From almonds to pistachios, here’s everything you need to know about nature’s most versatile kernels – in a nutshell.
Nuts in their shell should be free from cracks and feel heavy for their size. For shelled varieties, plump, solid kernels indicate freshness.
Most nuts are sold ready-prepped, so simply choose the right type, such as flaked, blanched or chopped, for your recipe. For toasted nuts, roast or dry fry.
Untreated nuts, especially those in the shell, will keep well for at least 3-6 months. Some varieties, such as pecans, can be frozen, while chestnuts beneft from chilling.
Here are some of our favourite varieties of nuts
Pecans This sweeter, more buttery cousin of the walnut is native to north America – home of the classic pecan pie, among other sweet treats. It’s been grown there for centuries and features heavily in the cuisine of the region. Toasting helps to bring out its rich flavour.
Almonds When it comes to almonds, not all are created equal. Marcona almonds, which hail from south-east Spain, are often referred to as the ‘queen of almonds’ for their superior crunch and sweet flavour. They’re ideal for snacking or decorating a cake.
Brazils If we’re getting technical, Brazil nuts are more accurately described as a seed. They grow in pods at the top of very tall trees found deep in the Amazon jungle. When the pod falls to the ground, the ‘seeds’ are released. You won’t find them growing anywhere else.
Walnuts The brain-shaped walnut had people in medieval times convinced it provided a cure for headaches. Today, the ground shells are used by Nasa to provide thermal insulation for rockets. But the best way to enjoy this flavoursome, creamy nut at home is raw – as a snack on its own or with goat’s cheese.
Hazelnuts Sourced from Turkey and Italy, the hazelnut has a smooth brown shell, which contains a creamy round kernel with a pointed tip. It’s encased in a papery skin, which can be peeled off when roasted. A cobnut is a cultivated variety of hazelnut and is slightly larger in size.
Chestnuts A classic Christmas nut, the chestnut’s crumbly texture and sweet flavour makes it ideal for celebratory eating, from stuffings and soups to show-stopping puds. If you do decide to roast them on an open fire, oven, or under the grill, cut a cross in the shell first to prevent them from exploding.
Pistachios This attractive green nut with golden-purple skin is prized in the Middle East, Greece and Turkey for its distinctive flavour. Once picked, the nuts are left out in the sun to dry, which forces the shells open – providing easy snacking access. If you’re cooking with them, shell and blanch first. For an unbeatable flavour combo, try pairing them with rose water.
Meet the expert: John O’Neill, Technical Manager.
Tell us a little bit about what you do?
I look after Tesco’s supply chain for nuts. A perk of the job is travelling the world to meet with our suppliers and ensure we’re getting the best-quality product. Whether it's pistachios from the US or hazelnuts from Turkey – all of our nuts are fully traceable from the source.
Are any of your nut varieties native to the UK?
Our cobnuts are grown by Richard Dain at Hurstwood Farm in Kent. They can be eaten fresh (from mid- August) or dried (from mid-September), which ensures they’re around long enough to see in the festive period. Unlike other nuts, cobnuts are a truly seasonal product, so once we’ve sold out, that’s it until the following year.
How do you guarantee a good harvest?
As with all outdoor crops, we’re at the mercy of the weather – drought or food could cause a worldwide shortage. Take Brazil nuts for example, which grow in the Bolivian rainforest; the only way to get the nuts out is by river or road, so no matter how good our suppliers are (and they are!) – a lot of it comes down to luck.
What nuts should we be eating this Christmas?
For me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a big bowl of nuts in their shell. All it takes is a nutcracker and a bit of force to release the crunchy kernel from its hard casing. My favourite is a bag of almonds with a glass of chilled sherry. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Nuts make a delicious contribution to both savoury and sweet recipes. Why not try this crisp and fresh Raw sprout and walnut salad with gorgonzola? Or if you're in the mood for something sweet, these more-ish Florentines are packed with tasty nuts.
As featured in Tesco Magazine December 2014.