Going Nuts for Nut Ingredients

Nuts are breaking out of their shells as a premium treat and gaining deserved recognition as a viable ingredient for many food and beverage formulations.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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Peanut butter may be America's favorite nut butter, but alternatives from almonds, cashews and other nuts are making inroads in the market.

 

"Almonds not only are being consumed at record levels here in the U.S., more than 1 pound per capita almonds have become the number one agricultural export from California," adds Wagaman. "Reasons for the growth in almond use are many, chief among them the growing awareness of their healthful contribution to our daily diet." Growers in California are planting thousands of new acres of almond trees to keep up with demand.

High on the possibility

Described as "one of the healthiest, hottest and most controversial ingredients to hit the market" hemp seeds have joined the healthy parade of choices for getting good fats into the diet. In 2001, The French Meadow Bakery (www.frenchmeadow.com), Minneapolis, introduced its healthy hemp bread line, which features shelled hemp seeds, flax and pumpkin seeds; three rich plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Hemp seeds have a healthy balance of both omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, too. Plus they contain a high percentage (up to 31 percent by weight) of high-quality protein. What they don't have is tetrahydocannabinol (THC), the phychoactive substance that gives marijuana its reputation.

"Although hemp suffers from a 'mistaken identity,' it's not a drug, nor will it get you high," says Lynn Gordon, president and founder of French Meadow. This year, French Meadow will introduce a line of Healthy Hemp bagels with the same fiber and essential fatty acid-rich formula as its Healthy Hemp bread. Meanwhile, Living Harvest Inc. (www.livingharvest.com), Portland, Ore., keeps expanding its line of hemp-based products, all kosher- , non-GMO and organic-certified.

Out of the shell

Nuts are a healthy and satisfying addition to any diet unless you have a specific allergy to them. About 90 percent of all food allergies arise from eight sources: milk, fish, shellfish, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, and peanuts. And for some, nuts can offer relief from one or another of these allergies. For those who are allergic to milk or are lactose (milk sugar) intolerant, nut "milks" offer a tasty vegetarian alternative.

 

Nut milks are becoming an alternative to the alternative, displacing soy milk for some people who cannot consumer cow's milk.

 

Blue Diamond's Almond Breeze brand of beverages fits perfectly this important niche. Pacific Natural Foods (www.pacificfoods.com), Tualatin, Ore., offers milks from both almonds and hazelnuts. Each of these milks has a distinctive nutty flavor and is free of wheat, gluten, casein (milk protein). Soymilks have become popular alternatives to milk, but many are allergic to soy, and others simply prefer a different taste. Nut milks are becoming a popular alternative to the alternative.

As processors consider walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts (and the legumes and seeds that fall under the same ingredient umbrella) as solutions to add bulk, flavor and health to food and beverage formulations, marketers can take advantage of the overwhelmingly positive reputation nuts have with consumers. Perceived negatives, such as high caloric content, have thankfully fallen by the wayside thanks to more complete research on human nutrition.

The image of nuts has gone from high-fat food to protective, "healthy fat" food, and from being a specialty ingredient item to daily staples. With more nutrition research in the works, especially regarding nuts and weight control, the future indeed looks nutty.

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