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Botanical Facts About 8 Different Nuts

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Photo:Iain Buchanan/Flickr/Creative Commons License


A segment for KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected" was produced in tandem with this story. Watch it here now.How well do you know these common nuts? Do you know which nut is actually a legume? Or which nut grows on trees that can live to be 300 years old? Read on for some nut trivia that will impress even your nuttiest friends.

Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, have been harvested from wild trees since prehistoric times. The late Roman cookbook of Apicius called for hazelnuts in sauce recipes for boar and birds. About three-quarters of the world's hazelnut harvest comes from the Black Sea region of Turkey, where the trees grow on steep slopes along the coastline. One quarter of the total global supply goes to making Nutella. In the United States, hazelnut production is concentrated in Oregon. Most commercial growers wait for the nuts to drop naturally from the trees during mid to late autumn.

Botanically speaking, peanuts are not nuts. They are legumes, and they grow beneath the soil in a fantastic display of plant wizardry. Once the yellow flowers are pollinated, the petals fall away and the stems drop down to the ground. They force their way into the earth while tiny nuts begin to form at the tip of the burrowing stems. In the 20th century, an agricultural scientist named George Washington Carver encouraged farmers in the southern United States to pull out their plots of weevil-ravaged cotton and replace them with peanuts. The plants thrived in the humid climate, and today the majority of the U.S. peanut crop is grown in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. China and India are by far the top peanut producers in the world, though most Asian peanuts are crushed for their oil whereas most American peanuts are eaten fresh or made into peanut butter.

Loading In case you ever wondered how tree nuts are harvested! #almonds #nuts #farms #farmlife #harvest #video #kerncounty #shakers View on Instagram

Though almonds are native to the Middle East and western Asia, the United States produces more than three-quarters of the world's almond supply, and nearly all of it is farmed in California. Almonds are the state's number one agricultural export, valued at $2.5 billion last year according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If you've ever driven along I-5 during late spring, you will have seen the almond trees in bloom with their showy pink-white flowers. All these blossoms must be pollinated; close to one million beehives are trucked in from around the country. By the end of summer, the trees develop green, plum-like fruits that crack open at maturity to reveal the nut inside. Modern machines appropriately named shakers grasp the trunks of the almond trees and shake until the nuts fall (as seen in the video above!).Walnut
Walnuts are native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, where nut-bearing trees have grown since ancient times. Today, China produces more walnuts than any other country, but California leads the way among American states, growing ninety-nine percent of our domestic crop. The most widely cultivated species of walnut is the Persian (also confusingly called the English) walnut. There's no better time to enjoy walnuts than autumn, when they are freshly harvested.

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The pistachio tree (Pistachio vera), native to arid western Asia, is a member of the Anacardiaceae family, making it a close relative of mango, cashew, and poison ivy. Traditionally, pistachios were harvested by hand and left to sun-dry within the purple-red hull that surrounds the kernel. This practice resulted in some staining of the pistachio shell and importers used to dye the nuts red or green in order to disguise the stains. Today most pistachios grown in California (ninety-eight percent of the U.S. crop) are harvested with machines and hulled before drying, so the shells remain a natural beige color. Above, pistachios still on the tree.Pine nut
Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees. While all pine trees produce pine nuts, less than two dozen species produce nuts that are large enough to be worth the trouble of harvesting. It takes three years for the seeds to mature on the underside of the pinecone scales. The cones are picked, dried in the sun for weeks, and then smashed to release the nuts, which are surrounded by yet another shell that must be removed. The most widely cultivated species are the Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea), the Korean or Chinese pine (P. koraiensis), and the southwestern U.S. piñon pines (P. monophylla and P. edulis). Pine nuts are notable for having one of the highest protein contents by weight among all nuts and seeds.

Native to the Mississippi River Valley, pecan trees can grow as large as 130 feet tall with trunks as thick in diameter as six feet. Wild pecans were well known among Native Americans and early colonial Americans, but commercial pecan production did not begin until the late 19th century. Today, the U.S. is responsible for more than eighty percent of the global crop and about half of that is grown in Georgia. A single pecan tree can grow and bear nuts for more than 300 years.Cashew
The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is native to the Amazon basin of South America. During the second half of the 16th century, Portuguese sailors carried cashew trees to India and East Africa, where the majority of the world's cashews are now produced. In some parts of the world, cashew nuts themselves are less valuable than so-called cashew apples, the soft, kidney-shaped fruit that grows between the nut and the tree. Cashew apples (better known throughout Central America as marañón) are juicy and taste sweet, if slightly astringent. Their fragile skin makes them unsuitable for long-distance shipping, so they are mostly enjoyed locally, eaten fresh or made into juice that is fermented into an alcoholic drink. Pepsi has taken a recent interest in the cashew apple and is planning to start adding the juice into mixed fruit drinks next year.

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