Nuts have been used for centuries as a part of the human diet. When we think of nuts the tree nuts are generally what come to mind as well as peanuts. Actually, peanuts are not a nut at all but a legume. Similarly, almonds are not technically a nut but are the stone of a fruit called a drupe. Tree nuts are the types we generally think of when we talk about nuts. These include such varieties as acorns, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, macadamia and chestnuts. However, of these types only three are actual nuts; chestnut, acorn and hazelnut. This is because a true nut is a fruit with one ovary. The dried ovary becomes the nut and remains attached to the exterior wall. Tree nuts such as walnuts are not true nuts but drupaceous nuts.

What's Edible?

Culinary classifications of nuts are somewhat more ambiguous. Most nuts that are edible and grow on a tree are broadly called tree nuts. This is a term that comes up often in reference to nut allergies but in truth, most nut allergies start and end with peanuts which we have already determined aren't technically nuts but legumes. So if someone has a peanut allergy do they have a nut allergy or a legume allergy? The high amount of proteins in the peanut lead to its classification in culinary terms as a nut but either would be accurate. This allergy doesn't necessarily lead to an allergy to tree nuts.
If you are fortunate enough not to have a nut allergy you can take advantage of the protein and good fat or unsaturated fat. They are an easy to use fuel which has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Nuts are high in fiber, Vitamin E and folic acid. They are easy to carry around to provide quick fuel and you can eat them in innumerable ways. One of the best ways to add nuts to your family's diet is with nut butters. You can use these in cooking or just spread them on a piece of toast or rice cracker. You can roast the nuts or use them fresh and raw. Additionally you can add salt, sweeteners such as maple syrup, brown sugar or applesauce, or even spices such as cinnamon. Fine tuning the recipe is up to you.

To Soak or Not to Soak

There is some discussion out in the ether that nuts must be soaked to remove the phytochemicals and toxins which naturally occur and protect the seed. The idea is that unsoaked seeds will contain these chemicals and introduce them into your body. The process is simple but lengthy. Soak the seeds for 8 to 12 hours and then dehydrate them for up to 24 hours. You can then roast them or use them raw. This step is not necessary but it is up to you as the consumer to decide if you are worried about these natural chemicals. My advice is to enjoy the nut as nature made it and purchase organic, raw nuts for your nut butter but then again, I am lazy.

Making Butter

Nut butters are super easy if you have a food processor or even a blender. Food processor's lower sides make it easier to scrape surfaces and keep the processing product evenly distributed for faster blending. Use a sheet pan or cookie sheet and spread them evenly in a single layer. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and roast the nuts for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring at least once. Put the nuts into the processor after they are toasted as much as you wish and turn it on. For the first few minutes you will have nothing more than nut dust. Scrape the sides of the container frequently and let the machine keep working. Soon the nut powder will turn creamy as its oils are released. Some cooks like speed up the process by adding a natural oil to the mixture early on to encourage a quicker smooth texture but this isn't really necessary if you have patience. Most nuts take about 2 minutes to turn into a buttery spread but some can take up to 20 minutes.
Seasoning your nut butter can make for interesting spreads, but so can mixing different nuts. Try Macadamia and almond, or peanut and Brazil nut. The sky is the limit. If you have a nut allergy there is an option for you too. Try making a sunflower seed butter. Sunflowers really are seeds and are usually safe for people with nut allergies to ingest. Just be sure the seeds weren't processed in a factory that processes nuts. Toast the seeds to bring out their flavor and then whiz them up like you would a nut. The result is a rich, complex nutty flavor.
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Storage

Store your nut butters in glass jars with sealing lids in the refrigerator. They will keep for several weeks and the cold helps prevent the raw butter from getting rancid. You can also freeze the butter for up to 4 months but the most benefit and best taste will come from the freshest product possible. Nut butters couldn't be easier to make and the sheer variety of combinations and flavors will have you blending and processing avidly.
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