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Magic in a Nutshell: Going NuttyMagic in a Nutshell: Going Nutty

October 18, 2012

4 Min Read
Magic in a Nutshell: Going Nutty

By Ed Engoron, Contributing Editor

The almond is an energy-boosting, low-fat, protein-packed nut. Almonds are extremely versatile. No matter the meal course or ethnic cuisine, there is an almond form that delivers the needed flavor, crunch or thickening properties.

While almonds are great on their own for munching, especially seasoned or flavored with sweet or savory mixtures, they add distinctive flavor and a healthy halo to a variety of dishes. For example, a pancake batter made with half wheat and half almond flour, as well as diced and toasted almonds, creates a morning grill dish with a healthy crunch. Serving with grilled or griddled seasonal fruit elevates this morning breakfast dish into an anytime meal or even a special after-dinner dessert. .

Diced or chopped almonds can be used in stuffing and coatings, or used to encrust chicken or fish. Almond butter can  adds rich, nutty flavor and hints sweetness to smoothies. Further, almond milk can substitute for dairy milk in most applicationsthink almond milk ice cream." It is delicious to enjoy alone, but its also great in coffee, smoothies and frozen desserts. Consider a marzipan-inspired hot chocolate made with almond milk and cocoa. And of course, almonds creamy flavor is a natural in confectionary applications.

In addition to almonds, many other nuts find culinary use including popular varieties, such as walnuts (the more common English variety as well as black walnuts), pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias and Brazil nuts. Less-common, but equally delicious include: chestnuts, which can be steamed, boiled or roasted, and used in a variety of dishes from traditional stuffing to less-traditional hummus; and hickory (shagbark), which can be treated like a pecan, because they are close cousins; just to name a couple. Also pine nuts and cashew nuts are considered nuts in the culinary world and are often seen in Indian and Mediterranean cuisines, respectively.

There are countless applications for nuts, but following are a few ideas. For a sweet and spicy nut snack, mix walnuts or pecans with sweetened egg whites and spices, such as cinnamon, all spice, cardamom and chili. Place the mixture on a sheet pan and bake at low temperature until crunchy. Or, just a quick sauté with a small amount of butter or peanut or almond oil brings out the nut flavors.

Nut flours play a flavorful role in gluten-free desserts, breads and even pizzas. Yale University, for example, offers gluten-free, high-protein breakfast optionslike milk chocolate and peanut butter ganache muffinsas well as dessertsincluding dark chocolate-peanut pound cakewhere lightly toasted, golden peanut flour substitutes for traditional wheat flour. Special menu items have also been created for Cornell University, including a selection of healthful, protein-packed, gluten-free products, and even a hot beveragePower Peanutccinoa protein-packed hot drink worthy of Starbucks. For the schools  resident halls and student stores we developed peanut-butter, strawberry and chocolate cannoli; peanut meringue roundies; milk-chocolate peanut-butter whoopie pies; and peanut-butter shortbread.

Sliced or slivered, seasoned nuts are perfect in salads or as topping for hot or cold vegetables. You can create a trio of salad, soup and vegetable toppers as a healthy replacement for croutons. Think about nuts flavored with roasted garlic, toasted onions and baked Parmesan cheese.

Any nut is a natural in granola. Just a sprinkle of roasted and sliced nuts, toasted oatmeal and dried cherries or cranberries adds crunch and flavor to a breakfast cereal, low-calorie snack or an attractive topping for ice cream or desserts.

For bakery applications, sprinkle a few nuts atop muffins or other pastries just before baking. Increasingly, chefs and food product developers are incorporating crushed nuts in stuffings and coatings.

For a closer look at formulating with almonds, view the Image Gallery, "Innovating With Almonds," at foodproductdesign.com/galleries/2011/09/almonds.aspx.

Click here for information on formulating with peanuts.

Ed Engoron, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Perspectives/The Consulting Group, Inc., and co-founder of Choclatique, Los Angeles. He has over 35 years of experience in the food and foodservice industry creating food concepts, recipes, packaging and promotions. He attended Cordon Bleu in Paris, hosted ABCs syndicated programs The Food Show, Stump the Chef, and Super Foodies, and authored "Choclatique150 Simply Elegant Desserts" (Running Press, 2011). Contact him at [email protected].

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