Each nut bears its own distinctive flavor, as well as a unique history that often dates back to biblical times and beyond.
1. Peanuts: Originating in Brazil and Peru and introduced to America by early explorers, the peanut is primarily grown in China, West Africa and the United States. Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma are our key producing states, with Suffolk, Virginia laying claim to being the peanut capital of the world. Peanuts vary in size and variety. Azar Nut Company uses mainly the top of the line Virginia peanut, which is larger than the Georgia runner variety.
Spanish Peanuts are grown in Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma. Azar uses the Texas grown Spanish peanut because the skin on this variety is sweeter than those grown in the East.
The peanut is the only nut grown underground. Americans consume 3,750,000 pounds of peanuts daily in all forms including confections, bakery items, soups, desserts, ice cream and mixed nuts.
2. Pecans: This truly American nut is principally grown in the Southern and Southwestern United States, and in the countries of Mexico, Israel and South Africa. While Georgia is the “pecan state capital of the world,” the Southwest part of Texas (around El Paso) grows the “Cadillac” of the pecan varieties known as the Western Schley. Pecans range in color from a light golden color to a darker amber color.
The wild forest pecan tree is known as the Seedling pecan. A major crop of these nuts is produced in alternative years, due to faulty pollination every other year. Both cultivated and seedling pecans are harvested in late October and November. Cultivated pecans have a “paper-shell” which have a meatier kernel inside of a shell that is easier to crack.
Crop sizes vary from year to year, with the largest in recent years, U.S. crop being 376,000,000 pounds (in shell) in 1963, and the smallest U.S. crop being 75,300,000 pounds (in shell) in 1962. Approximately 20% of the total pecan crop are sold in the shell to consumers. Bakers (25%), retailers (16%) and ice cream manufacturers (5%) primarily use the total crop.
3. Almonds: Almonds have been eaten plain and candied since they were introduced into Roman life. Native to the Mediterranean countries, the almond was introduced to America from Spain in 1769. California is the almond capital with over 110,000 acres of almond trees. Harvested in September each year, almonds are grown on trees resembling peach trees. Almonds have several gradings depending upon their cut (whole, sliced, slivered) and whether they are natural or blanched.
Historically, almonds are mentioned 73 times in the Old Testament, and the branch of the almond tree was used as the staff of the Pope. Almonds are used in confections, mixed nuts, baking and various desserts.
4. Cashews: Native to Brazil and the West Indies, the cashew is chiefly grown in India, Brazil, East Africa, Mozambique and Kenya. The United States consumes over 90% of the world’s cashew crop. While the macadamia is considered the “Rolls Royce” of the nut family, the cashew certainly can be called the “Cadillac” of the nuts.
The cashew is a low-growing evergreen bearing flowers, which grow in clusters at the end of its branches. The flower changes into a bright orange or yellow, pear-shaped, edible fruit called a cashew apple. Attached to the base of the fruit is the olive-colored, kidney-shaped nut, which ripens two months after flowering. The nut is encased in a leathery double-shell, between the layers of which is a honey-comb like membrane containing a powerful oil, which may irritate and burn the skin, but protects the nut from insects. This oil is driven off when roasted to make the shell easier to remove. Cashews are used in confections, cakes, cookies and snack mixes.
5. Filberts: Known as hazelnuts or cobnuts, filberts are grown in Turkey, Iran, Spain and the United States. Early settlers introduced the filbert to America in the 1600’s. Filberts are acid forming in the body, which aids normalizing the metabolism. Azar Nut Company uses the blanched filbert for packaging. They are quite popular in main dishes, desserts, salads and confections.
6. Walnuts: The California walnut is a descendant of the Persian walnut. Native to Persia, the Greeks called the walnut “the nut of Jupiter,” fit for the gods. California is the major growing area of walnuts in the United States, along with France, Italy, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Romania, China and India.
The walnut tree is very hardy and is 15 years old before reaching full production. The average tree produces for 45 years. California has over 122,000 acres of walnuts. Walnuts are high in unsaturated, fatty acids, iron and B vitamins. The oil in walnuts has a tendency to absorb strong odors, and they should be kept in cold storage. Primarily manufacturers of syrup toppings, ice cream, candy, casseroles and baking products use walnuts.
7. Black Walnuts: The black walnut is often considered the national tree of America. Like the pecan, black walnuts belong to the hickory family. California is the major supply area of black walnuts in the United States. In Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri, black walnuts grow wild, and production in this area is declining. The strong, nutty taste of black walnuts is not lost in cooking, and therefore, is ideal for cooking, baking, candies and ice cream making.
8. Sunflower Seeds: The major growing regions in sunflower seeds are the upper midwestern states of Minnesota and North Dakota. Although the crop size is relatively small, it is stable. Sunflower kernels are becoming more popular as a condiment in salad bars and as a snack item.
9. Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts are grown in the Amazon area. The Brazil nut trees grow to a height of 150 feet and have a trunk diameter of nearly eight feet. The three to four pound pods of Brazil nuts fall to the ground when ripe, which makes gathering them a very dangerous occupation. Inside each pod, sectioned like grapefruit lie 12 to 20 seeds. Called the “king of nuts,” the Brazil nut is extremely high in oil and is primarily used in mixed nuts and candies.
10. Pistachios: Ninety percent of all pistachios are grown in Turkey and Iran, with Italy, Afghanistan and the United States (California) making up the remainder of the crop. Pistachios thrive in hilly or mountainous regions with poor, stony soils. They grow in heavy, grape-like clusters from trees that reach a height of 25 to 30 feet. The tree produces for about 300 years. The nut cracks spontaneously when it is ripe. Legend has it that the pistachio tree is the symbol of happiness and plenty for lovers, who meet beneath its branches on moonlit nights, and it was the favorite of the Queen of Sheba. Pistachios are used in mixed nuts, main dishes, ice cream making and for general snackery.
11. Macadamias: The macadamia, originating in Australia, was discovered around 1857, but was not harvested until the 1930's. The macadamia is one of the most rare nuts, and with their superb flavor-so very rich and so buttery, it is cherished as a rare and special delicacy. Macadamias nuts are grown and harvested in Hawaii, Australia, South Africa, Peru and Bolivia. The nut thrives in tropical climates. The delicious and versatile macadamia is more than just a snack; it provides a perfect compliment to dozens of main dishes. You can't beat the taste!
Definitions: Blanched – the process of removing the fine skin from the nutmeat.
Nut Meat – same as nut kernel, the edible meat of the nut.