It’s not unusual to be nuts about nuts, even though many of the crunchy, oily, nutritious botanical bits & bites are not “true nuts” in the scientific sense – and that includes Beer Nuts. This selection of 10 unusual nuts highlights the often sweet yet occasionally distasteful relationship humans have had with these swell shelled feed seeds.
Coco de Mer
If you’ve heard of an erotic boutique called Coco de Mer and wondered why they’d name themselves after a coconut, wonder no longer. The Sea Coconut is native to only a few of the Seychelles island archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, and boasts the world’s largest seed. They also boast an astonishing resemblance to a human female lower torso – plant porn doesn’t get much more graphic than this, folks.
(image via: CITES)
Coco de Mer coconuts don’t drop from the trees fully female formed. Once the nuts fall into the ocean, they sink to the bottom where eventually the outer husk sloughs off and decomposition gases cause the inner nut to bob to the surface. Imagine being a shipwrecked sailor, alone and lonely, starved for companionship… and one of these babies washes up on the beach. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound!
Candlenuts (or Kemiri nuts) are native to Indonesia but humans have helped expand their range over thousands of years of use. Not only are these nuts used in a wide variety of Southeast Asian and Polynesian recipes, their high oil content has allowed them to be used as candles. Ancient Hawaiians used to string individual candlenuts along a palm frond and burn them one at a time; in this way they functioned as an effective way of keeping time.
(image via: Serious Eats)
Sometimes called “the poor man’s Macadamia nut”, Candlenuts are beginning to make inroads into Western cuisine now that refrigerated transport prevents their copious oils from turning rancid. Candlenut oil is also produced on large plantations, a profitable endeavor as the nuts contain 15-20% oil by weight.
We may be nuts for cola here in the western world but back in West Africa they go right to the source: the bitter, naturally-caffeinated Kola Nut. Invited to a home in the Ibo tribe’s heartland? Expect to be greeted with warm wishes and a serving of Kola nut. It’s the real Real Thing.
(image via: Susan Kaman’s Kenyan Kitchen)
Those whose memories go back to the mid-1970s may recall a popular series of TV commercials for 7-Up, “The Un-Cola”, featuring 6’6″ Trinidad-born dancer, choreographer and actor Geoffrey Holder. The ads featured Holder extolling the great lemon & lime taste of 7-Up and summing things up with the punchline “Try making that out of a cola nut.”
Next time some irritable snacker demands you “pass the bloody walnuts”, give ‘em these: a new variety of walnuts with a cherry-red outer skin. No genetic engineering was used in the production of Red Walnuts, just good old fashioned agricultural ingenuity: branches from the smaller, bitterer, Persian red-skinned walnut onto standard English walnut tree trunks. See, we CAN all get along!
(image via: The Kitchn)
You’ll typically pay twice as much for Red Walnuts but those who’ve tried them feel the investment is worthwhile, reporting that Red Walnuts are slightly oilier and impart less of a bitter tannin taste compared to their un-blushed cousins. Now if only they didn’t look like tiny BRAAAIIIINS!!
Mongongo Nuts are a staple food of the ancient San people of southwestern Africa’s Kalahari Desert and provide a valuable source of nutritional fats and proteins in times of scarcity. It’s been rumored that the best way to harvest Mongongo Nuts is to follow a Kalahari elephant… sooner or later, Jumbo will deliver a load of nuts with pre-softened shells. Expect Bear Grylls to test that theory sometime soon.
(image via: Sunday’s Child)
You can also expect to hear more about Mongongo Nuts through TV ads for women’s cosmetics and personal care products. The San have traditionally used the oils extracted from Mongongo Nuts as a natural sunscreen and skin moisturizer. So long Ylang Ylang, hello Mongongo Nuts!
Betel Nuts are actually the seeds of the Areca Palm and can be found from Polynesia through southern Asia to East Africa. The nuts are typically wrapped in leaves and chewed – the bright red residue (and saliva) are then spit out into a cup (or wherever is convenient). Users report a variety of effects with the main sensation being that of a mild stimulant. On the other hand, Betel Nut chewers are more likely to suffer a range of deleterious health effects ranging from receding gums and stained teeth to oral and gastric cancers.
(image via: Taiwan 101)
Betel Nuts were the driving force of a unique entrepreneurial phenomenon which had its heyday in mid-1990’s Taiwan. Plexiglass booths began springing up along the country’s highways, “manned” by scantily-clad “Betel Nut Beauties” who sold bags of seasoned Betel Nuts to passing truck drivers. As semi-independent operators, the women exploited a very lucrative market niche that, as a side-effect, saw Betel Nut production soar to second place (after rice) in Taiwan’s annual agricultural production.
Corn Nuts aren’t nuts; in fact they’re barely corn… at least, not corn as we know it. The popular snack food was invented in 1936 but sales really took off in 1964, when the manufacturers switched from sweet corn to Cusco Corn. Originating in Peru, Cusco Corn boasts kernels an inch wide, the “Largest Corn in the World”, and once adapted for commercial growing in California it powered Corn Nuts into the crunchy, dare-I-say “nutty” snack we know and love today.
(image via: Snak Snak)
You can order traditionally prepared, Peruvian-style Corn Nuts at a gourmet restaurant if you like, though sufferers of late night snack attacks are better served by keeping a bag or two of the trademarked variety on hand… assuming that keeping the tempting munchables unopened in the bag for any period time is even possible.
Nanananana… Bat Nuts! No, it’s not the latest release from Vivid Video, but a bizarrely shaped nut known by a range of monickers including Water Caltrops, Buffalo Nuts and Devil Pods. Once one gets past the barbed & bull-headed outer shell, the starchy seed within can be eaten raw, boiled or fried, or dried and ground into a powder used in Indian cooking.
(image via: Kathryn Hill)
Travelers who have the opportunity to try Bat Nuts should ensure they don’t enjoy them raw or undercooked, as they have been known to transmit a parasitic illness known as Fasciolopsiasis. The parasites in question are intestinal flukes or flatworms that can grow up to 7.5cm (3 inches) in length. We’ve got a gut feeling you’ll take our advice as staying parasite-free is no fluke.
Tigernuts are neither nuts nor are they sourced from tigers… which is great news, especially if you happen to be a tiger. Instead, they’re the tubers of a rush-like plant used as a food source by several historic cultures including Ancient Egypt in the dynastic era. Tigernuts are very nutritious and contain a wide range of essential minerals, not to mention their slightly sweet, nutty flavor. They’re popular in Spain where they’re called Chufa Nuts.
(image via: Lodge Fishing)
Tigernuts have found an unexpected modern use as fishing bait for carp, which are attracted to them and seem to enjoy their taste. Anglers should be aware, however, that Tigernuts must be prepared by soaking and boiling or they will poison the fish.
Barking Deer’s Mango Nuts
Besides making a great band name, Barking Deer’s Mango Nuts also make a delicious snack! Visitors to Southeast Asia may find themselves offered bags of prepared “bok” on the beach or may buy them from roadside kiosks. “The white flesh underneath the thin brown skin is so delicate yet delightfully rich,” according to one report, “mildly butter-like, and with a touch of smokiness.” Sounds delectable!
(image via: The Travelling Hungry Boy)
Delectable and execrable, it seems… yes indeed, the noble Barking Deer’s Mango Nut has been tarred with the same queasy origin as that of Mongongo Nuts and Civet Coffee: removing its hard seedcoat has been facilitated via a fantastic voyage through a cow’s digestive tract. Next time you’re offered Barking Deer’s Mango Nut Pie, take a closer look at exactly what type of “pie” it is.
(image via: Fuzzy Blue One)
As dangerous as some kinds of nuts can be, they’ve endured for hundreds of thousands of years as one of humanity’s favorite foods, thus proving the old adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… or at least, makes you thirstier.