Nuts: A Buyers Guide

May 02, 2012

Nuts are certainly one of the healthiest food choices you can make, but how can you make sure you're getting your money's worth when you buy them?

Nuts are widely available in supermarkets, health food stores, and many street and farmers' markets. Most nuts can be bought either in the shell or shelled. Shelled nuts are either kept whole, or can be found flaked, ground or pressed into oils. Some nuts are available fresh, or still "green," but most are sold dried and roasted. When purchasing nuts out of the shell, choose ones that look crisp and plump. Nuts that appear shriveled may be of poor quality and most likely have been sitting on the shelf or in the bin for too long.

Nuts in the shell cost less and have a longer shelf life, as the outer layer protects them from light and air. When buying nuts in the shell, scan the bag and take a quick look at the shells; avoid ones with splits, cracks, and holes. Nuts that have been processed, including those that have been overly salted or roasted in oils significantly reduce shelf life and often increase the price; so beware! If you must have salted nuts, a great and less expensive option is to salt them yourself at home. Not only will you save money, but you'll also be able to control the amount of salt to suit your dietary restrictions or taste.

Due to high oil content, nuts are prone to spoilage, especially if stored improperly. Whether in the shell or shelled, nuts should be stored in opaque, airtight containers and kept in a cool, dry place. The opacity protects nuts from light, and the tight seal reduces the absorption of moisture and odors. Proper storage not only maintains freshness but also lets nuts retain their nutritional value. Keep in mind that peanuts, pecans, and walnuts are most prone to spoilage, while almonds and cashews are less so.

If you come across a terrific sale, don't hesitate to stock up! You can store excess in the fridge or freezer - most varieties will keep for about four months in the refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer. Also consider making little gift bags for your friends or the host of the next dinner party you attend. Just place a variety of nuts in a small plastic bag and tie off with a colorful ribbon. VoilĂ , the perfect host gift!

Properly stored shelled nuts will last only a few weeks when kept at room temperature, while nuts still in the shell should last about four months. If stored in sealed jars or cans, you'll have about three months to crack open the container.

Some quick money-saving tips:
Scanning your supermarket, you can usually find nuts in the produce section, gourmet section, bulk, and baking or nut section - take the time to compare the prices by ounce. Typically you will find the same nut in all three locations - all at different prices!

To roast nuts at home, preheat your oven to 400 degrees, spread the nuts on a baking sheet, and place in oven. Smaller nuts, like peanuts and macadamia nuts, will take five minutes or less; and larger ones like pecans, walnuts and almonds may take up to ten minutes. Nuts are roasted when they have turned golden-brown. Sprinkle them on just about anything, or eat them as a healthy snack. The rich flavor brought out during roasting is sure to satisfy. For even more flavor, add your favorite spices before you roast.

And remember, those "fancy" high-priced nut mixes really aren't so fancy after all, and you can make your own customized mix at home. Just buy the same nuts individually, throw them together in a plastic bag, shake to mix with your favorite spices, and the other thing you'll hear rattling around is all that extra change from the money you've saved.