- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2011

Protein-rich and portable, nuts always have been the utility players of the snack world - good for that midafternoon energy dip, but generally not the kind of thing to make the crowd go wild.

But with manufacturers introducing spiced-up versions of old favorites - yes, we are talking jalapeno-flavored pistachios here - nuts are breaking out of their shell.

“People are going after something new and exciting that helps to wake up your senses,” says Kay Logsdon, editor-in-chief of the Food Channel, which put nuts at No. 4 on its 2010 Top 10 snack-trends list.

What’s new in nuts?

In addition to spicier versions, such as zesty chili peanuts, you’ll find nuts appearing with new partners, such as caramelized black walnuts with dark chocolate.

Nuts also have benefited from the quest for healthier foods.

“People are looking for that whole ‘health halo,’ ” Miss Logsdon said.

Nuts are relatively high in fat, so you need to keep an eye on portion size to stay in the healthy zone. But the majority of the fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, so-called “good” fats. Meanwhile, nuts can be a source of vitamins, protein and fiber, more than you can say for many snacks.

At Planters, officials are tapping into the nutritional value of their product.

“When it comes to healthy snacks, dads in a way have been left out of the equation,” points out Jason Levine, senior director of marketing for Planters.

From yogurt to 100-calorie packs, there are a number of healthier snacks marketed to women, “but there’s not a lot out there that’s targeted and developed and meant to appeal to men,” he says.

These recipes from Alison Ladman use a variety of nuts and spices for some zesty snacking.

CITRUS-HERB PISTACHIOS

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

Zest of half a lemon

Zest of half an orange

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

4 cups unsalted pistachio meats (no shells)

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind together the salt, sugar, both zests, and the rosemary and thyme.

Place the pistachios in a medium bowl. Drizzle the butter over the pistachios, then toss to coat. Sprinkle the citrus-herb seasoning mix over the pistachios, then mix until evenly coated. Spread the pistachios in an even layer over the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm or allow to cool and transfer to an airtight container.

Makes 4 cups.

SMOKY CRUSTED WALNUTS

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 egg white

1 teaspoon water

4 cups raw unsalted walnut halves

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, stir together the salt, sugar, smoked paprika, black pepper and cayenne.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg white with the water until frothy. Stir the walnuts into the egg white until the walnuts are thoroughly and evenly coated. Sprinkle the spiced sugar over the nuts, then mix until evenly coated. Spread the walnuts in an even layer over the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Serve warm or allow to cool and transfer to an airtight container.

Makes 4 cups.

SWEET BUTTER-ROASTED ALMONDS

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups raw almonds

1/4 cup butter, melted

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, stir together both sugars, the cinnamon and salt.

In a medium bowl, toss the almonds with the butter until evenly coated. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the almonds, then toss until well coated. Spread the almonds in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Serve warm or allow to cool and transfer to an airtight container.

Makes 4 cups.

Planters is reducing sodium levels and has developed blends of nuts and dried fruit aimed at providing particular health benefits. The company also is experimenting with bolder flavors, including sea salt and black pepper pistachios.

“We recognize that guys use real spices for grilling and cooking. That’s something that we want to make sure that we deliver,” Mr. Levine said.

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