Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health

Archive for the ‘coconut’ Category


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on June 18, 2012

In preparing to write an article on vegan Filipino cuisine for Vegetarian Journal, I began researching the intriguing array of ingredients typical to the cuisine of these faraway islands.

Always on the hunt for dishes that feature nuts in their recipes, I was amazed to discover how extensively employed coconuts are in everyday Filipino dishes. Liberally used are not just coconut milk and coconut cream, but also everything from the sweet water of the young coconut, the young coconut meat (buko), and the meat of the mature coconut (makapuno). All are included in some form in numerous home-style recipes and beverages.

Fond memories
The mention of coconut water brings warm memories of a recent visit to Manila to see my son, who has been living in the Philippines for many years. Seems I had a good excuse to hop on a plane with my husband and enjoy exploring many corners of this fascinating country.

While visiting, I always look forward to the fortifying snack of young coconut, so readily available at snack stands or markets. You can easily recognize a young coconut by its slightly off-white fibrous skin and its dramatic, cone-shaped top. The place is hot, really, really hot and humid, and it’s easy to feel like you’re melting away. We discovered that a young coconut is the quickest way to restore the soul with invigorating comfort. The cool, refreshing, and naturally sweet coconut water works like magic to bring relief from the oppressive climate. The coconut water is refreshing for good reason–it’s high in potassium, calcium, and magnesium and low in fat.

Snacking like a Filipino
To reach the coconut meat, an experienced coconut aficionado is usually on hand to open the tough shell with the skillful whack of a frightfully wicked-looking knife. Within moments, I was plunging my small plastic spoon into the thin layer of soft, quivering, jelly-like coconut meat.

So what’s a young coconut like to eat? It depends on the maturity. Texture-wise, a young coconut is spongy soft, gelatinous, and delicately sweet. The delicate flesh of a really young coconut is so airy and satin-like that within three or four spoonfuls, it’s gone in a whisk. One that’s a little more “mature” might have sweet, slightly firmer meat, but never as firm as the fully mature crunchy, shredded coconut used for baked goodies. Because the meat of the young coconut amounts to no more than just a few spoonfuls, it refreshes and comforts completely without leaving one overfull. It’s one of my favorite snacks.

If left on the tree to mature completely, that coconut would contain the familiar firm, chewy, white meat that turns up in supermarkets as sweetened, shredded or dried, grated unsweetened coconut.

When I returned home, I found myself craving young coconut. I hadn’t paid much attention to coconuts before. Just thinking about how to open one seemed daunting. But now that I’ve seen how easy it is, I thought I would share a few simple steps with you.

Coconut wizardry made easy
First, you’ll need to drink the coconut water or pour it into a container and refrigerate it to enjoy later. You can use hammer and an awl or firm, pointed tool to poke a hole in the top of the coconut. The hole should be large enough to poke in a straw so you can sip the delicious beverage leisurely.

Alternatively, you can lay the coconut on its side and whack the top 1 1/2 inches off with a very firm, sharp clever. You’ll have to give it some really aggressive blows to accomplish this. Though the meat is ultra soft, the shell is tough as nails. You can then put your straw into the coconut or tip the coconut and pour out the water. You may lose some of the delicious water in the process until your coconut-opening skills improve.

To enjoy the young coconut meat, the only tool you’ll need is a spoon to simply scoop it up, one delicious spoonful at a time.

There’s a considerable distinction between the water of a young coconut and that of a mature coconut. Young coconut water is sweet, delicious, and nourishing, while the water of mature coconuts is not sweet and usually discarded.

From scratch coconut cream
Coconut cream and coconut milk are extracted from mature coconut meat. You might say we’re a bit spoiled because we can easily go to the grocery and buy both coconut cream and coconut milk in cans. Because this convenience is so available, most of us are unaware of the laborious and time-consuming process involved in extracting coconut milk.

If you’re a do-it-from-scratch cook, you’ll relish the process: It’s not difficult, just time consuming. First, pierce the three eyes of the mature coconut using a hammer and awl, and discard the coconut water.

Then, use a hammer to crack the coconut open. Scoop out the flesh, and chop it into thumbnail-size pieces. Put half of them into a blender with 1 1/2 cups of hot water, and blend for about 30 seconds.

Line a bowl with several layers of cheesecloth large enough to drape over the sides and pour in the blender contents. Lift up the cheesecloth and squeeze to extract the liquid. This liquid, the first pressing, is rich, thick, full-fat coconut cream. Repeat with the other half of the coconut meat.

For coconut milk, put the coconut meat back into the blender with about 1 cup of warm water and process. Extract the liquid by pouring and squeezing the liquid through the cheesecloth. The result will be medium-fat coconut milk.

To make low-fat coconut milk, follow the same procedure a third time, using about 1 cup of warm water in the blender. To many people living outside the major cities in the South Pacific, extracting coconut milk is common practice.

Time to cook an island delight
Below is a delicious, celebratory Filipino main dish that features coconut milk and pineapple, two food treats that are grown throughout the islands. The dish is super easy to make because the ingredients list and the process are so short, you’ll have it done in 3 steps. Serve it over rice for a winning meal. An everyday staple of the Filipino diet is white rice, but brown rice is so much healthier.

I like the short-grain brown rice because of its chewy nature and its stickiness, similar to sticky white rice but much better for you because of its higher fiber content. It’s available in Asian markets or natural food stores and takes about 35 to 45 minutes to cook.

The traditional recipe with an untraditional twist
You’re about to shake hands with Pinnyahang Manok, a rich, flavorful Filipino coconut milk and pineapple dish. The actual Tagalog translation is Pineapple Chicken Stew, so you can see I’ve taken a traditional Filipino chicken dish and applied a little kitchen magic to turn it into a delicious vegan delight. I’ve also lowered the fat content considerably by using the water-sauté method to cook the onions and carrots rather than sautéeing in oil or butter.

Another departure is the addition of oyster mushrooms, which do not typically appear in this island dish. The mushrooms definitely do add a tasty touch, yet keep the dish delicately flavored to show off the coconut milk and pineapple.

This recipe, seasoned simply with garlic, salt, and a bit of miso, makes a mouthwatering, light summer meal served over brown rice. Enjoy!


(Coconut Tofu with Pineapple)

Yield: 5 to 6 servings

1 large onion, sliced, slices halved
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

3/4 pound firm or extra firm tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3 1/2 ounces oyster mushrooms, large ones halved
1 small white potato, unpeeled, cut into bite-size pieces
1 (13.5-ounce) can low-fat to medium-fat coconut milk
1 tomato, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

3 cups canned or fresh bite-size pineapple chunks, drained
12 whole snow peas, trimmed
1 to 3 teaspoons red miso or to taste

1. Combine the onion, carrot, and garlic in a large, deep skillet. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons water and water-sauté the vegetables over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until the onions are soft and transparent. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the onions and carrots and prevent burning.
2. Add the tofu, mushrooms, coconut milk, and tomato and cook about 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
3. Add the pineapple chunks and snow peas and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with the miso and salt.

Want to make fresh coconut milk at home? It’s easy. All you need is the grated flesh of one mature coconut, which makes about 4 cups grated flesh. To save time, buy frozen grated coconut flesh in an Asian market. Allow it to thaw completely and combine it with 1/2 cup of water in a bowl. Squeeze the flesh with your hands and you’ll soon have rich coconut cream. Strain the coconut cream. The flesh is still perfectly usable and makes a great addition to a fresh salad.

If you’re aiming for a low-fat coconut milk, strain and reserve the coconut cream, and knead the flesh again with about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water for a really thin, low-fat coconut milk. Adding about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water will result in a medium-fat coconut milk. Strain and enjoy.

Posted in coconut, Nut Recipes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on June 14, 2011

Travel season has arrived! Have you packed your nutty nibbles to tide you over until you reach your destination? Whether it’s a road trip, a cruise, or a flight to some exotic destination, it’s great to have some tasty travel companions–nutty companions, that is. Delicious, nutty and fruity companions make those nibbles even better.

I never travel without packing nutty little treats in my purse, my suitcase, and my carry-on. They sustain me when food is a long way off, and all I need is just a few bites to quell the hunger pangs or feel the need for a little pick-me-up.

This unique recipe is one you can prepare months or weeks in advance, pop into plastic zipper-lock baggies, and off you go. These yummy Tropical Nut Chews can travel unrefrigerated, even in extremely dry or very moist climates.

A delicious sweet treat that spotlights fruits and nuts, this tropical confection can be baked in the oven or dried in the dehydrator. Baking permits a bit more spontaneity, while dehydrating requires planning ahead for the approximately 24 hours it takes to finish in the dehydrator. Either method will bring you a delightful, chewy cookie/confection with the irresistible fruity flavors of the islands. The unique feature of the nutty treats is their ability to travel well without refrigeration for up to two months. You can take them camping, backpacking, and even globe trotting.


Yield: approximately 50 three-inch squares

8 to 10 ounces unsweetened dried pineapple, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 ounces dried unsweetened mango, cut into 1-inch pieces or Turkish apricots, chopped
Boiling water

4 cups dried, unsweetened grated coconut
2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 cup roasted unsalted cashews, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

8 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups pitted dates, cut in half
1/3 cup peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1. Line 3 jellyroll pans with parchment paper or 3 dehydrator trays with Teflex sheets and set them aside.
2. Place the pineapple and mango pieces into a large bowl. Cover the fruit with boiling water and set aside to soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Combine the coconut, peanuts, cashews, and cinnamon in an extra large bowl and set aside.
4. Place half the soaked pineapple and mango pieces into the food processor, along with half the bananas, half the dates, and half the ginger. Process until smooth and creamy and transfer to the bowl with the nuts.
5. Process the remaining bananas, dates, ginger, and soaked pineapple and mango until almost completely pureed. Avoid over-processing. The small bits of pineapple, mango, dates, and ginger add pleasing texture and tangy flavor. Transfer the mixture to bowl and mix well to distribute all the ingredients evenly.
6. TO BAKE THE TROPICAL NUT CHEWS, preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Spoon the fruit mixture onto the prepared jellyroll pans and press with the back of a spoon to spread the mixture, forming large rectangles that cover 3/4ths of each baking pan. Use a flatware knife to score the fruit mixture into 2- or 3-inch squares.
7. Bake for 3 hours, then, turn the chews by inverting the slabs onto another piece of parchment. Bake for another 1 1/2 hours, or until well dried. Cool completely and break into pieces. Tropical Fruit Chews can be stored in heavy-duty zipper-lock plastic bags and kept at room temperature for up to two months. For longer storage, refrigerate them for up to 6 months.
8. TO DEHYDRATE THE TROPICAL NUT CHEWS, spread the fruit mixture onto 3 Teflex-lined dehydrator trays, score into 2-or 3-inch pieces with a flatware knife, and dehydrate at 115 degrees for about 12 hours. Invert the slabs onto the open dehydrator trays and dehydrate about 8 to 10 hours longer, or until thoroughly dried. Stored in heavy-duty zipper-lock plastic bags, the chews will keep at room temperature for up to 6 months.

NOTE: If you prefer to use fresh coconut in place of the dried, purchase a mature coconut that is free of cracks and feels heavy with water. To crack it open, hold the coconut in the palm of your hand with the eyes facing either side. Hold the coconut over the kitchen sink and use the blunt end of a heavy-duty cleaver or chef’s knife to pound all around the perimeter of an imaginary line that goes through the center, between the eyes and the stem end. Turn the coconut as you pound. As soon as the coconut begins to crack, discard the coconut water into the sink. Use a small, firm paring knife to separate the coconut meat from the shell. Place the coconut meat into the food processor, in batches, and pulse chop it into a coarse meal or coarsely shred the pieces by hand. You will have about 4 to 5 cups of freshly grated coconut meat.

Posted in cashews, coconut, Nut Desserts, Nut Recipes, peanuts, Vegan Desserts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on June 27, 2009

Chef AJ has done it again! An innovative instructor, ablaze with the desire to inspire, she motivated the students of her healthy cooking classes to challenge their deepest, most inventive skills to create an innovative, truly healthy fruit and nut ball. By holding a contest to inspire them, Chef AJ lit the spark that set the students on a whirlwind kitchen adventure to dazzle the judges.

The unique Ball-off Contest, held Sunday, June 7, 2009, proved to be an exciting, one-of-a-kind event that had all the contest participants, the onlookers, cheering section, and the judges on edge. There was to be only one winner who would receive a copy of my cookbook, The Nut Gourmet, in addition to private lessons with Chef AJ.

The distinguished judging panel
The judging panel of three included me, Zel Allen, my husband Reuben, who is co-publisher of Vegetarians in Paradise, an online vegetarian magazine, and Kimberly Horowitz. Chef AJ chose Kimberly as part of the panel of judges because Kimberly has the reputation of being a very fussy eater. Chef AJ says, “Kimberly hates everything! If she likes something at all, it must really be good.” We felt like celebrities with the power to change lives—well, almost.

Since there were six entries in the contest, there were six platters lined up at the judging table. Each platter, heaping with stunning fruit and nut-ball creations, had a number that corresponded to the participant. Only Chef AJ knew which balls belonged to which participant.

The balls were to be judged on three categories: appearance, creativity, and taste. Because each of the entries was amazing, flavorful, visually appealing, and downright delicious, each deserved special recognition. Choosing only one winner was tough—actually it was painfully agonizing and the judging panel deliberated with great seriousness to arrive at a true winner.

Let the tasting begin!
We tasted each of the balls, one at a time, and were captivated by each one. Yet we kept returning to platter #3, then platter #1, and again to platter #4, and #2. And on and on, savoring each of the distinctive entries. The creativity was commendable and refreshing.

Finally, we reached an exhilarating conclusion. The winner was Platter #2 that belonged to Nataly Carranza’s Almond Dream Balls. Quite often simple ingredients, assembled in just the ideal quantities, can become enchanting creations. That was what kept bringing our judging panel back to Platter #2. It was the combination of raw almonds, almond butter, and almond extract that earned the top award.

Below are the recipes for each of the delicious entries. Any one you choose to make will bring pleasure and taste delight to all who partake of these original taste treats made from all natural ingredients—nothing refined or processed here.


Almond Dream Balls
By Nataly Carranza, the top prize winner

Yield: 15 to 20 balls

1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup raw walnuts

1/2 cup pitted dates
1/4 cup raw almond butter
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Shredded coconut

1. Place the almonds and walnuts into the food processor and process until coarsely chopped.
2. Add the dates, almond butter, and almond extract and process until the mixture holds together.
3. Place the shredded coconut into a small bowl. Remove 1 tablespoon of the date/nut mixture from the processor at a time and roll into 1-inch balls.
4. Roll the balls in the shredded coconut to coat completely.



Heavenly Balls
By Linda Zimmerling

Yield: 15 to 18 balls

1 cup raw pecans
1 handful dates soaked in water
5 unsoaked dates
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon caramel extract

1. Combine all the ingredients in the food processor and process until they are well moistened and thoroughly combined to desired consistency.
2. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls by rolling between the palms of the hands.



Mint Chocolate Chip Balls
By YiFan Rao

Yield: Twenty 3/4-inch balls

10 to 15 dates to taste
1/2 cup hemp seeds
2 tablespoons cacao powder
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup of almonds
1 cup of cashews (or any combination of nuts)

Cacao nibs for coating the balls

1. Place the dates, hemp seeds, cacao powder, mint leaves, and vanilla extract into the food processor and process to a mushy consistency. Remove the date mixture and set side.
2. Place the nuts into the processor and process to a flour consistency. Add the date mixture and process until well combined.
3. Form the fruit-nut mixture into small balls about 1-inch in diameter. Place the cacao nibs into a small bowl and roll the balls into the nibs to coat them.



Coconut Delights
By Paula Shields

Yield: about 18 balls

2 cups raw pecans
1 cup raw almonds
12 to 15 dates, soaked overnight in just enough water to cover
1 handful black and golden raisins combined
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or more to taste

3 to 4 ounces coconut powder

1. Combine the almonds, dates, raisins, vanilla extract, sunflower seeds, and cinnamon in the food processor and process, adding the date water as needed to wet and bind the mixture.
2. Place the coconut powder into a small bowl. Form the date-nut mixture into 1-inch balls and roll them in the coconut powder to coat them completely.



Mama’s Balls
By Blanca Carranza

Yield: 15 to 20 balls

3 plantains

1/2 pitted dates
1/4 cacao powder
1/4 orange juice

Cacao nibs
1/4 raw chopped walnuts

1. Boil the plantains until soft. Cut them in half and remove the fibrous strings from the center
2. Place the plantains into the food processor along with the dates, cacao powder, and orange juice and process until smooth.
3. Remove about 1 tablespoon of the mixture at a time and roll into 1-inch balls.
4. Combine the cacao nibs and chopped walnuts in a small bowl and roll the balls in cacao nibs and chopped walnuts in the mixture to coat completely.

Posted in almonds, cashews, coconut, Nut Desserts, Nut Recipes, pecans, sunflower seeds, Vegan Desserts, walnuts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The NUTTY Ball-Off Contest

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on April 18, 2009

My friend, Chef AJ, teaches healthy vegan cooking classes. At the end of a special 6-week session, she inspired her students to take on a unique challenge—to create their own, from-scratch NUT BALL recipe as a dessert treat. To make this challenge even more exciting, she gave them a deadline and said there would be a contest and an enticing prize.

Chef AJ gave her students a rough recipe for the Nut Balls and asked that they design their recipe without any kind of traditional sweetener—only dates. There were no restrictions on ingredients—only that they be natural, unrefined, and unprocessed.

On the evening of Sunday, April 4, three of us intrepid tasters participated in judging this unique and very spirited event—my husband and I and Kimberly Elliott (because she hates healthy food and will only eat stuff that tastes really great.) Of AJ’s nine students, five of them entered their creations and made enough Nut Balls for all of the 15 to 20 attendees to taste as well. Though the event took on a raucous party-like atmosphere, there was a serious edge to the contest–the judging was to be based on appearance, taste, and creativity. The entire group also voted.

Knowing what lay ahead, my husband and I ate lightly for dinner to keep our palates refreshed and clear. Each of the Nut Balls was innovatively conceived, deliciously indulgent, and looked visually engaging, but two recipes stood out from the rest for their exceptional taste and out-of-the-box creativity.

Following are the NUTTY BALLS recipes along with their photos that are so enticing you might want to reach into the dish and nab one:


    Blue Ribbon Prize Winner

NUT BALLS by YiFan Rao

Yield: about 25 to 30 one-inch balls

1 1/2 cups of raw almonds

1 cup of macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
1 cup of dried pineapple, diced
1 cup of dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup of raw almonds, roughly chopped

10 to 12 dates, soaked in water overnight

1 cup golden flax seeds

1. Grind the 1 1/2 cups of raw almonds to a fine meal in the food processor and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Add the macadamias, pineapple, apricots and the 1/2 cup chopped almonds to the bowl.
3. Chop the dates and add them to the bowl. Mix well until the mixture becomes sticky.
4. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls by rolling between the palms of the hands, then, roll the balls in the flax seeds to coat them completely. Place the balls into a covered container and freeze. Serve the balls frozen, partly defrosted, or room temperature.

Note: If you prefer sweeter balls, add more dates to taste.

The balls are very sweet for my taste so I rolled them in golden flax seeds to offset the sweetness. Since many people thought the flax seeds were sesame, I’m sure sesame seeds will work just as well. …YiFan



    Second Prize Winner

NUT BALLS by Paula Shields

Yield: 18 to 20 one-inch balls

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raw pecans
1/2 cup raw almonds, soaked for several hours
1 1/2 teaspoons non-alcoholic vanilla extract
10 to 12 dates soaked in water overnight
1 tablespoon goji berries
1 tablespoon raisins (black, golden, or a blend)
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs, slightly ground

1/4 cup dried coconut, finely ground

1. Combine all the ingredients, except the dried coconut, in the food processor and process to a fine or slightly chunky consistency, adding the date soaking water as needed to moisten and bind the ingredients together.
2. Form into balls by hand and roll each one in the ground coconut. Place the balls into a covered container and put them into the freezer. Serve frozen or room temperature.

Note: Dried cranberries would also make a tasty addition.



    Honorable Mention

NUT BALLS by Wolfie Cavender

Yield: about 40 one-inch balls

2 cups raw cashews
1 1/2 cups raw sunflower seeds

1 3/4 cups cacao powder, divided
2 cups of dates, finely chopped
1 cup of dried cherries, finely chopped

1. Place the cashews and sunflower seeds into the food processor and process them until they are finely ground.
2. Add 1/2 cup of the cacao powder, the dates, and the cherries to the food processor and process until all the ingredients are finely ground.
3. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls by rolling between the palms of the hands. Place the remaining cacao powder into a bowl and roll the balls in the powder, coating them completely.
4. Place the finished balls into a covered container and freeze them. Serve them frozen, partially thawed, or room temperature.

Note: The balls are quite firm and dense. Soaking the dates or cherries or both will create balls with a more moist texture.



    Honorable Mention

NUT BALLS by Pamela Lopez

Yield: about 24 one-inch balls

1 cup raw almonds, finely ground in food processor
3/4 cup sunflower seeds, finely ground
1/4 cup cacao powder

1 cup chopped dates
1 handful raw cacao nibs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons cacao powder

1. Combine the nuts, seeds, and cacao powder in the food processor and pulse briefly.
2. Add the dates, cacao nibs, and vanilla extract and process until the mixture becomes well blended and sticky.
3. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls by rolling between the palms of the hands and then roll them in cacao powder. Place the balls into a covered, shallow, plastic container and freeze them. Serve frozen, slightly thawed, or room temperature.

Note: To vary the recipe, use pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, or a mixture in place of the sunflower seeds. Other dried fruits like goji berries or cherries may be used instead of or in addition to the dates.



    Honorable Mention

NUT BALLS by Matthew Weisman

My recipe was the same as Pamela’s, but I used raw pistachios instead of the raw almonds.

Posted in almonds, cashews, coconut, Macadamias, Nut Desserts, Nut Recipes, Nut Uses, pecans, sunflower seeds, Vegan Desserts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on March 13, 2009

On the first weekend in March I was floating on a nut cloud and swimming in a warm and fuzzy nut pond. And if you’re as much of a nut butter lover as I am, I can assure you there was plenty to spread around.

Every year on the first weekend in March, the Natural Products EXPO comes to the Anaheim convention center in California for the largest food show in the country. This is the premier event for food manufacturers and sellers to display their wares and introduce new food products to retail buyers, the press, and those with a related food focus. The convention halls were practically bursting at the seams with 1900 vendors and 53,000 people in a frenzied environment of food tasting and product samplings along with an impressive array of knock-your-socks-off food displays.

As usual, I was trained on seeking nut products and trying to discover any unique ways nuts were being incorporated into good things to eat. Simply put, the experience was a banquet! And nuts were not the only items eager sellers were sampling.
Peanut products won my popularity prize with the most vendors selling peanut butters, some purely organic, others enhanced with flavorings and palm oils to keep the nuts and the oils from separating. Many of the peanut companies posted notices on their websites stressing that none of their products came from the disgraceful Peanut Corporation of America responsible for all that contaminated peanut butter.

Overall, nuts made an excellent showing, but the one disappointment for me was that none of the hot prepared foods contained nuts of any kind with the exception of a lonely Thai peanut sauce and a peanut tofu. Nuts are so nutritious and high in protein and fiber–why couldn’t they serve as an excellent replacement for other protein-containing foods like tofu, wheat gluten, or animal-based items?

This year I noticed more companies featuring nuts in their products. Here’s a run-down of what I saw:
• nutty granola varieties and granola bars
• energy bars
• trail mixes
• meal replacement bars
• raw power bars
• almond milk
• hemp milk
• almond and hazelnut-flavored ice cream and gelato
• nut butters
• nut brittle
• chocolate-covered nut creams
• nut pralines
• chocolate covered nuts
• raw nuts
• roasted nuts
• and nuts seasoned with everything from habanera chiles to onions and garlic.

The most innovative new product I met at the market was peanut tofu. Though I was awe-struck at the moment, I later realized peanut tofu makes perfect sense—the Chinese employed the soybean in a unique process that turned it into tofu. The peanut is also a bean—so why not peanut tofu?

Of all the nutty products at the EXPO, my personal blue ribbon award goes to Sunergia Soyfoods from Virginia for the most creative product I have ever encountered. If you’re into the vegetarian lifestyle, you know that tofu is a great source of plant-based protein. But would you ever imagine a tofu made from peanuts? This outrageously creative company came up with Nufu Peanut Tofu—a tofu made from peanuts in two tasty flavors—sesame ginger and herbed hickory. With great flavor and familiar tofu texture, this peanut tofu packs 5 grams of protein in a 2-ounce serving. I’m sold!

Novel ideas always show up at the EXPO. One company, Justin’s Nut Butter from Colorado, came up with a hip way to package and sell nut butter—little one-ounce foil-wrapped nut butter squeeze packs perfect for moms to pack into kids’ lunch boxes. Smart marketing idea! They also make classic peanut butter and p-butter flavored with honey and cinnamon. Their classic almond butters are also perked up with honey or maple flavoring. To prevent the nut oils from separating, they add organic palm fruit oil to their products.

Mrs. May’s Naturals from California attracted a pack of nut-loving snackers to gobble up their amazing nut crunches that feature every variety of slow-roasted nuts and seeds you can think of. Some are combined with sea salt and sweetened with organic sugar–others are simply blended with fruits to give them sweet appeal. But all of them are irresistible and often show up at parties like the Academy Awards gathering I attended recently. There were bowls of these crunchy babies on every table.

One of my favorite standout products at the market was Sunbutter from North Dakota, a totally peanut-free butter made from roasted sunflower seeds. The unsweetened variety is my fave and is unbelievably tasty with nothing more than roasted sunflower seeds. It’s got awesome flavor and is actually reminiscent of ultra creamy peanut butter. Anyone allergic to peanuts or tree nuts could safely enjoy this treat because it’s made in a peanut-free and tree-nut free processing plant. The other varieties include those made with organic sunflower seeds, sea salt, mixed tocopherols (those are fat-soluble antioxidants in the Vitamin E family), and evaporated cane juice (a fancy name for organic sugar).

Yummy nuts made by Yumnuts Naturals from Connecticut truly are just that—a yummy snack food made with dry roasted cashews as the base. Each of the six varieties is coated with sweeteners like honey, corn syrup, and/or sugar. Some have other irresistible additions like cocoa powder, coconuts, salt, chili powder, lime juice, and zesty Cajun seasonings.

A recent marriage took place in the peanut community—Sunland Inc. found its soul-mate in Peanut Better and now they are one, growing and processing some of the tastiest natural and organic nut butters made from just Virginia peanuts, either crunchy or creamy, with nothing else added. These little critters pack three to five sweet little
peanut4Virginia peanuts into each pod that finds their most nurturing climate in New Mexico. Their flavor- infused p-nutbutters are a riot with 13 different varieties. The vanilla cranberry pops with sweetness, the caramel feels all warm and fuzzy, and the spicy Southwestern zings with the perfect touch of chili heat. Here are some of the other wild and creative flavors: banana, raspberry, cinnamon, dark chocolate, sweet molasses, cinnamon currant, onion parsley, hickory smoked, and Thai ginger and red pepper. So many choices!

Sweet Ella’s Organic Peanut Butter from Michigan comes in creamy and crunchy style and contains only two ingredients—peanuts and sea salt and it rocks the tastebuds! I’m a nut for the crunchy style and can honestly say it was delicious. This company, founded in 1910 by Ella Koeze’s great great grandfather who came to America from the Netherlands, is now celebrating its 99th birthday and carrying on a unique legacy. Their USDA certified organic peanut butter is made on vintage equipment and prepared in small batches.

Cream-Nut Natural Peanut Butter is also made by the Koeze Company and contains only Virginia peanuts and salt. The difference is the Cream-Nut Brand is not made with organic nuts, but has the distinction of being produced on the same vintage equipment as Sweet Ella’s.

Raw is the rage! And Two Moms in the Raw make an impressive line of raw organic granolas packed with a bushel of nuts like pecans and almonds along with berries and whole grains. For those unfamiliar with raw products, raw means nothing is heated at temperatures higher than 118 degrees in order to preserve the natural enzymes. Seeds have many of the same healthful properties as nuts, and there’s a ton of them in the gluten-free dehydrated sea crackers offered by this savvy company

Living Intentions from San Francisco has Gone Nuts! That’s what they call their line of raw, vegan, sprouted nut blends that totally lured me in with their captivating array of flavors. Who can resist a handful of sesame teriyaki flavored nuts, or cilantro lime mojo with pistachios and pepitas? And their sweet and spicy pistachios with chipotle–Whew! That’s one hot mama!

I confess. I’ve got a soft spot for almond butter. Couldn’t resist Once Again Nut Butter whose brochure says “We spread integrity.” The company is a cooperative with a mission to help address Third World poverty by starting and supporting organic farm co-ops and paying U.S. prices to the growers. I had a great tasting session at their booth and loved their crunchy almond butter. It was pure heaven with nothing else added and nothing taken out. They also make the smooth along with one that includes flaxseed oil to provide omega 3 fatty acids. Other products include organic sunflower butter, cashew butter, and peanut butter, along with sesame tahini. Every preference is covered—smooth, crunchy, salted, unsalted.

Still strolling through the peanut patch I struck gold when I reached Feridies from Virginia. And, naturally, Virginia peanuts were their specialty, though they did have cashews, almonds, and pistachios, too. This vendor had something for everyone—salted, unsalted, redskin, honey roasted, butter toffee, hickory smoked, hot & spicy, chocolate covered, Cajun spiced, garlic, and wasabi flavored—it was snacker’s heaven!

It was obvious that Peanut Butter & Co. from New York likes to play in the kitchen and has fun naming their flavored peanut butters. Guess what’s in The Heat is On? Or Dark Chocolate Dreams? These special blends use organic palm oil to prevent the oil from separating, while Smooth Operator and Crunch Time are made from great tasting peanuts and salt. From their simple sandwich shop beginnings, their PB&J ‘wiches attracted dating couples, lunching execs, and even celebrities. Can’t you just taste their grilled peanut butter sandwich stuffed with bananas and honey?

The Shangri-la of the Himalayas came to the EXPO via International Harvest from New York. All their products are raw and organic from Hunza and the world. I was literally compelled to stop and stare at their brilliant display of nutty trail mixes. The Himalayan Trail medley was a gorgeous combo of almonds, figs, apricot kernels, mulberries, golden raisins, and apricot halves. The Hunza Goji Trail added bright red-orange goji berries to the mix. It was so appealing I could barely control myself from stashing handfuls into my bag. The company likes cashews and pistachios, too, and included them in other fruity mixes.

And then there was Amoretti, an awesome company that makes unique products especially for chefs and the food industry. Their focus is outrageously cool things like almond pastes, marzipans, nut pralines, nut flours, nut and fruit ganaches, and pistachio dessert sauce. Another section of their catalog featured nutty flavoring syrups in almond, peanuts-shelled1chestnut, praline, hazelnut, macadamia, pistachio, and walnut flavors. And wildest of all food products are their edible food perfume sprays with the scent of almond, amaretto, coconut, hazelnut, or pistachio. Wouldn’t that make dessert impossible to resist with those fragrant aromas perfuming the air right under your nose? And have you ever seen gold or silver French Almond Dragees?
They were gleaming brilliantly in the company’s stunning catalog. I can easily imagine a platter of gold and silver-coated candied almonds presented at an elegant event!

Wickedly delicious is the hottest way to express the nirvana that greeted my taste buds at the Mudslinger’s booth. Their ice cream-like frozen desserts are decadently delicious and creamy to the max. My best pics were the soy milk-based Peanut Butter Palooka and the coconut milk-based Coconut Pecan Praline. Am I a crazy nut lover, or what?

Primex Farms in California is a very cool company that not only grows, roasts, and packs their whole and shelled pistachios, but they also promote the sale of almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, and pine nuts along with some fruits grown by other farms. They call themselves traders, an old-fashioned term, and sell the nuts all over the world. When I asked about their charismatic display, they presented me with an awesome press kit from the California Almond Board. I soon discovered there are more California almond varieties than I was aware of—10 in all. The press kit contains such an array of almond information it was like taking a course that begins with almond horticulture and ends with processing and storing the nuts. That is one savvy organization.

Coconuts made a lively debut in Turtle Mountain’s coconut milk non-dairy frozen dessert made from the first pressing of the coconut meat. The result is a decadently rich coconut-cream-based-frozen dessert that just oozes with creamy richness. The company aptly named this delicious treat Purely Decadent. Even better, they’ve used this coconut milk base to create two exquisite flavors–mocha almond fudge and peanut butter zig zag.

Making creative use of the coconut shells most of us would likely toss out, Coco Loco made magic with them and brought coconut shell jewelry to the EXPO. In an attractive display the company presented a line of jewelry one could wear from head to toe—literally. There were coconut shell hair sticks and coconut shell toe rings. And for the in-between parts the display included earrings, rings, pendants, nose rings, necklaces, and bracelets.

At the end of that tasting weekend I had to take my tummy home for a much needed rest and a nutty detox with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Posted in almonds, cashews, coconut, hazelnuts, Nut Companies, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, walnuts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

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