With the rise in popularity of plant based diets, more people are turning to nuts as an alternative protein source. We think this is wonderful! Nuts have been part of traditional diets for centuries and their nutritional value is unparalleled. Plus, they’re delicious and so versatile.
Growing your own food is by far the most affordable way to access organic, fresh, nutrient-dense food without harming the planet. If you’re not growing nut trees yet, consider adding a few varieties to your yard or garden.
From nut butter to nut-dye, here are five ways you can enjoy your backyard nut harvest.
Nut milk is a nice alternative for those who don’t do dairy or just want to bring more variety into their diet. You can certainly make your own almond milk, but hazelnuts and pecans both make excellent nut milks, too. Most recipes just require nuts, water, and salt with the option of a natural sweetener - make your own and avoid sugar and additives!
A Beautiful Plate shares a recipe for Homemade Hazelnut Milk along with suggestions for what to do with the leftover pulp. And here’s a helpful cooking lesson from The Kitchn on how to make milk from pretty much any nut!
We love making our own nut butter! The recipe is so simple - you basically toss raw or roasted nuts into a blender or food processor and blend until it turns into butter. You can add chopped nuts for a crunchy texture if you like that.
Minimalist Baker walks you through the process of making your own nut butter and encourages you to mix nuts for unique and delicious flavour combinations!
Below: making homemade hazelnut butter in our tiny kitchen using nuts from our orchard. Nut flour can be made the same way (see below), but you stop grinding before it turns to butter.
Nut flour is a bit trendy right now, especially almond flour, but nut flour or nut meal has long been used in traditional European baking (like in our Marzipan recipe here!) Nut meal gives baked treats a rich flavour and chewy texture. It’s also a gluten-free flour alternative and super high in healthy fats and protein.
The trick with making nut flour is to stop blending it before it turns to nut butter!
Roasted nuts give off the most delicious aroma when cooking. You can toast them in a cast iron pan, bake them in the oven (seasoned or simply salted), or roast them over an open fire. They add a nutritional boost and tasty crunch to salads, soups, oatmeal, bread, desserts and they make an excellent portable snack.
This one is less about nutrition, but equally important because it could concern what you put on your skin, which is absorbed into your body. You can use nut husks, shells, and skins to make lovely natural dyes for fabric, wood, wool - usually shades of brown.
Here’s a great video tutorial on making dye with black walnut husks.
A few notes
Once you’ve cracked the nuts, you’re left with husks and skins. These, along with the leaves, can be used to make medicinal tinctures, natural dye and wood stain, or used as mulch in your perennial garden.
It's so important to use fresh, organic nuts in all of the above recipes. Unfortunately it's difficult to ensure nuts purchased from bulk grocery stores are fresh. Growing them yourself is ideal.
Grow Nut Trees For Your Climate
Did you know that you can grow nuts in your backyard in most Canadian climates?
Here are some of our favourites from our Fall Tree Seed Catalogue:
Butternut - Butternut tree nuts are tender, sweet, oily, with a rich, buttery flavour. They look like a walnut, but are sweeter and creamier! Crushed Butternuts are wonderful in breads and muffins, sprinkled over soup and salads, or used to add richness to sauces.
Chinese Chestnut - Enjoy them roasted, in soup or grind them into a paste and make a cake for the most decadent baking experience you will ever have!
American Chestnut - This giant, gentle provider was once a staple food source among Indigenous people and later, settlers. The nuts are edible raw but delicious roasted.
American Hazelnut - Rich in protein and healthy fats and high in flavour, American Hazelnuts are super yummy and versatile.
Beaked Hazelnuts - A native nut tree species that adds diversity to a woodland garden and produces a delicious crop of highly nutritious nuts.
Heartnut - The Heartnut kernel is creamy and white, with a smooth, oily texture and deliciously sweet flavour! Toast the nuts for deeper flavour, chop, and sprinkle on salads, oatmeal, fruit crisps and yogurt. Heart nuts are great in place of pine nuts in pesto!
Hardy Pecan - This sought after tree produces wonderful, edible nuts after about nine years, and every second year going forward. This tree can live for 300 years!
Shagbark Hickory - Its sweet, smoky flavour is like a cross between a walnut and pecan, and it is a superior substitute in baking and salads. Toasting especially intensifies its rich flavour!
Black Walnut - These offer a sweet, oily delicacy high in omega-3s! Try them in soups, roasted and sprinkled on salads, and baked into casseroles to lend rich flavour to your cooking.
Plant Native Trees to Protect Biodiversity!
Imagine having a delicious plant-based protein source in your backyard? Minimizing food miles is one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint and increase your food security. Planting native and diverse tree species increases biodiversity of plants and animals, which supports our fragile ecosystems and life here on this beautiful earth!
The Environmental Impacts of the California Almond Industry
Unfortunately, our consumption of commercially grown nuts and nut-based products like almond milk has had far-reaching environmental consequences.
While whole almonds (like most nuts) are super nutritious - loaded with vitamins, minerals, fats, protein, and fibre - most commercial almond milk contains sugar, stabilizers and emulsifiers and aren’t significantly high in protein. And the California almonds used to make it are part of an unsustainable industry.
More than 80% of commercial almonds are grown in California, which is experiencing its worst drought in history. Growing almonds on a commercial scale is also extremely water intensive. Accordinging to this article in the Guardian, it takes 5 litres of water to grow one almond. It hurts the bees, too - the pesticide use to this point has had major impacts on honeybee and wild bee populations and has contributed to colony collapse disorder.
So, how can we enjoy all the health benefits of our favourite nuts without the negative environmental impact?
There’s actually a way to do so and impact the environment in positive ways - grow your own nuts!