Here in New Zealand, thanks to soils that haven’t been over-cultivated, cool winters and long warm autumns, we grow some cracker nuts. The climatic variations between our two islands help widen the variety as well. Macadamias grow in commercial orchards in the North Island down to East Cape and Taranaki, almonds as far south as Blenheim, pine nuts in Marlborough and walnuts throughout the country. Hazels, which need some frost, grow well in the South Island but there is a push to plant more in the lower North Island too. Delicious taste and useful protein aside, fresh nuts contain the good fats that keep the cardiovascular system healthy. And now is the time to get cracking because October 22 is National Nut Day and, as we all know, fresh (read local) is best.
Walnuts and hazelnuts
Uncle Joe’s: Jenny and Malcolm Horwell’s family run business on the outskirts of Blenheim, sells whole nuts and pieces, nut oils and hazelnut and walnut butters, which now come in new “crunchy” versions. “Marlborough has a lot of old walnut trees of all varieties,” Jenny says. Walnut harvesting starts in March and continues through to late April, Jenny says. “The main thing is to get the nuts off the ground as quickly as possible after they fall, get the outside shell dried quickly (if wet) and start the slower dry of the kernel in good, airy conditions. Commercially drying with air can take anything from two days to a week, depending on the dampness of the nuts on arrival. The kernels are ready to eat from here, so new season kernels can be available about one week after harvest in good conditions.”
Jenny's guide to buying and storing walnuts: The inside of the walnut kernel should be a creamy colour, not opaque, which indicates old nuts and rancidity. The outside skin should have a shine and not be scuffed or bruised. Older kernels look dull. "With walnuts, as soon as you expose the kernel to air and light — cracking open the shell — the good fats, omega 3s, start to break down. The more scuffing of the kernel, the worse this is. This starts the process to rancidity," Jenny adds.
Uncle Joe’s, like most other New Zealand processors, freshly cracks nuts to order throughout the year, helping retain nutrients. The freezer is best to keep the poly and mono unsaturated fats of walnuts and hazelnuts in good order. In-shell nuts require an airy, damp-free situation.
Hazelnuts, harvested in March in the Marlborough/Nelson region, later the further south you go and in Canterbury, are hardier than walnuts. They don't contain omega 3s but have omega 6, with good antioxidants in the skin of the kernel. They also contain vitamin E which means hazelnuts won't go rancid as quickly as walnuts.They and have a two-year shelf life after harvest as opposed to walnuts' one year but storage in the freezer is still a good idea. The shelf life on Uncle Joe's walnutand hazelnuts kernels is nine months, with a maximum till June the year after harvest, thanks to cracking to order. Uncle Joe's nuts, oils, butters and meal are available online at Uncle Joe's nuts, oils, butters and meal are available online at www.unclejoes.co.nz and through supermarkets and specialty food stores.
Pinoli pine nuts: The only commercial grower and producer of pine nuts in the Southern Hemisphere, with more than 500,000 trees over a number of orchards. Pinoli trees are insecticide and pesticide-free. These are Mediterranean stone pine nuts, a different species from the more common ones sold in supermarkets. “Our pine nuts are very high in protein — 34 per cent by weight, much higher than the 13 per cent protein of imported Chinese pine nuts,” Zoe Thompson, one of the four owners, says. “They have abundant heart-healthy oils and minerals.”
Harvesting happens in the winter months when the cones are mature but still closed (usually mid-June to mid-October). “We harvest cones with poles and by hand for our younger trees and with a tree-shaker for our mature trees.” Store in the resealable packs in the fridge or freezer to preserve the oils.
Pinoli pine nuts are available online at pinoli.co.nz, through delis, specialist food stores and at Giapo in Auckland — should you purchase their pine nut gelato. Also sold at the Marlborough Farmers' Market from October to April.
Riverina almonds: Gill Smith and Graham Farnell have around 2000 trees in their Blenheim orchard, making them the biggest almond growers in the country. As Gill says: “It’s easier to grow grapes in the same regions that suit almonds. We are economically viable due to Graham’s engineering wizardry (he has built all our machinery at a fraction of the cost of importing it).”
Probably 99 per cent of the almonds available in New Zealand are imported, most from California. Gill says. “Our main selling point is cracked to order so they are fresh and spray-free. They taste way better than imported almonds, which have usually been out of the shell for months.” Almonds are good for the heart with the ability to lower cholesterol, have good levels of calcium and are a rich source of fibre and vitamin E. They also comprise around 50 per cent oil so are good for the skin as well.
Harvesting happens in the autumn (March and April). The nuts are sundried on racks in the shell for around six weeks. Green almonds can also be eaten around November and December.
Almonds will keep for up to five years in the shell providing the shells are sealed and they are dried properly. Shelf life is limited after shelling. Use them fresh, or freeze to stop oxidation.
Riverina sell their almonds raw, roasted, salted, garlic, chilli, smoked, candied, biscotti and butter (raw and roasted) at the Marlborough Farmers’ Market and at the Nelson Farmers’ Market. Other sales for butter and raw nuts are via email request and stock is limited as they sell all year round.
John and Sue Brokx grow macadamias in the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland where they have about 2500 trees producing organic nuts, sold under their WhyNut label. The couple say that after growing for 10 years they decided to go organic — to improve the health of their soil and to grow nuts without compromising the environment and their own health. John, a maintenance engineer, built an implement shed, now extended into their own licensed macadamia nut processing plant.
Most of the macadamia nuts on sale here are imported from Australia, their country of origin. We produce less than 1 per cent of the world’s macadamias. Macadamia nuts contain a range of nutrients. The monounsaturated fats help reduce cholesterol and help to clean the arteries. They have a high flavonoid content, which converts into antioxidants in our body. Palmitoleic acid increases fat metabolism and reduces fat storage. As well as proteins, macadamias contain phosphorus, magnesium, copper, oleic acid and magnesium. Macadamia nuts have an optimal balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids.
Sue's guide to buying and storing: Correct storage is very important as macadamias have a high oil content and can become rancid. The oils are mainly monounsaturated, however, which means they are less prone to oxidation than polyunsaturated fats. Store in a cool, dry area. After opening packaged nuts, place them in a sealed airtight container, preferably glass, or a resealable bag to protect from air and moisture. Refrigeration extends the shelf life, but do not expose the macadamias to odours. Freezing further extends the shelf life if they are wrapped in plastic inside a resealable freezer bag. Thaw slowly to prevent moisture condensation and loss of crispness. Raw macadamia nuts last longer than roasted nuts, as do larger grades. Buy from a shop or market where there is a high turnover, especially if buying from bulk bins. The macadamia nuts should be protected from light, oxygen, moisture and heat. Cellophane or plastic bags do not provide this protection. Buy local or New Zealand grown where possible. Macadamia oil should be clear and light in colour. It has a high smoke point and subtle flavour.
WhyNuts (from Macadamia Holdings) sell their certified organic nuts at most organic and natural shops, particularly in the North Island. Natural or raw macadamia nuts are favoured. Also available are dry roasted; salted; milk and dark chocolate and macadamia spread in natural and dry roasted.