nuts which are considered edible. Most of them are tree nuts and are actually classified as fruits or the seeds of fruit. And one isn’t even a real nut!
Walnuts- Popular since prehistoric times. The walnut is the seed of a drupe fruit. A drupe is like a nectarine or a peach. The shell of a walnut is actually considered the “flesh” of the fruit. Unlike peaches and nectarines, its fleshy bits harden into a shell.
Pecans-also the seed of a drupe fruit, this nut is popular in holiday dishes and desserts! Native to northern Mexico and the United States, which is where half of the world’s supply of pecans come from. These nuts have been cultivated since the 1880’s.
Almonds-yet another kind of seed, these are native to Iran and the surrounding countries, but they are cultivated elsewhere. They were brought to the area that would become California in the 1700’s by Franciscan missionaries. By the 1800’s, they were planted inland and began to thrive. In fact, California produces 80% of the world’s supply and 100% of the United States supply of commercial almonds!
Cashews-these seeds grow from the bottom of the cashew apple and look like a tail. The cashew tree is native to Brazil. With a little help from Portuguese explorers in 1558, the trees ended up on the coast of India. Once there, they spread to Southeast Asia and Africa.
Cashews are one of a couple of varieties of nuts which sold unshelled. This is because the shell has two layers and in between those layers is a resin that causes some serious skin irritation. The seeds have to be roasted to crack the outer shell, and then the inside shell has to be peeled off.
Pistachios-Native to Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan, pistachios have been part of the human diet since at least 6750 BC. When they are harvested, the grape-like clusters are shaken from the trees. Then they get separated between open shells and closed shells. The open shell is actually from the pistachio growing too big and causing the shell to split!
Pistachio trees are quite long-lived, as well. There are trees that have reportedly been around for 300 years!
Macadamias- These were only found in the land “down under” (Australia) until their discovery in 1857. Lord John Macadam (for whom the trees are named) was a part of the expedition to discover new plants and animals. He never even got to taste them due to an accident on their ship bringing about his untimely death!
By 1882 macadamia trees had been imported to Hawaii. Today the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation produces the most macadamia nuts in the world.
Another nut sold unshelled; they are a rather difficult variety to crack. The smooth, hard shell defies regular nut crackers, rocks, and hammers! People who can collect the nuts in their own neighborhoods resort to driving over them with their cars to crack the nuts!
Brazil nuts-native to…Brazil! They also grow in Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Guiana, and Venezuela. It’s a pretty distinct tree, as it can reach heights of 160 feet tall! The trees also have quite the lifespan, surviving for 500 years or more. According to some authorities, there are even trees which have been around for up to 1,000 years.
The nuts grow inside an outer shell. When the outer shell is removed, Brazil nuts look like a cluster of citrus fruit segments.
Hazelnuts-these tasty little nuts are also called filberts. They grow all over the world and have many myths surrounding them. In ancient times, the Romans and Greeks gave them as gift to newly wedded couples. It was believed that they would bring about a long and happy relationship.
The Celtic people believed that hazel, both the nut and the tree, imparted wisdom. People also used Y-shaped tree branches as divining rods. It was thought the hazel tree could be used to locate things like underground water supplies, minerals, ores, and even buried treasure!
Pine nuts-the smallest and fanciest of all the nuts, they are found all over the place, too. There are about 20 different kinds of pine trees which produce nuts which are suitable for harvesting and snacking on. All pine trees produce edible nuts, but some of the varieties are very tiny. Pine nuts have been used as food since the Paleolithic period. Toasted, eaten raw, added to a variety of dishes-both savory and sweet-pine nuts have been a staple in diets for eons!
Kola nuts-Grown in the tropical rain forests of Africa, the kola nut naturally contains caffeine. It’s used in ceremonies and rituals, given as offerings and payment for services. It’s even used as medicine! Explorers and traders brought the kola nut to Europe and America by the end of the 19th century, where it became pretty popular. The kola was also used originally as a flavoring ingredient in Coca-Cola, which is where part of the name came from.
Peanuts-grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates throughout the world, it’s native to the Western Hemisphere. This is the one nut that isn’t really a nut. Peanuts grow on plants, rather than trees, and they’re related to peas. Thought to have origins in South America, evidence of cultivating the peanut plant was found in Incan ruins. When the Spaniards came to the Americas, the peanut was one of the things they took back to Europe with them.
While nut butters can come from any kind of nut, peanut butter is one of the most common nut butters around. Researchers think the ancient Aztecs had a version of peanut butter hundreds of years ago!
Peanuts can also claim to be the most well-traveled nut in the galaxy. Astronaut Allen B. Sheppard took a peanut with him to the moon!
There are many kinds of nuts all over, used in all sorts of ways. No matter how you like to enjoy these tasty, versatile treats, take some time on National Nut Day to discover something new!
Try Chicken Satay from Singapore using peanut sauce!
Try Vegetable Korma from India using cashews!
Try Austrian Linzer cookies from our World Holiday Treats box using almond flour!