Aww Nuts!

By: Carl Haakenstad, Bulk Buyer

hen you think of Oneota’s Bulk department which items come to mind? Bulk oats or flour perhaps? Bulk dried fruit like the ever popular organic raisins? Or maybe bulk granola?

I’ll bet some of you first think of the Bulk department’s many offerings of nuts. We carry a wide selection of both raw and roasted nuts here at Oneota and there is a good reason for that: they are a delicious, healthy food.

For many years nuts were thought of as an unhealthy food because they are high in fat, but that viewpoint is now seen as outdated. It is true that nuts have a lot of fat. However, almost all of that is unsaturated fat, like the fat in olive oil. Most nuts also contain omega-3 fats, the same healthy fats found in fish and flax seeds. Nuts also contain other heart-healthy nutrients like dietary fiber, Vitamin E, and plant sterols. The exact nutritional profile will vary among different nut varieties, but they all contain healthy fats and lots of protein. Even peanuts, which are not true nuts, are a good source of unsaturated fat, protein, and some important vitamins and minerals. That is why nuts are an important part of the high-fat and heart healthy “Mediterranean diet.”

So remember, just because nuts are high in fat doesn’t mean they are unhealthy. Also, for those of you who want to avoid extra salt in your diet, we have plenty of raw nuts and roasted almonds, cashews, and peanuts that still have plenty of great flavor without the salt.

Nuts are also a great snack because they are filling. Nuts are nutrient dense with their healthy oils and protein, and a little bit goes a long way. This summer when the heat and humidity were at their worst, and I didn’t even want to look at my stove, I would snack on some cashews or peanuts. I was always amazed at how they would satisfy my hunger. The same can be said for nut butters.

Recently, Equal Exchange Co-op started selling organic, fair-trade nuts, and I decided to bring some into the store. The organic raw cashews and the organic tamari-roasted almonds are now fair trade and coming from Equal Exchange. This is especially exciting because I didn’t have to raise the price in order to bring in these fair-trade nuts. In fact, the tamari-roasted almonds actually are less expensive.

The new cashews are coming partly from the Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala in southwest India. The Kerala Co-op is composed of 3,200 small farmers and was setup partly to tackle the problems of farmers’ indebtedness and food security. Through their work the members of the cooperative have set up a disaster relief fund for the farmers and are working on facilities for adding value to the members’ other crops, like peppercorns. Another interesting project they are working on is putting up solar panels to power electric fences that will keep elephants out of their farm fields. Wow. Think about it, here we have to worry about deer eating our crops, but in India you have to work to keep elephants from damaging your crops. Previously, some farmers were mauled by the elephants or they would shoot the elephants. So the electric fence could help prevent damage to both farmers and elephants. To learn more about this agricultural co-op and their many great projects visit their website at: www.ftak.in/about.php and stop by the Bulk department to taste the amazing raw cashews they raise.

Finally, I wanted to give instructions on how to roast nuts at home. Roasted nuts can give a flavor kick to baked goods, salads, pasta dishes, or just plain snacking. Start with raw nuts from the Bulk department and use the following simple instructions.

Roasting Nuts with your home oven
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts in an even layer on a baking sheet. I often use a cake tin for smaller amounts as the higher sides allow me to shake the pan to evenly distribute the nuts.

Coat with oil. If you are roasting the nuts with oil, drizzle a small amount over the nuts and toss to coat evenly. Use as little oil as possible, starting with just a teaspoon or two and remember that this step is optional.

Place in oven and roast for 5 minutes.
Remove after 5 minutes and stir so that the outer nuts are moved towards the middle and the middle nuts towards the edges. If you are using a cake tin, you can gently shake it to redistribute the nuts. Return to the oven.

Check for doneness. Check the nuts again after 3 minutes. You are looking for the color to be a few shades darker. They should start to smell nutty, and you might hear them crackling. Return to the oven if needed and check again after another 3 minutes. If they need longer, give another stir. Nuts rarely take longer than 15 minutes to roast, usually closer to 8 to 12 minutes.
When the nuts are browned and smell nutty, remove from the oven and immediately transfer onto a plate or another baking sheet. Do not cool the nuts on the tray they were baked on or you will risk scorching them.

Roasting Nuts 
on your stovetop
You can also toast nuts on the stovetop. To do this: shake nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until they smell “nutty” or “toasty.” With either method, remember to check them often. When you can smell that wonderful nutty aroma that means they are probably done.
Now go get some raw nuts and try if for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Choco-Walnut Spread 
2 cups lightly toasted walnut halves
1 ½ cups semisweet or dark chocolate chips
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp Oil
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
touch of heavy cream stirred in before serving (optional)

Combine everything in a food processor and whip until smooth (shorter time for a chunkier spread). Transfer to a container with a lid and store at room temperature in a dark place. Use as desired and stir in the cream, if desired, for extra creaminess and easier spreading. I would suggest serving it on Waving Grains European sourdough bread, crackers, or bananas.