Nuts are constantly touted as a healthy snack. However, there are so many different types of nuts, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes time to cook with them.
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First thing’s first: Botanically speaking, nuts are a complicated food group. They don’t always mean what they say or say what they mean. For example, a peanut isn’t a nut at all but rather a legume because it grows in a pod underground versus on a tree.
Cashews, on the other hand, do grow on trees just as traditional tree nuts do, but they are technically considered a seed. Reason being: Cashews as we know them grow attached to a fruit that’s called a cashew apple. Think of peaches. The pit is a seed because it’s an accessory to what the tree considers it’s real prize — the fruit.
Then comes the issue of raw nuts versus roasted nuts. Both have similar nutrient content. Raw nuts or dry roasted nuts are generally assumed to be healthier than wet roasted nuts due to the additional oil. However, some research shows that it minimally impacts the fat content, though you run more risk for oxidation because you’re heating oil [source].
Now that we’ve established the nuts are tricky little things, ready to learn more about each one?
Almonds are seeds that come from the almond tree. They’re hard but sweet, and they’re used to create almond milk, almond oil, and even almond flour. You might chop them up in salads. Try adding sliced almonds to vegetable sides like this green bean dish. You can also candy almonds and use them to make crust or breading.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (143 g): 30g protein, 71g fat, 30g carbohydrates, 17g fiber, 6g sugar, 1048mg potassium, 1mg sodium.
These look similar to macadamia nuts. You may have eaten them on a cheese and charcuterie board or eaten them roasted with seasoning. Their sweetness makes them a delicious snack.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (144g): 24g protein, 88g fat, 24g carbohydrates, 16g fiber, 12g sugar, 560mg sodium.
Brazil nuts (which are seeds that come from the aptly named brazil nut tree) originate in the rainforest and have a buttery flavor. They are high in fat, but it’s the good kind. They’re most often blanched or eaten raw.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (120g): 16g protein, 80g fat, 16 g carbohydrates, 8g fiber, 4g sugar, 0mg sodium.
Their buttery and salty taste makes it hard to stop popping cashews. They are often made into cashew milk and nut butter. Beyond snacking, cashews can also be added as a garnish in stir-fries, and I like to use them in homemade granola bars.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (112g): 20g protein, 52g fat, 32g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 4g sugar, 344mg sodium.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” isn’t just a song lyric. People love to roast and eat them. Just don’t eat the shell or skin. They have a spongy, soft texture once cooked (mostly when you boil them). They taste more grainy than nutty and are often compared to the taste of sweet potatoes. Once cooked, they are also buttery and soft like a potato.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (150g): 2.45g protein, 1.88g fat, 66g carbohydrates, 3mg sodium, 727mg potassium, 45mg magnesium, 60mg vitamin C.
Coconuts conjure up images is summertime, but once the “meat” is dried, there’s so much you can do with coconuts. You can buy coconut in flakes, desiccated, or shredded, and it comes both sweetened and unsweetened. Add it to salads, oatmeal, crusts, and baked goods.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (93g, dried and shredded): 2.68g protein, 33g fat, 44g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 40g sugar, 244mg sodium, 313mg potassium.
Probably best known as a part of the tasty twosome that makes Nutella or Gianduja so delicious, hazelnuts are small, round, and sweet. Like almonds and cashews, you can also ground hazelnuts to use in seafood crusts and baked goods. They’re crunchy and have a thin brown skin that flakes off when cooked.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (135mg): 20g protein, 82g fat, 22g carbohydrates, 13g fiber, 6g sugar, 0g sodium, 918g potassium.
Although most known for their role in sugary cookies, brownies, and other desserts, macadamia nuts are high in healthy fat. You can also add them to salads and puree them into soups. Additionally, turn them into nut butter as a great baking substitute for traditional butter.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (134g): 10g protein, 101g fat, 18g carbohydrates, 11g fiber, 6g sugar, 7mg sodium, 492mg potassium.
As one of the lesser-known types of nuts, you might not recognize them right away. They resemble the teardrop shape of almonds but may be smaller. Taste-wise, they’re most like sunflower seeds or pine nuts. Their lighter notes lend them well to salads and garnishing. Try lightly toasting them and snacking away.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (120g): 12g protein, 95g fat, 4.78g carbohydrates, 4mg sodium, 608mg potassium, 690mg phosphorus.
Despite not being a nut at all, they’re technically a legume. Peanuts are often used in snack mixes with other nuts, and of course, peanut butter. They are also used in Asian cuisine and stir-fries to add crunch and texture. Since they’re sweet, they’re also great in baked goods (for example, try this salted dark chocolate tart).
Nutritional profile: Per cup (146g): 37g protein, 71g fat, 6.89g sugar, 26mg sodium, 1029mg potassium, 245mg magnesium.
Pecans are funnier looking than some nuts, being large and crinkled, but their sweetness makes a great baking partner (especially on these sticky buns). Glaze or toast them as their own sweet snack. Add them to leafy greens salads or chicken salad.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (99g, halves): 9g protein, 71g fat, 13g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 4g sugar, 0g sodium, 406mg potassium.
Possibly the smallest nut on this list, pine nuts are perfect for toasting and adding to salads. It brings out their light, sweet flavor. They are light in color and have a soft, oily texture. And we can’t forget, pine nuts are a vital ingredient when making your own pesto.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (135g): 18g protein, 92g fat, 17g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 4.85g sugar, 339mh potassium, 805mg potassium, 3mg sodium, 339mg magnesium.
As one of the more rich-tasting nuts, pistachios make a great crust for seafood but lend themselves equally well to desserts (ehm, pistachio ice cream anyone?). They are green underneath their light brown shells, which aren’t meant to be eaten.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (123g): 24.80g protein, 55g fat, 33g carbohydrates, 13g fiber, 9g sugar, 603mg phosphorus, 1mg sodium, 1261mg potassium.
Here’s another lesser-known type of nut. They are small and wrinkly looking, like a chickpea with more texture. They sometimes look like corn-puffed cereal. They taste earthy with slight sweetness, and they’re chewier than you might expect after snacking on other more well-known nuts. You can eat them straight as a snack, or add to salads and oatmeal.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (159g): 10.61g protein, 37g fat, 100g carbohydrates, 52g fiber, 47g sugar, 0mg sodium, 1140g potassium, 159mg calcium.
Walnuts look like small pieces of peanut brittle at a distance, kind of wild and misshaped. They are soft with some crunch. You can use them to replace pine nuts in pesto, use them in Asian dishes like this kung pao chicken, or chop them and add to salads and slaws.
Nutritional profile: Per cup (120g): 20g protein, 80g fat, 16g carbohydrates, 12g fiber, 0g sodium, 80mg calcium.
Storing nuts in airtight containers is the way to go. Nuts will last about twice as long when stored with shells on (about 6 months versus 3 months in the fridge or 1 month in your pantry). And yes, you read that right. Nuts won’t last as long at room temperature, so many experts suggest storing them in the fridge to limit heat and light exposure. The more oily the nut, the more likely it is to go rancid at room temp.
How to cook with nuts
You can toast nuts to bring out their sweetness before using them in most dishes. You can also process nuts into fine flour-like substance and bake with it. You can puree nuts into pesto or other sauces and soups.
Health benefits of nuts
When eaten in moderation, they have plenty of health benefits. They’re linked not only to a decreased risk of heart disease but to living longer in general. More on that here.