Nutty Demands

—by Roxanne Bergeron

Back in 2007, one of China’s favorite nut meats—the curvy, flesh-colored walnut that, when shelled, looks a tiny bit like brains—jumped in price due to a global shortage. This downturn in availability and uptick in cost inspired Chinese nut lovers to peer around the globe in search of a less costly alternative.

Pecans to China

As it happens, that year the United States had a bumper crop of pecans. Chinese buyers began arriving, literally carrying cash- money in suitcases, to entice growers in the southern United States, who supply 80% of the world’s pecans, to prioritize sales in their direction.1,2

Since then pecan imports to China have continued to rise as southern farmers follow the dollar. Last year China bought 20 percent of pecans grown in the United States and could buy some 33 percent of this year’s pecan crop.

Chinese buyers want the high-end-quality nuts and are willing to pay a premium for them. They want to buy them in the shell and bring them back home so the nuts can undergo unique culinary treatments—partially cracked, marinated, roasted, and bagged up in a wide variety of flavors for on-demand snacks and gift-giving during the Lunar Holiday.1 Chinese snackers enjoy splitting open and snarfing those treats, all spicy like that. (Who can blame them?!)

Pistachio popularity

California pistachio farmers a decade earlier recognized the potential evolving in the Chinese marketplace for their green wares, what with a burgeoning Chinese middle class and supply disruptions due to war in Syria and sanctions in Iran, two other major exporters of pistachios. In 1997 farmers began planting and planting and planting trees. The industry parlayed its insight into a leap from a million pounds exported to China about a decade ago to over eighty million pounds of pistachios now exported to China annually. The inspired pistachio farmers hope to see production of around a billion (yes, one billion) pounds by 2020.3

Eager exporters

This nut export craze has been fortified with strategic marketing campaigns by such enterprises as the Almond Board of California and the American Pistachio Growers, from holding recipe competitions to employing age-old techniques of bringing in movie and pop stars and sports figures as advertising agents to generate excitement about American-grown nutmeats.4 California almond exports to China totaled 236 million pounds in 2011–2012, a nearly 100 percent increase over the previous three years.5

Accessing supplies of a variety of nutmeats for our corner of the world is competitive, and not only because of Chinese good taste and the (mis)fortunes of war. Information from Bergin Fruit and Nut Company, which supplies our co-op with most of its nuts, suggests that other issues affecting local pricing include high heat, low water, and water-saturated fields of peanuts in Georgia.

Impacts on nut prices

So when you’re trawling the nut cooler, maybe you’ll notice how pricing has been informed by Chinese import patterns as well as environmental impacts on yield:

  • Walnuts, which are harvested in October and November, have flat yields compared to last year, at about 494,000 tons predicted for the 2013 harvest. Pricing is up about 5 to 8 percent.
  • The Brazil nut crop yield, harvested from March to May, was down significantly, with a commensurate price rise for available nutmeat.
  • Cashews, which were harvested last March through May, are having an off-year with just a .05 percent increase in yield, with flat pricing anticipated until next year.
  • The almond harvest in September and October was about 1.8 billion pounds. Pricing is up about a dollar a pound compared to last year.
  • Pistachios are harvested around the same time as the almonds. The yield is expected to be around 550 million pounds, with pricing up 15 to 25 percent from last year.
  • Pecans are also harvested in October and November, with yields anticipated to mirror last year’s crop and continue with flat pricing for halves, with prices for pieces slightly higher than last year.
  • The peanut crop was affected adversely by water-saturated fields in Georgia during the September/ October harvest season. Peanut pricing is up .03 cents a pound. Although total acreage has dropped by 37.5 percent from 2012, the same tonnage of product is anticipated.

So there you have it. The main back-story behind the prices of nuts these days is not so much a solitary story of yield, but where the yield is going and why. For HPC shoppers, the bottom line is that pricing may seem a bit higher for almonds, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts and pecan pieces, with a jump in price for Brazil nuts. Cashew prices should hold relatively steady for now.

Money, conflict, and changing times might speak an unkind language nobody understands. But the venerated tradition of expressing joy, love and sharing through gift-giving is a common thread running through the global human community.

Here’s a fun recipe for spiced nuts from the culinary collections of Emeril Lagasse (BAM!).6 Feel free to use a variety of nutmeats in this easy and satisfying recipe you can use for making delectable gifts.

Emeril’s Spiced Nuts

2 tablespoons butter
1⁄4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 cups mixed nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds

Mix spices and reserve. Heat nuts in a dry skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Add butter, sugar, water, and spices to the hot skillet and cook, stirring, until a glaze forms, about 1 minute. Return the nuts to the skillet and toss to combine with the glaze. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from heat and transfer to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, separating with a fork. Let rest until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Article References
Additional Resources
1. offers a comprehensive treatment of the issue of cultural shifts in China between traditional and modern generations.

[Roxy Bergeron is a volunteer cashier at Hampden Park Co-op. She contributes regularly to the newsletter.]