PUBLIC DOMAIN Many things we consider to be nuts are not considered as such in botany.
Nuts are a type of fruit with a hard shell and edible seed. However, some of what we refer to as nuts in cooking are not considered nuts by botanists, like my personal favorite nut, the cashew. Nuts are the little seed houses of nature. They contain all the nutrients needed for little baby plants to grow up.
Warning, you’re about to learn some rather unappetizing facts: Nuts are technically just a dry fruit, which means that like all fruits, it is formed from the ovary of the plant. But as for what gives it that unique crunch (which I hope most people don’t associate with ovaries), why, that’s simply the ovarian wall drying as the fruit matures.
As it turns out, nuts are rather hard to classify. For example, walnuts have some characteristics which make people believe they’re “true nuts” and others that make people think they’re not. These types of nuts get their own category, the drupaceous nut. The name is derived from drupe fruits such as peaches or plums, things with fleshy exteriors and a single seed enclosed in a hard, almost stony material. Almonds are actually the seed of a drupe fruit and, ergo, are not real nuts.
Another nutty subcategory is the nutlet. It is also sometimes called a pyrena, and it refers to the stone within a drupe.
As I said earlier, nuts are the source of energy for new plants. This means that they are high in fats, calories, oils, vitamins and a bunch of other things which are super useful. This is why so many of us eat them. In fact it was found that 40 percent of adults consume nuts on a given day. This includes culinary and non-botanical nuts. And approximately 80 percent of these were found to be the whole nut or seed as opposed to nut products such as butter.
The CDC even claims that eating about 1.5 ounces of nuts per day (about 240 calories worth) can decrease the risk of a variety of bad things like cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. It’s worth noting that it’s hard to tell if it is the nut directly which creates this change rather than the substitution of nuts for other, more unhealthy snacks.
Although nuts have always been popular, the recent health craze has really pushed them over the top. Many people point to California agriculture as one of the biggest culinary nut producers in the world. In 2012, 790,000 acres of land produced almonds. Each of the acres yielded, on average, 2,390 pounds. That is a crazy amount of almonds (please respect that I resisted the urge to say “a nutty amount”).
However, it’s because the nut business is so hugely profitable that 10 percent of California’s water went to almond farming in 2014. It’s not just the weather that makes our West Coast neighbor such a drought-ridden state. It’s also their devotion to very water-heavy agriculture.
So yes, as it turns out, nuts aren’t all fun and games. They’re a serious, multi-million dollar industry. In fact, it’s thought that it takes about 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond.
However, I wouldn’t go cutting nuts out of your diet just yet. How much water does it take to get you that quarter pounder? About 150 gallons. So while it’s important to stay water-conscious, there’s no need to rush straight to boycotting nuts. Not having cashews with my morning cup of oatmeal? Well, that would be just nuts.