Nuts Reclaiming Status as Health Food

With the emphasis on nutraceutical value carrying more weight than simple caloric content, nuts are reclaiming their rightful place as a health food.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

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Out of the Shell

Manufacturers dedicated to building stronger health-oriented lines are finding nuts can be an effective part of the development and marketing process. "The Planters NUT-rition line is an example of our commitment to providing people with snacks that focus on specific nutritional benefits to meet their individual nutrition needs," says Heath Osburn, brand director for the Planters Nuts division of Kraft Foods Inc. "This new line of snack nuts provides people with a wide variety of snack choices to meet their particular lifestyle needs."

The popularity of nuts for health is also leading to increasingly creative uses for them in products. While the snack arena is still strong, products such as Salad Buddies, by Fisher Nuts, a division of John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill. Salad Buddies are a line of unflavored, unsalted nuts to sprinkle on salads, toss into pastas, top casseroles or to add flavor and crunch to a favorite dish.

Nuts are carving out a niche in the beverage aisle, too. The Almond Breeze line from the Blue Diamond cooperative in Sacramento, Calif., (www.bluediamond.com) includes several flavors of the nondairy beverage milk alternative. Pacific Natural Foods, Tulatin, Ore, added a hazelnut-based milk alternative to its line of beverges from nuts, soy and grains.

One issue of concern for processors is the perishability of nuts. The oils in both tree nuts and peanuts can turn rancid, resulting in a strong off flavor in the formulation. This is easy to avoid. First, there's the basics. "Use nuts from fresh crop rather than old stocks from the previous year," says Dalip K. Nayyar, Ph.D., principal scientist for Kraft Foods Inc., Glenview, Ill. "Then, while products with nuts are waiting as raw material to be put into retail product packages, keep relative humidity at 35 percent or below) and temperatures to around 35 to 40˚F."

The same applies along the processing chain. "When mixing nuts with other ingredients, be mindful of moisture migration issues," adds Nayyar, who also recommends keeping nuts in an oxygen-free environment as much as possible. "The packaging is also crucial. Use a proper barrier film to avoid moisture and oxygen pick-up and employ nitrogen flush in the packages, if possible, to further eliminate threat of rancidity."

Find Out More About Nuts

Almond Board of California, Modesto, Calif. (www.almondsarein.com/manufacturing)
California Pistachio Commission, Fresno, Calif. (www.pistachios.org)
Hazelnut Council, Jersey City, N.J. (www.hazelnutcouncil.org)
Planter's Nuts (www.nutnutrition.com)
Texas Pecan Growers Association, Bryan, Texas (www.tpga.org)
Walnut Marketing Board, Sacramento, Calif. (www.walnuts.org)

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