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Of Macadamia Nuts, Salad Dressings & Oil Labels

Posted Aug 06 2010 7:14pm

Orange & Olive Salad with Macadamia Nut Dressing

Traditional fats are one of the building blocks of food: they carry flavor, they provide a creamy taste and texture, and they have more nutrients per gram than their cousins carbohydrates and proteins.  (When I say “traditional” fats, I mean fats from whole foods — both plant and animal — not man-made, refined fats that are the mainstay of most processed foods.)  And if you know just a little bit about how fats themselves are built, it’s easy to use them to your advantage.

Fats from whole foods are composed of a mixture of various kinds of fats — no food is 100% one particular fat.  When we say something is “saturated” or “monounsaturated,” what we’re really saying is that the food in question is primarily a saturated or monounsaturated fat.  Or a polyunsaturated fat.  Those are the three chief types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.  Almost all food labels distinguish between saturated and unsaturated fats; most oils and many other labels also state the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated breakdowns.  That’s where a little knowledge can come in very handy.

For now, let’s just focus on one particular aspect of fat-type characteristics: how fats react to temperatures.  Saturated fats can handle high heat (over the stove, in the oven) and are solid at room temperature.  Put them in the fridge, and they get even harder.  Butter is a great example of this, or unrefined coconut oil.  Palm oil is an even better example.  Palm and coconut are stable enough to not deteriorate (i.e., go rancid) for at least six months, even when kept at room temperature.

Monounsaturated fats can handle medium heat and are liquid at room temperature; in the refrigerator, they turn into a cloudy semi-liquid.  Think of olive oil and peanut oil.  Monounsaturated fats can be kept for about three months at room temperature or six months refrigerated.

Polyunsaturated fats are too delicate to heat — they’re very liquid at room temperature and equally free-flowing in the refrigerator.  They’ll deteriorate much more quickly than monounsaturated and saturated fats, even when they are refrigerated.  Examples include flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and pecan oil.  Be sure to consume these must-be-refrigerated oils within no more than six months, preferably within three.

Like oils, whole nuts also have different fat profiles depending on which fat is their primary fat.  Different nuts also contain different amounts of fat by weight — chestnuts are almost oil-free, almonds and hazelnuts are fairly unoily, pecans and walnuts are considerably oilier, and macadamia nuts are richly oily.

Seeing as nuts are primarily unsaturated, if you grind nuts into butter, the nuts that are the oiliest will make the most free-flowing butter.  Macadamia nuts are so free-flowing, in fact, that a spoon stuck into chilled macadamia nut butter will come out of the jar dripping.  That makes macadamia nut butter the perfect topping/dressing for fruits, salads, desserts, breads, you name it!  Dip a square of dark chocolate into it, garnish soup with it, drizzle it onto a bowl of oatmeal.  Even straight from the fridge, you’ll find that macadamia nut butter is easy to work with and that it is one of the most creamy and delicious things you’ll ever taste.

Olive & Orange Salad with Macadamia Dressing

On a plate, arrange mixed lettuce leaves, halved olives — black or green — and orange sections.  Drizzle salad with macadamia nut butter and serve.

It is seriously that easy!  Two minutes of effort yields a surprisingly balanced plate of creamy and salty (the nuts and olives) and sweet and bitter (the oranges and lettuce).

Enjoy!

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