Biltong & Nuts

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History of Nuts

History of Nuts

From prehistoric man to ancient royalty to medieval peasants to supermarket shoppers of today, nuts have been a reliable food source throughout history. Unfortunately, because nuts contain so much fat, they have fallen out of favor with the public in the past few decades. However, newer research is restoring faith in nuts.

A recent archaeological excavation in Israel found remnants of seven types of nuts and a variety of primitive nutcrackers that scientists believe date back 780,000 years. A dig in Iraq uncovered evidence of nut consumption that dates back to 50,000 b.c. And in Texas, pecan shells were unearthed near human artifacts that may date back to 6,000 b.c.

It’s easy to see why nuts have been so popular through the ages. You don’t have to track and kill a nut. In fact, nuts were one of the first convenience foods; not only could they be carried, but their ability to be stored for months at a time made them great for long, harsh winters. Nuts are also rich in fat and protein, which make them filling and nourishing. And their versatility means you can eat them right out of the shell, press them for oil, or mash them to make nut butter.

Nuts have been a popular food for thousands of years.

Types of Nuts

Types of Nuts

Whether you enjoy nuts straight out of their shells, as part of your favorite recipes, or smeared on bread as nut butter, these tasty treats work much harder for you than you might realize. It’s time to crack the case and find out what makes nuts so great.

Nuts are packed with muscle-building protein and essential vitamins and minerals. Maybe you’ve been avoiding these tasty treats because you’ve heard they are high in fat. That’s true, but the fats they harbor are the good-for-you mono- and polyunsaturated kinds. They also contain essential, heart-helping omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, because they are plant foods, nuts do not contain the cholesterol found in animal sources of protein.

Classifications of Nuts

When it comes to the classifications of nuts, nuts have a bit of an identity crisis. Botanically, a nut is a fruit, but botanists will tell you that some of what are labeled “nuts” on your grocer’s shelf are misidentified. They aren’t true nuts in the scientific sense. Many of the nuts in your local market are considered seeds or kernels, and some nuts don’t fall into either category. For example, peanuts are considered legumes, like peas.

However, if you ask chefs or registered dietitians, they would tell you not to be so picky. To them, taste, texture, and nutritional content matter much more than the intricacies of scientific classification.

Botanical Nuts and Bolts

Because true nuts are scientifically categorized as tree fruits, that puts walnuts in the same category as apples. The two fruits differ in the way their outer casing, or ovary, ripens. With a nut, the ovary hardens as it ripens and becomes a shell. Inside the shell, the fruit’s seed, or kernel, develops. With certain types of nuts, that seed becomes an edible treasure. (With other fruits, the ovary develops into a more delicate skin that protects the soft flesh.) Although nuts contain seeds, most seeds are not, from a botanical standpoint, true nuts. Most of the “nuts” you eat (except for peanuts) are actually the seeds of tree nuts.

There are many classifications of tree nuts, but most of them don’t have delicacies hidden within their shells. Of the 11 types of nut trees — wingnut, beech, oak, stone oak, alder, birch, hornbeam, walnut, pecan, chestnut, and hazelnut (filbert) — only the last four produce edible seeds. The beauty of a tree nut is that the shell acts as a natural preservative and protects the seed from disease and from the elements.

Nuts about Nuts

Nuts about Nuts

Eating nuts on a regular basis may improve your health in many ways, such as by reducing diabetes and heart disease risk, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This nutritious high-fiber treat may even aid weight loss — despite its high calorie count.

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