There are many kinds of nuts available in a variety of forms. Following is a description of the most common types of nuts sold in the United States:
Almonds are oval, flat white nuts with thin brown skin and light tan pitted shells. There are two types of almonds, bitter and sweet. The bitter variety contains toxic prussic acid when raw. The acid is destroyed by heating, so commercial processors use this stronger flavored almond to make extract and liqueurs. Sweet almonds have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor and are used for baking and cooking.
Cashews are the seeds of a tropical fruit called a cashew apple. The nut grows on the outside of the fruit at its base. This nut has a kidney-shaped shell which is highly toxic. The shell is removed commercially, and the nut is cleaned before marketing. The nut itself is kidney-shaped with a sweet, buttery flavor and crunchy texture. Cashews are 48 percent fat. They are generally used for snacking and cooking, especially in Chinese stir-fries.
Macadamia nuts are native to Australia, but most of the commercial crop is now grown in Hawaii. This small, round nut has a hard brown shell with cream colored meat and a buttery rich, slightly sweet flavor. Most are sold shelled, either roasted or raw. They are used for snacking and baking.
Peanuts are grown throughout the southern part of the United States and have a soft, thin netted tan-colored shell. The nuts have a reddish-brown papery skin, ivory-colored flesh and a buttery, nutty flavor that is intensified by roasting. They are used for snacking, baking and for peanut butter.
Pecans are native to the United States and a member of the hickory family. They are widely grown in Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas. The nut has a smooth tan shell which is thin, but hard. The flesh is beige with a thin brown exterior. These nuts are widely eaten out of hand and used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
Pine nuts are found inside pine
cones. The cones are generally heated to extract the nuts. This labor-intensive
process makes these nuts expensive. They have a long, narrow ivory-colored "meat" and
a faint pine flavor. They are used in Mediterranean cooking and are an important
ingredient in pesto.
Pistachio nuts have a hard tan shell which is sometimes dyed pink or blanched until white. They are grown in California, Iran, Italy and Turkey. The inside meat has a pale green color and a delicate, subtly sweet flavor. Generally eaten as an out-of-hand snack, pistachios may also be used in baking and cooking.
Walnuts are encased in a hard, light brown shell. The two most popular varieties are the English and the black walnut. The English variety is most common and has a milder flavor. Black walnuts have a strong, rich flavor. The black walnut shell is extremely difficult to crack and can stain your skin.