Are you wacky for walnuts?
A fiend for filberts?
Crazy for cashews?
Mad for macadamias?
Then I have good news for you: National Nut Day is right around the corner.
While we’ve talked about nuts in an earlier article, in honor of National Nut Day I thought it would be fun to take a quick tour of how the humble nut plays a role in our lives from our diet to our dictionary.
Nuts—Beyond the Table and Into Our Vocabulary
Did you know that…?
- Calling a person “nutty” or “nuts” originally meant they were infatuated or enthusiastic, usually about a specific thing: “She’s nuts for salsa dancing.”
- Later, when people started calling the human head, “the nut”, phrases like “off his nut” entered the language.
- Later still, the phrase “make your nut” came to mean earn enough money to meet financial goals or obligations.
But of course, “nuts” and “nutty” can refer to lots of healthful foods, too.
And that’s what National Nut Day is really for.
Observed on the 22nd of October every year, National Nut Day is a public celebration of all things nutty.
It’s mostly celebrated in the United Kingdom and United States, but the whole world is starting to jump on the bandwagon.
No one seems to know the true history behind the unofficial holiday, but celebrations have been going on for years and more observances sprout up with each holiday.
Nuts in a Nutshell…
A nut is a fruit composed of a hard shell and a seed (which normally is edible). From a botanical standpoint, the shell normally does not open to release the seed (the scientific name for this is indehiscent).
While a wide variety of dried seeds are called nuts, only those that are indehiscent are considered true nuts. Hazelnuts, chestnuts and acorns are all examples of true nuts. Many other nuts are ‘culinary’ rather than ‘true’ nuts in a botanical sense. Good examples of those would be almonds, pecans, cashew, macadamia, pistachios, peanuts, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
The Brazil Connection…
Two of my favorite ‘culinary’ nuts—the cashew and the Brazil nut– are Brazil natives, just like me. (Sorry I just couldn’t resist!)
The word ‘cashew’ is actually derived from the Portuguese word for the cashew tree caju and means the ‘nut that produces itself’.
The fruit of the cashew tree is a ‘boxing-glove shaped drupe that grows at the end of the cashew apple. Within the fruit is a single seed—the cashew nut. In other words the cashew is actually A SEED!
While the cashew nut is native to Brazil, it was exported by the Portuguese to Goa, India in the mid-16th century and then it
spread worldwide. But despite its global journeys, the cashew is still a real Brazilian favorite; in Brazil we still eat and drink the juice of the cashew apple A LOT.
Finally, the largest cashew tree in the world covers an area of about 7500 square meters (81,000 square feet) and is located in Brazil.
Just like the cashew, the Brazil nut—the nut that bears the country’s name—is also A SEED (rather than a true nut. To be precise, the Brazil nut is a ‘capsule’ with more than a dozen seeds inside it.
A Few Kernels of Nutty Trivia
Here are some fun (and rather surprising) pieces of trivia about various types of nuts:
- Pistachios are a fruit; they have more in common with kale than fruits or nuts. They get their green color from all the antioxidants packed inside.
- Peanuts are a legume, not a nut. They’re more closely related to beans and peas than nuts.
- Arachibutyrophobia is a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.
- Macadamia nuts boast the hardest shell of any nut—it takes 300 PSI of pressure to crack one open! Also, the macadamia nut is not picked; they’re harvested from the ground after they fall off the tree.
- Cashews link to poison ivy. Ever wonder why you never see cashews in the shell? As we discussed above, cashews are actually seeds (versus ‘true’ botanical nuts). The cashew tree comes from the same plant family as poison ivy and poison sumac; their itchy oil, which is primarily contained in the shell, is toxic to humans.
- Walnuts are the oldest known tree food, dating all the way back to 10,000 BC.
- The expression “from soup to nuts” comes from 18th century England when soup was the first course of a formal meal and nuts were eaten for dessert.
Why We’re Nuts About National Nut Day
Simply put, nuts are good for you.
A diet that includes nuts can dramatically reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease and many cancers,
including pancreatic, liver and breast cancer. Walnuts are particularly beneficial, which is why they’re considered the Superstar Nut.
Nuts are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Nuts also have a high satiety value, which means a small amount of nuts can make you feel fuller than large amounts of other foods.
But a Little Goes a Long Way
It should probably be stressed that nuts are a high calorie density food. This means ‘a little goes a long way’. If you are watching your weight, you should be quite careful about the quantity of nuts you eat.
The ways to celebrate are virtually unlimited, but we’ll get you started with a few of our own ideas:
- Eat nuts, of course. Treat yourself to your favorite gourmet nut.
- Make some butter. Almonds, pecans, cashews and hazel nuts make excellent butters to spread on muffins and breads or even raw vegetables.
- Bake some nut bread. Great for sharing, nutty breads are delicious and nutritious.
And finally, Sunday is recipe-sharing day, so why not whip up a batch of these delicious Nummy Brownie Bites and celebrate in style?
From our diet to our diction, the noble nut—with its rich nutritional value and quirky contribution to our vocabulary—is here to stay.