Nuts are great as energy-boosting snacks and crunchy, flavorful additions to cooked dishes. They’re also nutritional powerhouses, rich in protein, fiber, calcium, and other nutrients, as well as a healthy dose of mono- and polyunsaturated oils.
Almonds have more fiber, protein, and other nutrients than any other nuts; they may even be good for your heart. Toasting improves their rather chewy texture and mild flavor. Sliced or slivered almonds add an elegant touch to everyday green beans, and ground al-monds make a delicious nut butter. (They’re also the basis of marzipan.) Bigger, flatter, and higher in fat, Spanish Marcona almonds are prized for their sweet, delicate taste.
These apostrophe-shaped nuts sprout from the bottom of a cashew apple, the fruit of a tropical evergreen tree. Because their shells contain a powerful, irritating oil, they are always sold shelled. Despite their creamy, smooth texture, which comes from a high starch content, cashews have less fat than most other nuts. Another candidate for nut butter, cashews are also common in baked goods and Asian meat dishes.
Mostly grown in Turkey, hazelnuts pair well with chocolate and coffee and star in Nutella spread. Once the rather bitter mahogany skins are removed, the nuts are sweet and complement meats and sweets equally well.
Peanuts are the most popular nuts in the United States—although technically they’re legumes, which explains why they look a lot like pea plants while growing. Most peanuts are made into oil or ground into butter, but they are delicious eaten out of hand. They are also used in baked goods or chopped to top Asian noodle dishes.
An especially high fat content helps give pecans their rich, creamy, buttery taste. This native American nut is often used in pies and candies; it also combines well with cayenne and other spices in savory dishes. The thin shells break easily, which speeds decay, so if buying unshelled specimens, avoid any with cracked shells.
Also called piñon or pignoli nuts, these small, teardrop-shaped nuts are harvested from pine cones. Since the process is labor-intensive, they tend to be expensive, but their delicate, piney flavor is delicious in everything from pesto to cookies. Watch them carefully when toasting, because they burn easily.
Native to the Middle East, pistachios have a naturally tan shell (those with red shells have been dyed) and a pale green nut that’s high in calcium. The green color is the result of chlorophyll that develops as the seeds grow. When buying unshelled pistachios, avoid those with fully closed shells, which indicates that the nutmeat is immature. A popular snack eaten raw, pistachios also give crunch and a nutty flavor to desserts like baklava.
Walnuts are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, making them especially susceptible to rancidity. When buying unshelled walnuts, it’s best to keep them in the refrigerator or the freezer. Popular in baked goods, versatile walnuts add crunch to salads or savory dishes.
How to Store Nuts
Due to their high fat content, nuts can turn rancid, especially once they’ve been shelled. When stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, most unshelled nuts keep for up to a year (walnuts and pistachios, up to 3 months). Store shelled nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 months, or freeze for up to 6 months. Since they contain almost no water, there’s no need to thaw nuts before chopping, eating, or cooking.
How to Prepare Nuts
A quick toasting improves nuts’ flavor and texture. Just spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in a 400° F oven, tossing occasionally, until golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Or heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, add a single layer of nuts, and reduce heat to low, stirring for 2 to 4 minutes until nuts are slightly browned and aromatic.
Although full of healthy antioxidants, nut skins have an astringent taste because they contain tannins. Remove them from thin-skinned specimens like peanuts and hazelnuts by toasting, cooling, and then rubbing between two kitchen or paper towels. Cool nuts thoroughly before chopping or they will become greasy.
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