The bare bones of the plants we eat

Nuts & Seeds

What are commonly called nuts (from an Indo European root meaning “compressed”) come from several different plant families. They are generally large seeds enclosed in hard shells, and are borne on long-lived trees. We commonly call any seed that we eat raw or toasted a “nut”, even though botanically it may not be a true nut. Strictly speaking, nuts are a particular kind of dry fruit that has a single seed enclosed in a hard shell, and a husk-like outer covering. Chestnuts, hazelnuts (filberts), pecans and walnuts are nuts both botanically and in the vernacular. Peanuts and almonds are not. Peanuts are seeds borne in a pod of a species of the bean family and almonds are related to plums.

The kernels of most nuts provide a concentrated nutritious food containing vitamins, minerals and enzymes, about 50% fat and 10-20% protein, although a few like the chestnuts are high in carbohydrates and have only a moderate protein content of 5%. Because nuts generally have a high oil content, they are a highly prized food and energy source.

A large number of seeds are edible and used in cooking, eaten raw, sprouted, or roasted as a snack food or pressed for oil. They require little or no cooking to be edible and nourishing. Apart from pure fats and oils they are the richest foods we eat. Commercially prepared nuts are often roasted, salted with special flake-shaped particles that have more of a surface to stick to the nut, then coated with a layer of oil or a protein-emulsifier blend to help retain the salt.

Seeds have several features that make them good sources of food for humans. First they tend to be highly caloric because they contain comparatively large amounts of fats or starches that provide energy to the germinating embryo. Seeds are often produced in large quantities particularly in annual plants that can be harvested readily by humans. Seeds are packed with vitamins and minerals as well as beneficial oils and protein. They can be used in huge array of sweet and savoury dishes and will add an instant healthy boost, a pleasant crunch, and nutty flavour when added to rice, pasta dishes, salads, stir-fries, soups and yogurt.