Nuts about nuts? Who isn’t! They are delicious and versatile — raw or roasted, right out of the bag, as a coating for fish, a salad and hot vegetable topper, swirled in oatmeal to help stabilize blood sugar throughout the morning, in creamy yogurt or on a decadent ice cream sundae, or mixed with dried fruit to fuel us out on the trail (come on, just one more mile!). So celebrate one of nature’s most perfect foods on October 22—National Nut Day!
Health Benefit of Nuts
And our nod to nuts is really no wonder. With their unparalleled crunch and flavor, the tiny, significant superfood packs a prolific punch with fiber, protein, blood pressure-reducing (among other things) flavonoids, iron (cashews contain more per gram than rump steak), folate, calcium, selenium, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, manganese and more, depending on the variety of nut. Their high oil content puts nuts at the top of the energy food chain (as much for wildlife as for humans), and some studies have shown that people who make nuts a regular part of their diet are less likely to experience coronary artery disease because they are rich in monounsaturated fats. Nuts also have a low glycemic index, making them a recommended snack for people with insulin resistance, as in diabetes, and consuming them regularly is also shown to help lower LDL (so-called “bad” cholesterol).
According to the Mayo Clinic, “eating nuts may reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of your arteries.”
And people who replace sugary, salty or fatty “empty calorie” snacks with (preferably raw) cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc. report feeling fuller longer, as nuts’ protein content maintains proper blood sugar levels.
Nut History and Trivia
- Did you know that Mr. Peanut was invented for a Planters Peanuts logo contest in 1916 by a 13-year-old boy? He won $5, and artists reportedly added the famous monocle, top hat, gloves, and cane.
- It takes approximately 550 peanuts to make a single 12-ounce jar of peanut butter.
- According to anthropologists, nuts like wild almonds, water chestnuts, acorns, and pistachios were a staple of the human diet 780,000 years ago, and unearthed nut-cracking tools fashioned from stone date back to the Pleistocene period.
- Native Americans ate nuts whole or ground them with what was essentially an early mortar and pestle for flour and nut butter. It’s reported that after eating nuts, their shells were resourcefully collected as fuel for fires.
- Ancient Romans used walnuts to thicken foods the way we use cornstarch today (hmmm – a healthier idea?!), and were brought to California by 18th century Spanish Franciscans. Today, California produces much of the global walnut supply.
- Fan of marzipan? The sweet candy paste made from ground almonds was brought back from the Holy Lands by crusaders in the 11th and 13th centuries.
Had enough (history, that is!)? For those of us who can never have enough of the noble nut, our search for novel ways to use them can result in souped-up spreads and main dishes like the ones below. You don’t have to wait for Nut Day to give these delicious recipes a try!
Easy Maple Raisin and Walnut Tofu Spread
12 ounces firm silken tofu 6 tablespoons almond butter 3 tablespoons maple syrup 3 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts 3 tablespoons chopped raisins
Unpack tofu and blot with paper towels or clean cloth to remove excess moisture. Place tofu, almond butter, vanilla, and cinnamon in a food processor and blend until smooth. (This can also be done by hand using a pastry blender or other mashing tool.) Transfer to a bowl and stir in the walnuts and raisins. Serve on toasted bagels or crackers. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Nut-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Thyme
4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tendons removed, trimmed
1 cup almonds, chopped coarsely
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Zested lemon cut into wedges
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Using fork, poke thickest half of breasts 5 or 6 times and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer breasts to prepared wire rack and refrigerate, uncovered, while preparing coating.
Pulse almonds in food processor until they resemble coarse meal, about 20 pulses. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until butter is browned and releases nutty aroma, 4 to 5 minutes. Add shallot and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add bread crumbs and ground almonds and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer panko mixture to shallow dish or pie plate and stir in lemon zest, thyme, and cayenne. Place flour in second dish.
Lightly beat eggs, mustard, and pepper together in third dish.
Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Working with 1 breast at a time, dredge in flour, shaking off excess, then coat with egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat all sides of breast with panko mixture, pressing gently so that crumbs adhere. Return breaded breasts to wire rack.
Bake until chicken registers 160 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.
Note: This recipe is best with almonds, but works well with any type of nut.
If using table salt, reduce salt amounts by half.
What’s your favorite nut? Tell us in the comments below!