|Natural almonds (left) and soaked and peeled almonds (right)|
On the subject of nuts, and since it is getting close to Christmas time, I was wondering why those bags of unshelled nuts contain the nuts that they do, usually walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts and hazelnuts. (As an aside, isn't English curious, since shelled nuts are the ones with the shells removed and unshelled nuts are the ones with the shells. Also, apparently almonds, cashews, macadamias, peanuts, pistachios and some others are not true nuts in a botanical sense—in fact, only hazelnuts in my previous list would be classified as a nut.) You can remove the shells of roasted peanuts and pistachios fairly easily, without special implements, while macadamias are probably not included in those bags of nuts because they would break your nutcracker rather than the other way round. But why have I never seen a cashew nut in its shell?
It turns out that cashew nuts have a toxic shell. And though I had never heard of it before, the fruit of a cashew tree, called the cashew apple, is actually edible, with a strong smell and sweet taste. Some people even make alcohol from it! Whatever next?
[Added 26 January 2011:
Tried to make my own almond milk the other day, after first blanching raw almonds in just-boiled water for one minute to remove the skins. No matter how little water I added before blending the nuts, I couldn't seem to get a strong almond flavour, even after straining out the distracting gritty pulp. Internet researched solved the mystery for me: the intense flavour from almond essence is actually produced from the oil of bitter almonds, not the sweet almonds you normally eat. Eating bitter almonds could kill you though, as they contain amygdalin and the enzyme emulsin, which together in the presence of water produces cyanide. I guess that's why I've never seen bitter almonds for sale in the supermarket!