When you think of fruit, what comes to mind first?
Apples, oranges, and bananas are the usual suspects. You may even come up with something more creative like avocados or pineapples. Even some so-called “veggies” are actually fruits, like tomatoes and cucumbers.
But there is another type of fruit that often gets overlooked in the fruit discussion. (Okay, you’ve probably never had a “fruit discussion” but you understand where we’re going here.) Nuts are the oft-forgotten “middle child” of the fruit family.
People have been eating nuts for a few hundred thousand years, making them some of the oldest parts of our diets. And with thousands of years to think about it, we’ve found plenty of interesting ways to use those nuts.
Nut oil has also been around for thousands of years. They’re great to eat, but they have a ton of other great benefits too. Eating healthy nut oils keeps your hair strong and helps fend off skin ailments like acne and psoriasis.
Don’t know the first thing about nut oils? Don’t worry! You’re in the right place. In this complete guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about these delicious and useful oils.
Nuts Have a Place in Human History
You don’t need to go any further than a hotel nightstand to know how long nuts have been part of our history. The Bible makes many mentions of nuts throughout its text. In fact, look no further than the first few pages to find a reference to pistachios and almonds in the Book of Genesis.
It’s believed that early humans foraged for nuts and berries before they had the capabilities to hunt meat. An archeological dig in Israel revealed evidence of almonds, water chestnuts, and pistachios in human settlements dating back 780,000 years.
Early Native Americans used pitted stones to hold the nut in place. Then they used another stone, called a hammer, to strike the nut and bust open the hard, outer shell. They ate the nuts raw, roasted them over open fires, and even ground them down to make nut butter.
They made no waste of this precious food. When the nuts cooked, a layer of fat spread to the top of the cooking liquid, which they skimmed off and saved for later use. This is one of the earliest known forms of nut oil. They also dried the nut shells and used them as kindling for their fires.
Ancient Romans were fond of walnuts and considered them a food fit for the gods. They often ground up walnuts into powder to act as flour or a thickening agent.
Making oil was no new thing to these ancient peoples. They pressed olives, a fruit native to the Mediterranean basin, using large, stone presses. Many of the tribes who lived around the Mediterranean used this pressed olive oil for cooking, medicine, skin care, and religious ceremonies.
When these first oil presses came about, the world found a new way to enjoy the nuts and seeds they loved. Cooking with oil started to become more common. And eating oil as a condiment on bread and other grains became a diet staple for many of the world’s ancient people.
What Is a Nut?
Yes, everyone knows what nuts are, right? Well, let’s delve a little deeper into the actual definition of the nut.
A nut, in the botanical sense, is a fruit made of a hard shell with an edible seed inside. The shell is almost always inedible. This is a pretty strict definition and it squeezes out many of the foods we like to call nuts today, like peanuts and almonds.
But in a culinary sense, nuts are a much wider group of plants. This group also includes seeds, like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. And legumes, like peanuts. So for the sake of this article, we’re talking about any small, hard, bit of protein, full of rich fats.
Some Interesting Nut Facts
Want a little more nutty knowledge? Here are some of our favorite facts about nuts!
- Pistachios are bright green and so is their oil. That’s because they’re filled with chlorophyll, the same stuff that makes any green plant green.
- Although their name might fool you, peanuts aren’t a nut. They’re a legume and have more in common with peas and alfalfa than with other nuts.
- It’s okay to eat macadamia nuts off the ground. That’s because they don’t fall to the ground until they’re ripe. Which is why macadamia nut farmers usually only harvest nuts that are on the ground.
- Only one nut contains the elusive, yet essential, Omega-3 fatty acid. And that’s the walnut. You only need a handful of walnuts to meet your daily intake needs of Omega-3.
- Americans love peanut butter. We spend about $800 million every year on peanut butter products!
- Texans love their pecans. So much so that in 1919, the state adopted the pecan tree as the official state tree.
- Cashews are closely related to poison ivy! The oil produced by the shells of the cashew fruit is toxic and causes a skin reaction similar to poison ivy. But don’t worry, the oil produced from the nut itself is delicious.
- And speaking of cashews, they’re native to Brazil. What doesn’t come from Brazil? The Brazil nut! Most of these nuts are grown in the neighboring country of Bolivia.
- Almonds and chocolate are a match made in heaven. In fact, chocolate manufacturers purchase about 40% of the world’s almond crops every year!
- Nuts would be nothing without bees. Brazil nuts and almonds both depend solely on bees to pollinate their seeds.
The Many Benefits of Nuts
Hopefully, you enjoyed a few of those fun nutty facts. But we left out the best fact of all: nuts are super good for you! Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits you get from eating nuts and nut oil.
Nuts and nut oils are readily available and they work for almost any diet plan. If you’re trying to move toward a plant-based diet, or other healthy diet options, like the pegan diet, you can always use nuts as a way to increase your protein intake without turning to animal products. Plus, they’re delicious!
These fruits are full of healthy fats. The kind of fats that your heart loves. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are an essential part of every healthy diet. Especially if you’re at high risk for heart disease.
Eating bad fats increases the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your bloodstream. Numerous studies show that people who eat nuts were able to lower these levels over time.
Nut oils have a ton of antioxidants and other nutrients in them. These antioxidants fight off free radicals, those little rogue particles that develop in our bodies because of oxidative stress. Free radicals are a normal byproduct of your body’s metabolism. But certain diet choices can increase the number of free radicals in your body.
Eating fried foods, smoking, and drinking all cause the level of free radicals in your body to spike. And these lost little electrons can wreak havoc on your cells. They are a known factor in cancer development and arterial breakdown. Foods high in antioxidants fight off free radicals.
When you eat nuts, don’t overdo it. They are a high-fat food which can be detrimental to a weight loss plan over time. But you really don’t need to go “nuts” over these little snacks. Nuts pack a huge punch for such a tiny package.
In an ounce of nuts, you’ll get a big chunk of your daily nutritional requirements for vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium. You’ll also get several grams of fiber which aids in digestion.
Non-Fish Version of Omega-3
You may have heard of omega-3 before. This fatty acid is an essential tool that our bodies use to repair damaged cells. But it’s not something we can create, so we must get enough omega-3 in our diets to ensure we aren’t deficient.
One of the most common places to find omega-3 is in fish. And many people take fish oil as a supplement to get the omega-3s they need. But walnuts are also packed with omega-3. A small handful of walnuts, or a tablespoon of walnut oil, will give you a whole day’s worth of plant based omega 3 fatty acid, an essential nutrient.
Inflammation is your body’s defense mechanism for outside attacks from bacteria and other harmful substances. But eating certain foods can cause your body to go into inflammation overload. Chronic inflammation leads to diseases like heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
Taming inflammation is one of the biggest keys to healthy aging. Nut oils are packed with anti-inflammatory properties. A diet rich in these good fats helps keep your bones, muscles, and joints functioning normally as you age.
Great for Skin & Hair Health
Foods that are high in vitamin E are great for skin and hair. Eating nut oil on a regular basis brightens and clears skin. It also helps improve the look of wrinkles. And the anti-inflammatory properties clear up skin diseases like acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Lighter nut oils, like macadamia nut oil, are great for your hair. The hair follicle absorbs it easier than heavier oils. And it adds strength and shine to your mane.
Tips for Cooking with Nut Oil
What kinds of oils do you have in your kitchen? For most of us, the answer to that question is canola oil and extra virgin olive oil. And if that’s all you’re cooking with, you’re missing out!
Using a variety of oils in your cooking gives you a greater variety of flavors to choose from. And it packs your food with lots of different vitamins and minerals.
The first thing you should do when you go oil shopping is to ask yourself what types of flavors you like. There are so many good quality oils on the market today. You can get exactly what you want and avoid what you don’t.
For example, if you love peanuts, grab a high-quality peanut oil to add that peanutty goodness to your next stir fry. But don’t be afraid to try something new. Most of these oils come in smaller bottles so you can try one without having to commit for life.
And speaking of size, buying small bottles is the best way to buy unprocessed nut oils. There’s a reason that giant bottles of vegetable and canola oil are a staple in our pantries. They’re chemically processed so that they last a long time. And this processing removes most of their nutrients so that they have a higher smoking point.
Because they aren’t processed, many nut oils don’t have long shelf lives. Buy small and replace them as needed. Also, store them in a cool, dark place, like your pantry or refrigerator. This ensures that they last longer and retain their flavor better.
Unprocessed oils also have lower smoking points than other types of oil. So check your oil before you throw it in the frying pan. If the smoking point is low, odds are good that you’ll burn it if you try to saute with it.
The best way to use flavorful oils with low smoking points is as toppers for food that you’re eating raw or that you’ve already cooked. Nut oils make a great salad dressing. Or try adding a dash as a topper for meats and roasted vegetables.
Many high-quality nut oils are made through a process called cold-pressing. Cold pressing means that the nuts or seeds are squeezed inside a press until they release oil.
In the old days, they pressed nuts and seeds using huge stones that ground together to produce pressure strong enough to press out the oil. Oil presses now use hydraulic screws to apply pressure to the nuts.
Usually, they grind the nuts into a coarse meal before they enter the press. The oil that comes from cold pressing is the highest quality, retaining the most flavor and nutrient density.
When you hear the term “virgin” it often refers to cold pressed oil. Anytime someone applies heat or chemicals to the fruit, the oil isn’t referred to as virgin. And virgin oils are the best way to go when you’re looking to add flavor to a dish.
Nut Oil Breakdown: What to Saute and What to Drizzle
Now that we’ve gone over a few basic cooking tips, let’s talk about individual nut oils and how you can add them to your cooking.
Do you like peanuts? Peanut oil makes things taste and smell like peanuts. Which is great if you’re making peanut butter cookies or stir-frying Asian style.
It’s a flavor that works well for fried poultry, like fried chicken. And if you plan to fry your turkey this Thanksgiving, peanut oil makes a great vessel because it has a high smoking point. Plus, it’s one of the least expensive oils on the list, which makes it great for filling up a fryer.
But avoid peanut oil if you don’t want your food to taste like peanuts. Like when you’re grilling a steak or baking a cake.
Sesame oil has a strong, nutty flavor and a little goes a long way. It’s a darker oil with a medium-high smoking point. So it does work in sauteed dishes. But you wouldn’t want to use it as a frying oil.
It makes a great addition to a salad. Almost any Asian dish will taste great with a dash of sesame oil in it. And if you have a peanut allergy, it’s a good alternative to peanut oil. It gives you a strong, nutty flavor without the same allergens you’d get with peanuts.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
When you think of pumpkin seeds, you may think of those flat, white seeds you pull out of the jack-o-lantern before Halloween. But the white part is only the outer casing. Inside, those pumpkin seeds are bright green.
Pumpkin seed oil retains that beautiful green color. It has a light, fresh taste that’s totally different than the nut oils we’ve mentioned already. Because it smells like pumpkins!
It’s great for drizzling over roasted veggies. And it works well with fall-inspired dishes. It’s even a good addition to sweet dishes like fried ice cream or french toast. It has a low smoking point, so don’t do any high-temp cooking with this oil.
Walnut oil channels the earthy, buttery flavor of walnuts. Unlike some of the other oils on this list, walnut oil is light and almost colorless. It’s not a good oil for heat, but it’s a fantastic addition to salad dressing.
It comes in roasted and unroasted varieties. The roasted version of this oil has a much stronger flavor than that of unroasted oil. Both are delicious in their own way but beware of this before you buy.
The best part about walnut oil is that it contains omega-3 fatty acids, something that not many foods can claim. This nutrient is essential for our health, but our bodies can’t produce it. So we must get it from our diet.
Most people get omega-3s from fish oil supplements. But just a spoonful of walnut oil has almost a full daily allowance of this vital nutrient.
Using pistachio oil in your cooking adds a burst of green goodness to any dish. It has a deep, rich flavor, so a little bit goes a long way. It’s best used as a finishing oil, applying it just before you’re done cooking meats and vegetables.
It makes a great dipping oil because of its beautiful color. Add it to a bread and cheese platter as a dipping option.
You can even bake with it. Replace a few spoonfuls of olive oil for pistachio oil in sweet dishes where you want that nutty flavor.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, Texans love their pecans! But you don’t have to be from the Lone Star State to enjoy this beautiful oil.
Pecan oil is light and mild. And unlike other nut oils, it has a high smoking point – even higher than peanut oil! So it can be used to fry and saute in place of peanut oil when you’re looking for a more mild flavor. It’s more expensive than peanut oil, so you probably don’t want to fill the whole fryer with it.
Plus, pecan oil makes a great addition to sweet dishes. Use it in place of butter in any recipe to add that mild, nutty flavor to the dish.
Macadamia Nut Oil
Some people call the macadamia the king of nuts. And they’re not far off. Macadamia nut oil is super versatile.
These nuts have a high concentration of fatty acids. Your body uses these fatty acids to produce sebum, which makes your hair and skin look and feel beautiful. So that’s one great reason to incorporate this oil into your diet.
It also happens to taste amazing! This oil is light in color, almost clear. And it has a mild, buttery taste. Plus, it sports a high smoking point, giving you another option for frying. Add this to the bottom of your pan for a healthier alternative to other deep frying oils.
You Need Nut Oils In Your Life!
Want to kill two birds with one stone? Add nut oils to your cooking! They’ll spice up your kitchen, giving you a ton of flavor variety. And they’ll add lots of nutrients to your diet.
Remember to start by trying small bottles of the flavors you love. Then branch out. Test different varieties of oils. You may find some that you love even more than your tried and true favorites.
Also, beware of the smoke points of the oils so you don’t burn them and ruin a dish. Keep them in a cool, dry place, like a dark pantry or the refrigerator. And experiment with different uses, like baking and dipping.
Trust us, you won’t be disappointed if you give these delicious, power-packed oils a try!
Have you tried adding nut oils into your diet? Looking for new ways to incorporate healthy eating into your lifestyle? Check out our healthy living section here for more ideas!