Interested in linking to "Say nuts to illness, excess carbs"?
You may use the Headline, Deck, Byline and URL of this article on your Web site. To link to this article, select and copy the HTML code below and paste it on your own Web site.
Nuts are ingredients, snacks, food and the source of additional ingredients and other useful compounds. As a component in finished foods, they provide crunch, bursts of flavor and other pleasing attributes in baked foods, confections, and now in salads, coatings for meat dishes and other applications.
There's a fair amount of technology behind nuts these days. They are generally orchard-raised crops and, like all crops, have considerable science behind the steps of planting, harvesting and processing. Despite a bevy of recent research, nuts possess only partially understood nutritional qualities. For sure, they are a high-quality and nutritious accompaniment or ingredient in foods, and they help differentiate a high-end product from a plain one.
If you still think nuts naturally fall off trees, are whacked with a hammer to open and their nutmeats are pried out with a pick, you're a little behind the times. Nuts are big business. Tree nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, and Brazil nuts, are grown in many countries of the world and are important exports and imports. Each of these nuts has a history and a nutrient content that makes them interesting. Their collective growth covers millions of acres worldwide.
Nuts are usually sorted for size, especially if they are cracked mechanically. After they are dried to the optimum level for cracking, (generally below 10 percent moisture) nuts may be chilled to make it easier to take out the nut meat in larger pieces. They are cracked mechanically, often using a roller cracker adapted from grain mills.
Aspirators and/or blowers often are used to separate the nut meats from the shell, as the heavier nut kernel drops down and the shell fragments are blown away. They are usually further sorted by electronic means to avoid any remaining pieces of shell. For a number of years, acoustic grading located debris in partly shelled nuts. White light sorters have also been used. Today's sorters are most likely to be laser sorters that locate non-nut fragments and "zap" the fragment away.
Nuts also may be color sorted to avoid spoiled nut pieces. Moisture and fat content is checked, and they are sometimes further processed into slices, granules or meal. Nuts also may be toasted or roasted.
Special handling required
Meyer also notes, "We changed the fats we use for roasting, eliminating trans fatty acids, and the nuts actually taste better."
Nuts include meaningful quantities of monounsaturated lipids that are good for the heart , but often not so good for mixed food systems, flavorwise, so they require a little special handling. Manufacturers recommend nuts be stored in a closed container in a cool, dark, place, such as a refrigerated storage room. American Almond Co. recommends storing nuts in poly-lined cartons or fiber drums and using them within 30 days.
Candy, baked goods and ice cream products are major users of tree nuts. Ice cream is a tricky application and requires "protecting" the nuts from the moisture of the ice cream, according to Richard Hauber, a creator of ice cream inclusions for Guernsey Bel, a Chicago-based division of Kerry Group (www.kerryingredients.com). "Protecting nuts in ice creams and desserts is usually a process of coating them with sugars to keep the moisture out," he explains.
To make nutty inclusions, Hauber triple-pans nut meats with sugar, caramel, toffee fines, and/or chocolate coating. "Toffee fines will pick up a little moisture from the ice cream, creating a puddle of intense flavor around the pecan, cashew, or walnut, and protects the lipid in the nut. The cold temperature of the ice cream keeps the lipid from going rancid, as long as it's protected from moisture."
Tom Treese, a confectioner and baker and now consultant to food companies, notes the unsaturated fats that make nuts a prized part of diets can be a problem in confections, cookies, and health bars that must have a certain amount of shelf life. Treese likes to use almonds in longer-term shelf-life products because they have the best stability against rancidity.
The best way to formulate with nuts, especially if the cookies or bars need more than six to eight weeks shelf life, is to package them in film that is treated with antioxidants, especially tertiary-butyl-hydroquinone (TBHQ), or to nitrogen-flush the package. When dealing with nuts in products that are more sensitive, Treese suggests nuts that are treated with infrared rays to quickly raise the temperature enough to destroy enzymes that trigger rancidity.
"The temperatures vary from one kind of nut to another," says Treese. "You can treat them with an infrared unit or place them in a mixer-blender and inject steam to reach the temperature necessary to stop enzyme activity. If you are going to use nuts in foods, you have to be careful what fats you use in the formulation. Nuts are not as forgiving as other ingredients. You have to watch moisture levels, water activity and fats."
FoodProcessing.com is the go-to information source for the food and beverage industry. We offer processing best practices as well as new products, equipment and ingredients for food and beverage processors.