almond Brazil nut, cashew, coconut, hazel filbert, macadamia, peanut, pecan, pinenut, pistachio, walnut
Natural Food Guide-Nuts-Part One
The Natural Food Hub -

Tree Seeds Western People Commonly or Occasionally Eat 
almond  brazil  cashew  coconut  hazelnut  macadamia  peanut  pecan  pinenut  pistachio   walnut
These notes are a look at the tree seeds that are commercially available that we Westerners eat, but from a hunter-gatherer evolutionary perspective. It is a 'guided tour', not of the diversity of tree seeds we evolved to eat so much as what tree seeds are we now commercially available to eat.

Nuts are a good protein source, and an excellent fuel because of their fat, and to a lesser degree, carbohydrate, content. People recoil at the mention of the word 'fat', but we have to remember that fat is just a fuel to burn in daily activity. If our energy budget is right, the intake of fats and carbohydrates are burned up in daily activity. It is only when we eat too much of anything that trouble starts. Overlaid on this is 'good fat, bad fat'. Nut fats are good because they are unmodified. Some may have useful contributions of omega-3 , sadly deficient in an industrial diet. Some have high amounts of monosaturates, also useful for regularizing blood lipids and protecting from cardiovascular deterioration. Whole nuts 'burn slow', and help equilibriate appetite, damping down 'calory cravings'. In a natural diet, using nuts as an important part of the food mix, and coupled with exercise, it is possible to lose, not gain, weight. Again, excess calories, from whatever source - sugars, starches,  fat, or oil - over and above your energy expenditure, will be stored as fat. Nuts in themselves are not 'fattening', lack of exercise and overeating any carbohydrate or fat is fattening.

With the exception of coconuts, virtually all nuts are very good sources of the major B vitamins - B1/Thiamine, B2/Riboflavin, and B3/Niacin.

Roasted nuts: a natural diet certainly doesn't mean a raw diet. In the case of nuts, raw uncooked is generally best. If roasted nuts are selected, the important consideration is how they are cooked - for cooking oils, the general principal of this philosophy is to very strongly prefer natural cold pressed unhydrogenated oils over hydrogenated trans fatty acid forms of fat; to prefer monounsaturated and saturated fats over omega-6 polyunsaturated fats; to prefer single use of an oil for cooking, or an oil with antioxidants added to protect it from heat degradation. The cheapest and easiest way to match these preferences is to prefer dry roasting. Again, as a general rule, fresh and uncooked is best, even if  not as tasty.


 The almond (Prunus amygdalus) is a member of the peach family (in fact it is closely related to the peach). The fruit even looks like a small green peach. - the seed (we call it a 'nut') is the 'stone' or 'pit' inside the fleshy but inedible fruit. It is a native of Central Asia, but soon spread west right through to the Mediterranean. The original peoples of Central and Western Asia sought out the highly nutritious seed as part of a diet using all possible local resources-wild ungulates such as aurochs, grass seeds, wild legume seeds, fresh water mussels, crabs, and turtles, and pistachio nuts. Almonds would have been seasonally important for their high calorific value - more valuable than the grasses, and their high calcium content, in particular. In it's ancestral form, the tree protects it's seeds from being eaten by varmints such as humans and other seed eating animals by loading it with bitter and 'hot' tasting chemicals. Our gatherer - hunter ancestors of course had an intimate knowledge of their territory, and that included which almond trees had the 'best'- least bitter - seeds. With the discovery of the productive West Asian/Eurasian grasses, agriculture came into being, and from that, the probable deliberate planting of tree seeds close to settlements. Seeds of the least bitter trees were planted, and over time, the 'sweet' almond that we know today arose.

Almonds are an excellent food; they have been shown to help normalise blood lipids, they 'burn' slow in the body and so are both sustaining and normalising of blood sugar levels, with 20 grams of carbohydrate in a 100 gram serving and 52 grams of fat. Of that 52 grams, 33 grams is in the form of monounsaturated fats, about 10 grams is a polyunsaturated omega - 6 fat, almost half a gram is the desirable omega - 3 polyunsaturated fat, and  about 5 grams are saturated fats. No data is available for the last 4 grams. Almonds have very good amounts of protein (around 20 grams per 100 gram serving), are a good source of calcium at around 260 mg of calcium per 100 grams, are a good source of natural magnesium at 296mg/100gms, and a  good source of niacin (B3) at 3.5mg/100grams. No wonder they are a prized nut in all the regions that are able to grow them. They are a highly valued part of the diet of all Mediterranean people, Spainish, Slavic, Turkish, Algerian, Greek, Arab, or Albanian. Almonds are a superb primary food for the human animal, for energy to carry you through the day, and for growth.

They would be grown by more peoples if they didn't flower so early in spring. Almonds are the first blossom of spring, and are therefore easily damaged by late spring frost. And they tend to be badly affected by disease in humid climate. The dry Mediterranean and Californian climates are ideal.
Picking, shucking, then cracking the nut to remove the kernel is very time consuming when done by hand. As a result, almonds are mostly grown in very large orchards and harvested, shucked, and cracked mechanically. California is the major producer, followed by Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
There are around five major almond varieties in commerce, but the soft shelled 'nonpareil' cultivar grown in California has the largest share of the market. There is a certain amount of cyclic production in almonds, with years when there are not so many fruit on the trees yeilding very large nuts, and years when the trees are laden, when the nut size is smaller.

Brazil Nut

The Brazil nut tree (Bertholettia excelsa) is a magnificent jungle tree of the steamy Amazon Rain Forest Basin of Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. It is often 150 feet or more high, and with a trunk that would take four adults touching outstretched arms to encircle.  About 30 or so nuts are contained in a baseball sized or larger, hard, fibrous shelled pod. This pod is so thick that it doesn't even break when it falls from the tree. And what a fall! The pod is heavy - up to 5 lbs - and free falls 100 feet or more, usually imbedding itself in the forest floor when it lands. The nuts are collected mostly by Indians, who, in the ripening season, canoe up the rivers where the trees grow. The collectors stay well clear of the trees when it is windy, but every season someone is injured or killed by the falling pods. The pods are broken open with an axe, and the nuts tipped into baskets and canoed back down to collecting points.

As the Amazonian forest continues to be destroyed, these magnificent trees are felled or burned. Each year the yeild has declined, each year the price goes up as a result. There are no plantations of Brazil nut trees, they are all collected from the wild.

Brazils are noted for their omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) content, at about 7% of the fats present. Of the remaining fats, over half of the fats present are monosaturated fat (mainly oleic), about a quarter is polyunsaturated (linoleic, omega-6) and around 19% is saturated fat (palmitic and stearic).  Brazil nuts are quite a good source of calcium at about 190mg/100grams, a very good source of magnesium (225mg/100 gms) and a particularly good source of selenium.

Brazils are good fuel for the body, with about 66 grams of fats and 10 grams of carbohydrate per 100 gram serving. And there is about 14 grams of protein in that serving. 

Cashew Nut

 The cashew, Anacardium occidentale, is a fast growing, spreading, tropical tree, reaching around 30 feet at maturity, that starts bearing after only 4 years or so from planting. It is also a member of the poison ivy family. The nuts are carried as an appendage on the end of a fleshy edible bright yellow or red fruit, known as the 'cashew apple'. The nut meat itself has an outer protective layer which contains a caustic oil. The oil is highly irritating to the skin. The oil can be removed by heating the nuts in a shallow pan, but the oil tends to 'spurt' dangerously, and the acrid smoke can cause blisters. These days, cashews are heated in an inclined, perforated, rotating, drum. Once the caistic oil is released, they are  sprayed with water to cool them. Some kernels  near the bottom of the pile and closer to the heat source tend to get scorched, and get sold at a cheaper price as a lower grade nut. Grade 1 nuts are white, number 2 grade are lightly scorched.

The cashew is native to the American tropics of Brazil, Peru, and Mexico. It is also native to the Islands of the West Indies. When the Portuguese invaded Brazil in the 1500's they found the cashew growing along the coast line in the north. The Portuguese soon exported the seed to their colonies in East Africa.There they quickly become naturalised, and grew wild all along the Mozambique coast. From there they were introduced and naturalised in other East African countries - Kenya, Tanzania., and Portuguese explorers introduced the tree to Malaysia, as well. Soon, the African people started selling the wild harvested nuts to Portuguese traders, who on-sold them to merchants in India. The trees were soon planted in all suitable areas of tropical India, and in the 1950's quite large orchards were planted, chiefly in the state of Kerala. India is now the dominant producer of cashews in the world, shipping its finest grade nuts soon after the May harvest in nitrogen gas flushed sealed metal cans for maximum freshness. Brazil is the next largest producer, harvesting in October.

All tropical countries now grow cashews, and, due to its natural variability, there are some distinct differences between nuts from different areas. Vietnam is now exporting cashews, and the Vietnamese nut, which is crisp, white, and particularly sweet, is regarded as being perhaps the finest type. The largest cashew is the Brazilian cashew. It is also the softest, the most white, and perhaps sweeter and more richly flavored than others. Indian cashews are generally smaller, ivory colored, much crisper than the soft Brazilians, and can either be sweet, or bland. African cashews are also smaller and crisper than the Brazilians.

The largest cashews are SLW-1 grade (presumably 'super large white') at 160-180 nuts per kilogram/2.2 lbs. LW-1 grade has 210 to 240 whole cashews to the kilo.The usual size is the W-320 grade, with 320 cashews to the kilo. Cashew pieces are common because the nut quite often breaks or splits into halves when it is shelled. They are also the cheapest.
Cashews, with about 45 grams of fat per 100 gram serving (at least a quarter of which are monosaturates)  and a particularly high carbohydrate content for a nut at about 30 grams/100gram portion, are an excellent an sustaining energy food. And they have goodly amounts of protein - 17grams/100gram serving. They are also very high in magnesium, having only slightly less than almonds.


When our ancestors radiated down into South East Asia and micronesia/polynesia, they found a reliable source of food in the giant seed of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). In a typical natural living Island village (prior to the introduction of western foods and alcohol), for example, about 21% of the daily energy needs were derived from fats, and of that, most was saturated fat (mainly lauric and myristic acid) from coconuts meat, coconut milk, and coconut oil. Only 2% of the fat intake was monosaturated, and 2% polyunsaturated. But because of the very large amounts of fish eaten, the omega - 3 component of the polyunsaturated acid fats eaten was very high. The remaining 80% of the daily fuel requirements came from starchy roots and green bananas, and fruit. Symptoms of cardiac disease, including stroke, were effectively non-existant. Everyone had a low blood pressure, and were lean.

So fresh coconut, even with the very large amounts of saturated fats in it, eaten as part of a natural diet high in fish fruit and vegetables (and even if low in monosaturates), can provide an active person with up to sixth of their daily calories needs and still deliver excellent lifelong health.
It is worth noting that while coconuts are low in B group vitamin, minerals and protein in comparison to other nuts, the original natural environment where coconut palms grow is full of mineral, vitamin, and protein rich animal and plant foods. When diets based on hunting and gathering, plus gardening, are examined, they are found to be very high in vitamins and mineral and fibre - much higher than western peoples urban diets.

 The refreshing liquid in the center of an immature coconut ('green coconut' - the thick outer husk is still green) is about 92% water, 5% sugars, 1% protein, 1% oil, 1% mineral.  The flesh of a 'green coconut' is soft and custard - like.
As the nut begins to mature, the milk the water or 'milk' becomes somewhat  diuretic if too much is taken . The fresh meat of a mature coconut is about 54% water, 32% oil, 10% carbohydrate, 3% protein, and 1% inorganic matter.
Meat sun dried (copra) for oil extraction has 12% water and 60% oil.Copra stored for some months in tropical heat is likely to have fairly rancid oils.
When fresh coconut meat is grated and squeezed to make coconut milk, a lot of the oil is left in the discarded residue. Coconut 'milk' is consequently around 86% water, 4-5% oil, 3-4% protein, 4-5% carabohydrate, and 1% mineral.
Villagers extract fresh coconut oil by make a mash of fresh grated meat in water, squeezing it in a seive, and boiling the expressed liquid.Fresh oil can then be ladled off the top.But it becomes rancid in the tropical heat rather quickly, so oil that has 'gone off'' has to be used in oil lamps, or as a skin or hair rub.
Nuts that have started to germinate are filled with a spongy material known as coconut 'bread'. It can be eaten raw or toasted - often toasted over a fire in a half coconut shell.


The hazelnut (Corylus avellana) is native to an area that stretches from Europe to south west Asia. Pollen studies have shown that the hazel quickly colonised large parts of Europe in the 'brief' (variable - 1,000 years or so) warm interglacial periods of the last ice age. Anatomically modern humans in the temperate zones had a long association with an extensive and highly productive hazelnut food resource. Today, most wild hazels are found in the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Another very closely related species, the filbert (Corlylus maxima), is native to south east Europe and west Asia. Because there is such a large overlap in the range, there are many hybrids between the two species. The nuts are so similar, and hybrids now  so common, is would be useful to abandon the name 'filbert', and call them all 'hazelnuts'. Another species, the tree hazel (C. colurna) is native to Turkey, where it grows as high as 80 feet. It's nuts are collected for export. There are other species in North America, Canada, China, and Japan whose nuts, while small, have provided food for gatherer - hunters ever since the human species radiated into their habitat.  The small, hard shelled, wild American hazel (C.americana) was an important food source for the Indians of the Pacific Northwest USA in the same way acorns of the American Oak supported tribes in California, and the Pinon pine seed supported tribes a little further inland, in the great basin.

The areas of commercial production today are relatively restricted compared to the large area over which the hazel grows wild.  Turkey who produces the largest part of the world's tonnage, followed by Italy, Spain, and USA. The Mediterranean countries produce 90% of the world crop. The USA crop matures about October, is dried, sorted by size, shelled, and on the market by December.

 The pattern of amino acids present in hazels makes them a source of high quality protein (about 13 grams in every 100 gram serving). They are a good fuel, with 62 grams of fat and 17 grams of carbohydrate in a 100 gram serving.  The fat of 
C. avellana (cultivated variety 'Barcelona') is made up 56 % monosaturated fat (oleic), about 17% polyunsaturated (linoleic - omega 6), 21% other polyunsaturated fats, and about 5% saturated fats. The fat composition of the filbert, C.maxima, (cultivar 'Duchilly') is similar, except they have more monounsaturated fats (about 65%). Hazelnuts are a good source of calcium at about 200 mg/100gm (second highest after almonds of all nuts).
Both shelled and whole filberts can be stored in a refrigerator for up to a year and remain unoxidised and good. Shelled hazels tend to 'pick up' odors from other food in the fridge, so they need to be in an airtight container. Shelled and in - shell hazels will keep in good condition in a freezer for two years.


In the tropical and sub tropical  rain forests lining Australia's eastern seaboard there are several species of nut bearing trees in the genus Macadamia. The Australian aborigines used all species, including the toxic Macadamia whelanii. The cyanide was leached out by soaking the ground up kernels in running water for several days. The other two species don't have cyanide in the kernel, and these 'sweet' nuts were doubtless gathered and dried as they matured in their 2 to 3 month season.

European colonists sent the trees to Hawaii in the early 1890's. They did very well there, and Hawaii is now the major producer of this premium nut, altho' plantations have been established in other countries.

M.tetraphylla and M.integrifolia are the sweet macadamia species used in commerce. M.tetraphylla has more sugars than M.integrifolia. Because sugars tend to caramelise when roasted, making for a dark kernel, M.integrifolia, with it's low sugar content, has been the species most grown commercially. Home gardeners prefer the sweeter M.tetraphylla varieties for dried nuts.

Macadamias are a very good fuel for daily activity, with 69 grams of fat per 100 gram serving. A very high percentage - 83 % - is monounsaturated fatty acids. Only about 3% is omega - 6 polyunsaturated, and macadamia nuts have a useful amount of omega - 3 fatty acids in its fat profile; about 2%. 16 grams of carbohydrate (about 6% of which is sugars in M. integrifolia.) rounds out it's fuel potential. Their protein content, at about 9 grams per 100gms, is low relative to other nuts.
Roasted macadamia nuts: Vitamin B6 is destroyed at temperatures over 245 degrees farenheit. The temperature for both dry roasting and oil cooking is at or about 275 degrees farenheit (note: red meat is a rich source of B6, so for the normal omnivorous human this is not a problem, even if you were lucky enough to base most of your calory  needs on macadamias!) Roasting has very little effect on the fatty acid composition, the only vaguely significant effect being a slight reduction to omega - 3 fatty acid content.
 Unlike many other nuts, macadamias will store well at room temperature without becoming rancid so long as they are dried to a very low moisture content.


The peanut, Arachis hypogea, is strictly speaking a legume - same as a bean or pea. The plants are grown as an annual crop, and look like a rather robust clover plant. The nuts originate from the stems, but are pushed into the ground by the plant at an early stage, and it is underground that they mature. Although a legume seed, peanuts are firmly embedded in our mind as 'nuts', so I 'll go with that.

The species originates from semi arid areas of Brazil. It was domesticated by the ancestors of the the present Arawak Indian people at least 5,000 years ago, and probably much longer than that. It was spread to Asia by the Spainish, and to Africa and then India by the Portuguese. It was introduced to USA from Africa.
India, tropical Africa, and China are the leading peanut producing countries. The round 'Spanish' peanut has a full rich taste, and is usually used for roasting. The 'Virginia' peanut is larger and oblong, and is commonly sold in-shell. It has a more 'nutty' flavor. The most common commercial variety is the redskin 'jumbo runner'.
Peanuts stored in humid conditions are not infrequently affected by fungi which generate toxins called 'aflatoxins' which if enough are eaten can cause liver damage. The safest peanuts are USA peanuts, which are subject to meaningful checks and testing; the least safe are probably South East Asian and Asian peanuts.
Whole peanuts are a very important human food. Peanuts are very high in protein ( 25 grams per 100gram serving) of good quality. They are a very good source of energy, with 50 grams of fats and 16 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving. About half their fat content is monounsaturated fats, about a third are polyunsaturated, and the remaining about fifth are saturated. Of the polyunsaturates, only a passing small amount is omega - 3. Peanuts are a very good source of niacin (B3), with a healthy 112 mg/100 gram serving. They also contain vitamin E (8mg/100gms).  Nuts in general, and  peanuts in particular, are high in the bioflavonoid 'resveratrol'.  This bioflavonoid is also found in red wine and is believed to help prevent the formation of arterial plaques. Peanuts have more resveratrol than grapes.

Studies adding even small amounts of 'peanut products' to the diet have recorded a 14% reduction in the 'bad' LDL cholesterol.
Curiously - and as an aside - while both expressed peanut oil and the oil expressed from the fruit of the olive tree, olea europea, are monounsaturated fats, diets rich in olive oil are shown to reduce risk of coronary heart disease, but experimental diets very high in expressed oil (rather than the whole nut) from peanuts have caused aterial lesions in experimental monkeys. There do not appear to be any studies demonstrating a similar effect from eating the whole nut - beyond lower LDL cholesterol and reduced risk of coronary heart disease!


Pecan trees, Carya pecan, are  large trees native to Mexico and south central United States. In the south central area, the pecan was a staple of the indigenous people prior to the colonisation of the area by Europeans. Pecans stored well, were easy to gather, easy to crack, have a high yeild of nut 'meat', are an excellent energy source, and grew along the 'highways' - the river systems of the south. It is believed that the indigenous tribes planted pecan seeds at their camps as an investment for the future. Pecans, then as now, are one of the finest nuts on earth, and a tribe whose territory included good stands of pecan trees would have been rich indeed!
Shelled pecans only hold their freshness and largely unoxidized state for about 3 months at ordinary temperatures; in shell nuts hold for about six months. After that, they need to be refrigerated to stay fresh, or stored in vacuum packs refilled with inert nitrogen gas to exclude air and consequent oxidation. Pecans stored below -6.7°C/20° F or lower will remain fresh for several years.

A recent study was done of of Americans eating a self selected diet, but adding ¾ cup of pecan meat every day as a compulsory part of the food intake, increasing the fat content over matched controls. But those eating pecan experienced no weight gain, in spite of the fat content of the pecans, and their LDL or 'bad' choleserol levels dipped by 6%.

Pecans have quite a high vitamin E content - about 0.45%. They have a very high oil content, with 67 grams of fats per 100 grams. Of that, about two thirds is monounsaturated, most of the rest polyunsaturated. Pecans have a very small amount (about 0.7 grams) of linolenic acid, an omega - 3 fatty acid. Their protein content is relatively low, at around 7 grams/100 gram serving.
Wild pecans - a history and buying guide from a wild pecan 'rancher'. A fascinating insight into the adaptation of these wonderful long lived trees to their native environment, and how wild pecans are still being gathered for sale.

Pine nuts

Pine trees are mainly cooler climate northern hemisphere trees. Our ancestors who radiated out of Africa would have exploited this resource as they pushed further North into temperate areas. There are around 80 species of pine, but only a few have seeds large enough to be worth bothering with, and many are rather resinous and 'turpentiny' tasting. Pines that open their cones at the tops of what in most cases are very large trees are heavily visited by small mammals such as squirrels, and by birds. Our ancestors would have found it hard to compete with these more agile gatherers. About 12 or so species of pines in the Americas have edible nuts, and they vary greatly in size, form and color, but not much in flavor. A few of these pines are relatively scrubby, and bear heavy crops of large seeds. It was these species that supported entire tribes of peoples indigenous to the North American continent. In the hot, dry, arid climate of the south western USA and Mexico on the hardiest trees survive. Pinus cembroides, the 'Mexican nut pine' or 'pinyon', is such a tree. This medium sized but often stunted tree bears good sized seeds in a hard shell. Heavily timbered areas have been estimated to carry 5 tons of nuts to the square mile. The Hopi, Navajo and othe southwestern tribes have used them as a staple of the diet for many thousands of years, eaten whole, ground and baked into cakes, or pounded into a butter - like paste. The nuts are storeable in a time without refrigeration, they are highly nutritious, and they are abundant, so their importance to the tribe cannot be overestimated. Gathering the nuts from the dry uplands was a late summer early autumn job that involved the whole clan. The cones have to be gathered when they are mature, but before they open and are lost to birds and squirrels. Once dryed and emptied of their nuts, the tribe carried them back down to the lowlands and stored them for winter use.

Today, the most common pine nuts in the market place are seeds of the 'stone pine', Pinus pinea. These are sometimes called 'pignolia'. It is a tree of the northern coastline of the Mediterranean, growing from Portugal and Spain in the west to Lebanon in the east. The cones open on the tree, releasing the seeds, so the trees have to be climbed and the as yet unopened cones pulled off. As the cones are dryed in the hot Mediterranean sun, the open up and release the seeds.The nuts are cracked by rollers, and the nuts very lightly roasted, which takes away the natural slight 'turpentiney' taste.
There are large forests of a pine, P.koraiensis, which stretch in a broad band across the top of Europe from Russia into Manchuria, China, and Korea. The Chinese have been felling huge numbers of these trees for timber, and the pine nuts are retrieved and sold as a by - product of forest clearance. A significant portion of the pine nuts in the market at this time are from this 'once only' extractive industry.
The American pine nuts of the Southwest and Mexico are known as pinons, or Indian Nuts. They rarely appear on the marketplace, although wild harvested nuts are starting to be available.
Pine nuts in general are a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine). 'Pignolas' (probably the European Pinus cembroides) are listed as having an astonishing 31gms of protein per 100 gram serving! The pinon, P. cembroides var. monophylla and P. cembroides var. edulis, has from 13-20% protein.The pinon is also an exceptionally good source of thiamine, at 1.28 mg/100gms. (Animal organs, rich in vitamins and mineral, have thiamine values in the 0.2 to 0.5 range. Brewers yeast has outstanding amounts of thiamine, at around 16mg/100 grams; but eating any significant amount of straight yeast is not easy, where eating 100grams of pinons is easy!). Pinons contain 1% of the organic phosphorus compound lecithin, whose possible health benefits do not seem to have been investigated.

To protect the nutritive value of the nut, pine nuts should ideally be stored 'in - shell'. Apart from wild gathered pine nuts, this is not how they come. They are usually already shelled and lightly roasted. If you plan to store shelled pine nuts for long, they would be better frozen. In shell nuts will store for about a year, but rancidity starts to become noticeable in some nuts after that. Dry nuts are best stored in an open weave bag to allow air to circulate, and ideally stored in a cool, dry, place.


"From the great trade value of the nuts and of the galls [?], there is much jealousy as to the forest rights, as to whom they belong, and to what proportion to each tribe. Half the blood feuds of the nomads originate in their quarrels over the rights of produce in their forests. All persons connected in the rights to the forest and produce unitedly collect the nuts, and the general harvest is subsequently divided in the allotted proportions to those to whom they belong." - G.Watt in 'A dictionary of the economic products of India', 1889.
The pistachio is a small tree native to Turkey and the area around and to the east of the Caspian sea. There were formerly forests of pistachio above 3,000 feet altitude from Lebanon, across Syria and Eastward thru' northern Iraq and Iran and beyond. The forests would have been perfectly positioned to make a major contribution to the diet of the tribes of the human species as some tribes or clans radiated out of Africa into the Mediterranean, Middle East and beyond.  It has been cultivated for about 4,000 years.
Until relatively recently, pistachios were gathered from mountainside village plantations in Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran. Now, the 'Kermit' variety is raised in huge orchards in California, and California has become an important world supplier of the nut.
Quite a good source of calcium (131 mg/per 100 gram serving), magnesium, vitamin A. It is listed (Watt & Merrill 1963) as having 30mg/100gm of ascorbic acid, which is unusual, as most nuts have none or only tiny amounts. 19 grams of protein per 100 grams makes them a good protein source, and they have about the same amount of carbohydrate. Total fat content ranges from about 48% to 63%, depending on the variety. There is quite a bit of difference in percentage of different kinds of fats, both between cultivars in a particular area, and between countries (Turkish varieties vs. Iranian varieties). For Turkish and Iranian pistachios, the percentage of fats that are saturated varies from 8-12%, the percentage of monounsaturated fats is 52-74%, and the polyunsaturated fats vary between 16 and 35% of the total fats present.


Walnuts' (Juglans regia) native range is from southeast Europe and across to China. The Kashmiri/Northern Pakistan area is a particularly important area of biological diversity for walnuts. The nuts are, and always have been, a premier homnid food. The oldest archaeological evidence is a find of walnuts in caves in northern Iraq that date from mesolithic times. They produce just when they are needed most - in the autumn, prior to the onset of cold weather. They would have stored well over the cool of winter, and by summertime, when the food value would have been degraded by  the oils becoming rancid, they would all have been eaten. Walnuts can start to produce relatively quickly from seed, but 'relatively quickly' is still five years or more. As a result, they were never domesticated, but gathered in season. Even the very recent developement of grafting didn't at first result in domestication of the walnut, because walnuts are one of the most difficult trees to graft, and because they were slow to start bearing and are very space demanding trees. Nevertheless, walnuts were spread by humans into western Europe in prehistoric times, but did not reach England until perhaps the fifteen or sixteenth century. From there, the 'English' (!) walnut was distributed to all her colonies, including America. In contrast, walnuts were cultivated in France from at least the fourth century, and were highly valued.

But what a food walnuts are - the easily extracted kernel is around about 15% protein, 65% fats, and 16% carbohydrate. The kernel has about 100mg of calcium and 3mg of iron per 100mg/kernel. They are also a reasonable source of B1 (thiamine) at .38mg/100gms. Walnuts are quite a good source of calcium (100mg/100gms)`. Interestingly, the amount of vitamin E (tocopherol) varies with variety and the geographic location in which they are grown. In one study, alpha tocopherols ranged from about 1mg/100grams to about 4mg/100g; gamma tocopherols varied from about 22 to about 27 mg/100 grams, and delta tocopherols varied from 2.5 to about 4 mg/100 grams. So the total vitamin E content in the two varieties examined varied from about 25.5 mg/100gms to about 35mg/100gms. Adequate vitamin E is essential to protect the polyunsaturated fats in the nut from becoming oxidised (rancid).

The fat portion of whole walnut kernels is from 4 - 10% 'alpha linolenic acid' an omega-3 fatty acid, and about 50 - 60% 'linoleic acid', an omega 6 fatty acid. This ratio of 1 omega-3 essential polyunsaturated fatty acid to about 5 times the amount as omega-6 essential polyunsaturated fatty acid is considered just about ideal for the human body.

Today, around about 1.1 million tonnes of walnuts are harvested every year, and of that, about 20% is traded between countries. Production of walnuts has increased by nearly 40% in the last 20 years, while prices have remained pretty much the same. The United States and China dominate world trade, together producing about 70% of the nuts on the world market.
Health benefits of walnuts - abstracts and summaries of revealing recent studies showing the health benefits of eating walnuts. Put together by the Walnut Marketing Board of the Californian Walnut Commission

© Copyright 1999, 2000 UHIS
  send corrections to the editor

Visit our website at