Spanish Nuts. © ICEX
Nuts are today widely recommended for their energy value and high protein and polyunsaturated fatty acid content, but they have formed part of the diet of Mediterranean peoples since ancient times. Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts and chestnuts provided a high calorie intake and were present not only at Greek and Roman banquets but also in the diets of soldiers and travelers.
Almonds, probably introduced into Spain by Phoenician merchants, are the most widely consumed. Spain is the world's second largest producer of almonds after the US. The most important Spanish native varieties include Planeta, Largueta - very good toasted - and, above all, Marcona, with its smooth taste, juiciness and strong flavor.
Hazelnuts, natives of Europe and Asia, are grown, like almonds, along the Mediterranean coast. The leading variety is Negreta, to be found especially in Tarragona, and is the basis for the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Avellana de Reus.
Walnuts, Pine Nuts and Chestnuts
The walnut tree, an Asian species, was taken to Spain by the Romans. It plays an important economic role not only because of the quality and popularity of the nuts but also for its wood. Some native varieties are grown in Spain but in recent years Californian varieties have been planted because of their larger fruits.
The seed of the stone pine, pinus pinea, has been harvested since time immemorial. Today pine nuts are considered a delicacy and fetch one of the highest prices for nuts - not surprisingly, considering that 20 to 30 kg / 44 to 66 lb of pine cones are needed to produce just one kilo / 2,2 lb of pine nuts. Castilian pine nuts, especially those from Valladolid (Castile-León) are generally considered to be Spain's best. They are often dried in the sun to improve and intensify its flavor.
Chestnut trees as a species originally came from Italy and were brought to Spain by the Romans who were very fond of their fruits. Although chestnuts are nuts, they are farinaceous like acorns, but have a higher starch content and fewer fats than these. The best-known are those from Galicia, in the north east of Spain.
Nuts are not only consumed in their natural state or toasted, but have performed a star role in the cuisine of many Mediterranean peoples. In classic Arab and Jewish cooking, which left their mark on many traditional Spanish dishes, crushed almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts were used to make sauces, sweeten dishes and alter their consistency. Nuts are also used in fillings for poultry and fish, in soups, in many sweet dishes and patisserie and as a basic ingredient in turrón (a sweet paste made with almonds and honey). Almond oil is used for certain specific culinary purposes.
The Arab influence on Spanish cuisine is clear in the 15th-century recipe collections that have come down to us. One of these, from Catalonia, called Sent Sovì, frequently mentions the use of crushed almonds and almond milk. These also figure in many recipes still used today, such as Andalusian ajoblanco (almond and garlic cold soup), sauces such as romesco or salsa de Nadal from the Balearic islands, Christmas trucha from the Canary Islands, and a multitude of desserts and pastries - tejas, alfajores, garrapiñadas, turrón and marzipan. Beyond the area of influence of the Arabs, in northern Spain, we can also find chestnut stuffings for turkey and duck, and chestnut purées to accompany game dishes.
For the inhabitants of Mediterranean areas in ancient times, dried fruits - raisins and prunes, dates and figs - were the main source of sweet flavors, apart from honey. The widespread adoption of cane sugar in the 16th century increased the popularity of sweet foods, and dried fruits continue to be popular on their own or in many recipes, often together with nuts.
The most select raisins in Spain are undoubtedly those from the Axarquía and Manilva districts of Málaga, in Andalusia. These come from the famous Muscatel variety, with its extra sweet flavor, which apparently dates back to Roman times.
In the province of Alicante (southeast of Spain), the Elche palm grove, Palmeral de Elche, is an exuberant garden, a legacy left behind by the period of Moslem domination. Date palms were planted by the Arabs between the 10th and 12th centuries around the town of Elche where the hot, dry climate was ideal for a large oasis. Today, as Europe's largest palm grove, it has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO. It produces a large date crop. The main fig-growing zone in Spain is in the province of Cáceres (Extremadura).
Dried fruits form part of Christmas celebrations in Spain. Raisins, dried apricots, figs, and dates are a must on festive tables in homes that continue to enjoy gastronomic traditions.
List of food stores in Spain
List of food stores around the world
- Largueta Almonds
- Marcona Almonds
- Castaña de Galicia PGI
- Avellana de Reus PDO
- Valladolid Pine Nuts
460 (global figure, includes dried and dehydrated fruits and vegetables)