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Gathering Nuts in May in China

Here we come gathering nuts in May,

Nuts in May, nuts in May,

Here we come gathering nuts in May,

On a May morning early.

This old children’s nursery rhyme is fake news! It is common knowledge, after all, that nuts are not mature and ready for harvesting in May. What should be common knowledge is, if you are craving a nut in China, your local supermarket or nut shop is the place to go. Chinese supermarkets are a cornucopia of the unexpected and the mysterious to us strangers in a strange land. When I first arrived in China what was most unexpected for me, apart from the fish tanks and live eels, were the huge piles of nuts––Chinese people love healthy nuts. Recent reports suggest that the Chinese market for nuts exceeds 100 billion Yuan annually.

Nuts are well known as a “healthy” food and in particular are good for your heart and help lower your blood cholesterol. But of course they are also high in fat (some good, some bad) and calories, so it’s important to not snack on them too much, which for me is a Sisyphean task. Eating nuts is as seemingly endless and futile as eternally rolling a rock up a hill. Once started, I can’t stop, it doesn’t matter if they come in those miniscule little packets, I just have to eat half a dozen packs before I’m sated, guilty and fatter.

In the supermarkets and nut shops around town you can find Walnuts, Pecans, Almonds, Pistachios, Macadamias, Hazelnuts, Peanuts, Cashews, Chestnuts and others I don’t even know the names of, plus a plethora of different seeds. Most of the nuts on sale are grown and harvested in China. Walnuts, for example are grown in Yunnan, Xinjiang, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hebei, Gansu and Henan. These areas alone yield over one million tonnes of walnuts per annum. Pistachios and Macadamias are also grown in Yunnan, Guangxi and Xinjiang provinces, Xinjiang also produces China’s Almond crop.

However, pecans are grown closer to home. Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces now provide the market with nuts from what is America’s only native nut tree. However, in China it’s not pecan pies or pralines they are used for, suppliers crack the shell and soak the nut in a flavoured solution like brine or vanilla, which since first introduced from the US in the mid 1990s, has become a very popular snack. Interestingly, pecan trees were first brought to China in the early 1900s and were planted mainly for timber and street trees, but it was not until around 2005 that domestic growing for the nuts took off.

As one might expect, using nuts as food is probably as old as life forms (and nuts) have existed on this planet. Archaeological investigations have found evidence of roasted nuts from over 8000 years ago in the Neolithic period. Walnuts have been described as growing in the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In the Old Testament King Solomon speaks of his delight when visiting his walnut grove: "I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruit of the valley" (Song of Solomon 6:11).

Conversely, while being the ultimate ancient snack, they are, at the same time, the most modern snack-able treat. Indeed, Canadian Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield took nuts with him to space. During his sojourn on the International Space Station he filmed himself opening a can of mixed nuts in zero gravity. ( Indeed, pecan nuts are the only fresh foodstuff to be taken by astronauts on space flights because a handful of pecan nuts supplies the daily adult requirement of vitamin B1 and zinc. Thus, pecans were provided to the crews of Apollo 11 for their journey to the moon. Consequently, the humble pecan can claim to be the First Nut on the Moon. Pecans became part of America’s space tradition with nuts flying on Apollo 13 and Apollo 16, who knows, maybe Elon Musk might one day take Chinese flavoured pecans to Mars?

Need some more nut trivia, before we go?

· It would take a line of over 10 billion pecans to reach the moon

· I know, you got me, peanuts are not nuts. They are legumes

· Pistachio is known as the “happy nut” in China

· Ancient Greeks believed hazelnuts could treat coughing and baldness.

· Take note: Macadamia nuts are poisonous for dogs.

· Coconuts Are Not Nuts. They are actually “dry drupes.”

· Most Brazil nuts don’t come from Brazil. They come from Bolivia!

And finally, some sage words of advice––“If Life Gives You Nuts. Buy A Nut Cracker!”

Nuts in Space.


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