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16.11.2020

Nuts

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There’s nuttin’ better 

Whether as a snack, spread on toast, as a substitute for cow’s milk, a key ingredient in Asian dishes or in biscuits for the Christmas season, we simply can’t do without nuts, and with good reason.

People often see them as little calorie bombs due to their high fat content. Indeed, hazelnuts and walnuts are actually up to 60% fat, and macadamia nuts up to 70%. Nevertheless, nuts are actually healthy. We explain why here:

Nuts:

1. ... protect against diabetes.

2. ... reduce cholesterol levels.

3. ... protect against cancer.

4. ... strengthen your nervous system.

5. ... protect against heart attacks and strokes.

6. ... provide valuable fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

7.     ... Unfortunately, however, they don’t agree with everyone.

Nuts are simply packed with unsaturated (i.e. good) fats, vitamins, fibre and secondary vegetable substances. They provide us with potassium, folic acid, iron and lots of magnesium. What’s more, they’re the ideal snack, as they make us feel full without affecting our blood sugar levels. Besides being full of unsaturated fats, walnuts also have lots of valuable Omega 3 fatty acids. The body cannot produce Omega fatty acids of its own accord, so dietary intake is very important. 

The German Society for Nutrition recommends eating a generous handful of nuts a day. Nuts make the perfect TV-watching snack. Of course, roasted, salted nuts aren’t as healthy as their raw counterparts. The heating process does away with valuable vitamins and fats, while the large quantities of cooking salt used can also raise your blood pressure. It’s better to buy unroasted, unsalted nuts and season them yourself, so that you have a handle on the amount of salt used. You might be surprised to learn that peanut puffs aren’t actually made from peanuts: the main ingredient is cornmeal. They are flavoured with peanut powder, which makes them very high in calories. A better option is fresh peanuts, as the cracking and shelling adds to the fun. ;-)

Buy nuts whole for the real experience. Nuts are mainly harvested in October and December. They aren’t particularly high-maintenance when it comes to storage, so you can buy them all year round, but they’re tastiest when freshly gathered. ;-) It’s a good idea to look out for organic produce in the shops, as nuts grown in the conventional way are bleached or aerated. You can get around this by buying nuts whole, rather than pre-shelled and packed in bags. Untreated, unshelled nuts don’t require special storage; if kept in a cool, dry place, perhaps in a cardboard or wooden box, they will keep for up to a year.

You can buy nuts whole and then peel and grind them as you need them. They will stay fresh in a sealed, airtight container in the fridge for around four weeks, or up to a year in the freezer. If they are shelled, flaked or ground, however, nuts are likely to lose their taste or even go mouldy more quickly. Pistachios, peanuts, almonds and Brazil nuts are particularly susceptible to mould. What makes this particularly dangerous is that, generally speaking, you won’t be able to see the mould, and it won’t be eliminated with cooking, baking, roasting and freezing. In other words, if you’re considering using some chopped almonds from last year when baking cookies, you’d be advised to think again. Exercise caution if you notice that nuts are discoloured, smell funny or have an oily sheen. As a rule of thumb, the more matt the surface of the nut, the fresher it is.

Amazingly versatile

Nuts really release their full flavour when roasted. Simply toast a handful of nuts in a dry pan, and you’ll notice the scent. But be careful not to heat them for too long, as they can turn bitter. It’s better to toast them too briefly than for too long! Roasted nuts make a brilliant snack, salad topping or ingredient in or on baked treats.Lots of superb foods can be made from nuts themselves, including cooking oils like coconut oil, walnut oil, peanut oil and hazelnut oil. Peanut and coconut oil are particularly good for searing foods, so they are often used in Asian cuisine. By contrast, hazelnut and walnut oil are better added and eaten cold, such as drizzled over salads.Nut butter is a must-try if you’ve never had it before. It is usually made of roasted nuts that have been ground into a smooth paste. Pure nut butter is best when made from a single type of nut, without added sugar or other additives. Almond butter, for instance, is delicious on toast. Opting for dark almond butter instead of the light version means that you get all of the wonderful fibre that comes from the thin brown skin. Light almond butter does not contain this skin, as the nuts have been boiled and their skins removed before it is made. Nut butter isn’t only great for pepping up your morning toast or muesli; it can also be used as a cream substitute in many dishes, like a gorgeous vegetable curry.Besides healthy nut oil and velvety nut butter, nuts can also be used to make delicious drinks. They are first roasted, then ground and steeped in water, which is finally filtered. Nut drinks are used primarily as a substitute for cow’s milk, making it particularly useful for vegans, people with lactose intolerance and those who suffer from allergies.

A mini lexicon of nuts

Peanuts: This nut is actually a legume. It really gives off its full flavour once it is roasted. It has less fat than other nuts, but contains more protein and folic acid, not to mention B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and fibre. Its thin brown skin is also packed with antioxidants. Peanuts make a great addition to salads, baked treats, sauces, oil and nut butter.

Hazelnuts: These are either round (Zellernuss) or elongated (Lambert). Lambert nuts have a sweeter taste than the round Zellernuss variety. If fresh, the nut should be white on the inside and should not rattle against its shell. If the shell is pale and greyish, the nut will usually contain only a very small hazelnut kernel. Hazelnuts make a popular ingredient in baked treats at Christmas. They work especially well in breads, muesli and with venison.

Cashew nuts: This nut is packed with goodness. It contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’. The nut is also a source of magnesium, copper, potassium, iron, zinc, folic acid and beta carotene. It has a subtly sweetish taste and is relatively soft, making it highly popular as a snack. However, it is also commonly used in Asian cuisine and is popular in vegan foods, such as substitute cheese sauces or vegan Ricotta. 

Macadamia nuts: This nut tastes wonderfully sweet, has the highest fat content of all and is mainly sold in its roasted form, as this gives it a longer shelf life. It is sometimes described as the queen of nuts. Macadamias are also on the expensive side, due to the work involved in harvesting and processing them. The macadamia is the only nut that you should always buy already shelled, as its shell is very hard and almost impossible to crack. It works beautifully in sweet and savoury dishes alike, whether as a snack or in salads or stews.

Almonds: These nuts come in either sweet or bitter versions. Sweet almonds are sold either with their shells on, as soft-shelled almonds, or already shelled. Soft-shelled almonds are generally better quality and their brown skins are easy to remove by pouring over hot water. Sweet almonds are the main ingredient in marzipan. They are primarily used in cakes and desserts, but make a fantastic snack in their own right. Bitter almonds, on the other hand, should never be used as a snack or eaten raw, as they contain hydrocyanic acid. This evaporates when bitter almonds are cooked, rendering them edible.

Brazil nuts: This is the nut of one of the largest and longest-living trees in the rainforests of Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia. It has a very hard, angular, dark brown shell. Its core is white and it resembles the almond in taste, which makes it lovely for snacking on. Like other nuts, Brazil nuts are packed with great nutrients, including selenium, which strengthens the immune system and provides protection against free radicals.

Pine nuts: Tiny little nuts from the fruit of the pine tree, the pinecone. Harvesting these nuts is a laborious business, so they are usually very expensive. However, it’s all worth it. They are very healthy indeed, with lots of unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals. Pine nuts work particularly well toasted and added to salads, pasta or vegetables, and, of course, in pesto.

Pistachio nuts: The ultimate source of iron! Pistachios are bursting with iron and thus assist with the supply of oxygen to our body’s cells. They are also rich in protein, fibre, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, folic acid and calcium. In other words, they’re brimming with lovely, health-boosting stuff! ;-)

very These fruits, encased in a green skin, fall from the trees in early October. Beneath their skin lies the nut’s firm shell, which needs to be cracked before you can get at the almost white core. This has a sweet yet tart taste. You can tell if a walnut is a bit on the old side if it is yellowish and tastes somewhat bitter. They work well in savoury and sweet dishes, whether whole or chopped.

Pecans: This is the walnut’s slender twin. It is elongated and has a thin, smooth skin, allowing it to be cracked by hand. Its kernel closely resembles that of a walnut, but they are different in taste: the pecan is a bit sweeter yet milder. It is often used in cakes and baked goods.

Chestnuts: A popular snack at German Christmas markets. Chestnuts are the fruit of the European chestnut tree. They are relatively low-fat, but contain a lot of starch, which makes them brilliant made into soup or purées. Fresh chestnuts are best roasted in the oven. To do this, cut little crosses in the tops and bake for up to 10 minutes. Leave to cool down a little, then simply remove the skins and tuck in! They taste gloriously sweet, have a soft, velvety texture and fill you up in no time at all.

Go easy:

Nuts don’t agree with everyone; in fact, nut allergy is the most common type of severe allergic reaction to food. Of the various nuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and cashews are less allergenic than others. At the other end of the spectrum, peanuts and hazelnuts are highly allergenic and thus out of bounds for some people. The refinement process used to produce certain nut oils may destroy the allergens that they contain. However, as you can’t usually be sure how well the oil has been processed, it’s best to steer clear of these products if you or someone you’re cooking for has a severe nut allergy. :-)

© NGV mbH, Photo: TLC Fotostudio
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