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GO NUTS

In the midst of the holidays, nuts are one of the most popular party snacks and many of those nuts are grown right here in California.  Some of the most popular nuts include almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and pistachios.

All of the commercially grown almonds in the United States are grown in California in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.  Almonds are California’s largest tree nut crop and are also the top agricultural export with 70% of the crop being sold to Spain, Germany, Japan and India.

Bees are very important because the almond tree is not self-pollinating.  Bees are brought from 49 states to the orchards to carry pollen between alternating rows of almond varieties during the bloom phase in late February or early March. If the weather is stormy or cold during the critical bloom stage the bees won’t pollinate and the crop size will be reduced. For optimal cross-pollination and crop development, an orchard must have more than one variety of almond tree and most orchards have three.

All nuts are covered in a green protective hull. When the nut has matured the hull will split open exposing the shell of the nut which is a sign that it is the optimal time to harvest. Inside the hull is the shell and inside the shell is the nut or seed.

Almond harvest occurs mid-August through October. There are over 30 types of almonds, but 10 varieties comprise the majority of almonds produced in California.  Nonpareil is the largest single variety. Prior to harvest nut growers need to prepare the orchard by leveling and clearing any debris from the orchard floor. This provides a smooth clear surface when the nuts are shaken from the trees by mechanical tree shakers.  The machine grabs the tree and then vigorously shakes the nuts out of the tree.  Almonds need to stay on the ground for another 8-10 days to dry out their shell and hull. Then they are swept into rows and picked up by a machine which can sort out all the branches and leaves from the nuts.

California Almonds are cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat.  Research now shows that they may also help maintain a healthy heart.

Walnuts are another nut that is grown almost completely in California.  99% of the commercial supply in the United States is grown in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and the remaining 1% in Oregon. California exports 75% of their walnut crop.

There are two main kinds of walnuts. English Walnuts are native to Persia and have a thin shell and nearly all commercial varieties grown are hybrids of the English Walnut. Black Walnuts are native to eastern North America and because of their hard shell they are not grown commercially

Harvest time starts in the central valley in September and October in Sacramento.  Mechanical tree shakers are also used to shake the walnuts onto the ground where they are swept into rows and then picked up by a machine. Check out this cool 2 minute video showing you how it’s done.

http://www.walnuts.org/about-walnuts/growing-and-processing/

Walnuts are rich in omega 6 fatty acids, high in Vitamin E and a rich source of minerals like manganese, copper, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Walnut oil has a flavorful nutty aroma and is used in cooking and for massage therapy, aromatherapy, and in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry. It can also be used on your skin to protect from dryness.

Pecans are the only native nut in the United States. Georgia is largest producer followed by Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, California, Arizona, South Carolina and Hawaii.

Pecan varieties are called native, seedling or hybrid. Native pecans developed under natural conditions, usually wild along river bottom areas. Seedling pecans are of the same parentage but produced from seed(nut) and have not been budded or grafted. Hybrid varieties have been genetically altered through breeding and grafting.

Pecans are typically harvested around mid-October. You can tell when they are ready to harvest when the hulls start to split and they start to fall to the ground. Smaller growers will wait until they fall off the tree and larger growers will use a mechanical shaker.

Pecans are a good source of protein and unsaturated fats. They only have half the rich omega 6 fatty acids as walnuts but they can double the cholesterol-lowering effectiveness of a traditional heart-healthy diet. Did you know Earl’s favorite pie is pecan pie?

Hazelnuts have consistently been an important staple in the diet of man since prehistoric times. Turkey is the largest producer in the world with 75% of the worldwide production. In the U.S. they are commercially grown in Oregon and Washington.

There are many varieties but the most popular in the U.S. is the Filbert.  Most commercial growers wait until the nuts drop on their own rather than use mechanical equipment to shake them from a tree.

Hazelnuts are rich in protein and unsaturated fat and particularly high in two minerals: manganese and copper. Consuming just 1.5 ounces of hazelnuts per day may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the USDA. The seed has a thin dark brown skin which has a bitter flavor and is sometimes removed before cooking.  Hazelnuts are used in pastries, paste such as Nutella and even the vodka based liqueur Frangelico.

Pistachios are one of the oldest flowering fruit, at least 9000 years. They began to be commercially grown in the United States in 1976 and now are primarily grown in California, New Mexico and Arizona. Almost all of California’s pistachios are grown in the southern San Joaquin Valley in Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties with a small amount in Paso Robles and Sacramento Valley.

Pistachios are harvested starting in early September through October depending on the area they are grown.  The trees are shaken with a mechanical shaker onto tarps, instead of the orchard floor, like the other nuts we just discussed. They are collected on the tarps to be dried and de-hulled and no human hands will touch them during harvest because any hand oil would stain the shells.

Pistachios are a cholesterol free snack, a one oz serving of pistachios has as much potassium as an orange and pistachios contain more than 10% of the daily value of dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals like B6, thiamin, copper and phosphorous. Earl’s just got a shipment of delicious roasted and salted pistachios from Nurses Pistachio Orchards in Paso Robles. Click here to read the full story about NPO.

Earl’s Organic carries a variety of nuts including almonds, walnuts and pistachios, perfect for that holiday party!

 

Sources:

www.almondboard.com

www.walnuts.org

http://californiapecangrowers.org

http://www.oregonhazelnuts.org

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