Steve Woods

What Are You, Nuts?

In What Day is it? on October 22, 2009 at 5:20 am
Olduvai Gorge, Africa

Olduvai Gorge, Africa

In the Olduvai Gorge of Africa over 1,000,000 years ago, they enjoyed them, placing them on top of rocks and gingerly tapping them, one by one, until each was released, a repetition leaving small circular indentations in the stones surviving to this day.  Because they could be collected from all around, were lightweight, and could be stored for great periods of time through tough winters, nuts (mixed with other dried foods) allowed for the formation of base camps and hunting exhibitions.  The carrying of dried nuts allowed groups to travel great distances without the necessary concern of what to eat along the journey. In other words, the variety of nuts found in ancient times, in part, allowed our ancestors to comfortably spread out across the globe.

Today is National Nut Day, and I’m torn between celebrating either the guy who wears dirty sweaters and shouts at the walls as you transit from your parked car to the office door (and you pray he won’t notice you) or that little delicious, crunchy, culinary delight in the big grocery bin.  Maybe in some weird way, I can figure out how to do both…

Chestnuts - ask a botanist!

Chestnuts - ask a botanist!

If you asked a botanist

Ask a botanist what a nut is and he’ll likely first think of you, because you’re bothering him, and frankly he doesn’t know you.  After he moves past that, he’ll tell you that a “true nut” is a dry fruit with a hardened ovary (Ovary? Really?) and softer, detached seed center, and that it stays shut even at full maturity.   I don’t know why it has to be described in that way…ask your new botanist friend!  Examples of what a botanist would call a “true nut” are chestnuts, beechnuts, hazelnuts and filberts.  I’ll bet when a botanist is at Baskin Robbins and is ordering toppings for his girlfriend’s ice cream sundae, he says nuts, even if they are not “true nuts.”  He does if he wants to keep dating her….

If you asked someone who cooks for a living

In the world of cuisine, the definition of a nut is fast and loose.  If you spent your day around sharp knives and open flames, you might be a little loose with the definitions too.  Any large oily seed extracted from a shell and used to cook with is considered a nut in the world of the kitchen.  Because we have much closer relationships with those that cook our meals than botanists, we tend to view pistachios, walnuts, almonds, cashews, coconuts, pinenuts and even peanuts as “nuts.”  Everyone likes to remind the lowly peanut that he is actually a legume, or bean.  The peanut never asked for such dichotomy.  If some of us can call Perez Hilton a celebrity, why can’t we just call a peanut a nut?

Nuts are the Ultimate Health Food!

Nuts are the Ultimate Health Food!

Health benefits of eating nuts

A diet that includes nuts has a variety of benefits to the eater.  The Omega 3 oils in nuts reduces hypertension and the risk of heart disease, and may add years to your life if you replace sweet treats at breaktime with them often.  Studies have shown that putting out a bowl of walnuts and almonds can actually reduce the level of “bad” cholestrol in our bodies, and increase the number of health-conscious hotties hanging around your desk.

Nuts are rich in fiber, protein, antioxidants, and vitamins.  Because of a very low glycemic index, nuts are typically suggested as a snack for anyone with insulin resistance problems, such as diabeties. Nuts contain linoleic and linolenic acids that help with proper skin, hair, brain, blood and immunilogical development.  They are considered to be one of the “perfect” foods, due to the large cross-section of identified benefits in consuming them in moderation.

Types of nuts

Here is a non-comprehensive list, in alphabetical order, of the types of nuts you can eat.  Some may require special preparation, so don’t run out and grab just any one of them off the ground!  Have you had the opportunity to try most of these?  I’ll bet you haven’t!

  • Acorn
  • Beech
  • Butternut
  • Brazilnut
  • Candlenut
  • Cashew
  • Chestnuts (Chinese, Malabar, and Sweet)
  • Colocynth
  • Cucurbita Ficifolia
  • Filbert
  • Gevuina Avellana
  • Hazelnut
  • Hickory (Pecan, Shagbark Hickory)
  • Kola
  • Macadamia
  • Mamoncillo
  • Maya
  • Mongongo
  • Oak Acorns
  • Ogbono
  • Paradise
  • Pili
  • Pistachio
  • Walnut

From nut to “nutter”

So how did such a good little food, responsible for the survival and spread of our species over millenia, become a derogatory term meaning “insane?”  Although there are no really direct explanations for it, there are regional cultural cues in our language that may’ve led to this…

Watch out for him! And the sweater!

Watch out for him! And the sweater!

From the 18th to 20th Centuries, the slang version of nut or nuts was used in a positive manner, denoting an extreme desire toward something.  This was highlighted in Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn, circa 1884: “Tom had his store clothes on, and an audience — and that was always nuts for Tom Sawyer.”  It was not uncommon in literature to describe the height of love as being a form of insanity.  Sometime around the mid 20th Century, the word nut became synonymous with describing one’s head, with terms such as “tough nut to crack” being used to describe one with very guarded thoughts or emotions.

Somewhere in the mid 20th Century, all of these terms seemed to converge, and the term nuts came to be used to describe someone whose sanity was in permanent (rather than temporary) question.  A variety of terms came about, including nutter, nuthouse, nutty, nuthead, etc., all demeaning in form.  In the last 30 years of so, the term nuts has taken back some of its original meaning, and is used once again to describe a pleasant but strong desire toward something.

Add some nuts to your life

Knowing how the wonderful nut has contributed so greatly to our survival and in no small way to the fact that you live where you do, why not take some to the office with you?  And say hello on the way to the guy with the stinky sweater. He might want some too…

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by _stevewoods: Dopodomani: What, Are You Nuts? It’s National Nut Day!…

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