5 Nuts Not Grown in California

Pile of shelled hazelnuts

R. Tsubin / Getty Images 

National almond, walnut and pistachio crops are very thirsty, and predominantly grown in drought-stricken California; if you’re looking for alternatives, consider these.

The great nut hubbub of 2015 reared its head earlier this year when Mother Jones published an eye-opening exposé on the incredible demands that California’s almond crop requires of the state’s dwindling water supply. A gallon of water per almond seems like a lot to be asking from the parched state, which is facing one of the most severe droughts on record. Our love affair with almonds would be fine if their growing regions weren’t so geographically limited, but in fact, 80 percent of the global almond supply comes from the Golden State. It’s no small matter that California's almond crop commands 1.1 trillion gallons of water every single year.

And it’s not just almonds.

Walnuts are the fourth leading export from the state. California walnuts account for more than 99 percent of the commercial United States supply and control roughly three-fourths of the world trade, according to the California Walnut Board. Mother Jones reports that it takes five gallons of water to produce one walnut.

Similarly, 98 percent of U.S. pistachios are produced in California. The U.S. is the second leading producer of pistachios (behind Iran) in the world, and these crops are grown in hot, dry areas of the state, and are thus irrigation-intensive.

While we’re not straight-out suggesting a boycott of almonds, walnuts and pistachios, we thought it might be prudent to look at nuts (and their stand-ins: seeds and legumes) grown in regions where H2O is a bit more abundant. Whether you’re looking to lessen your water footprint from drought-ridden areas or if the increasing costs of these products become prohibitive, these swaps may suit you.

1. Hazelnuts

With the widespread obsession of Nutella, the hazelnut (pictured above) is finding newfound adoration. Once better known as the homely-sounding filbert, hazelnuts are delicious and rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamin E. And perhaps best of all, 99 percent of all hazelnuts grown in the U.S. come from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, known for its abundant rainfall.

And, yum: Beet Salad with Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette and Toasted Hazelnuts.

2. Pecans

While pecans are higher in (healthy) fats than some other nuts, they contain important B-complex vitamins and other worthy ingredients that make them a valuable contribution to your diet.

The leading pecan-producing state in the U.S. is Georgia, followed by Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma; they are also grown in Arizona, South Carolina and Hawaii. While pecans are grown in California as well, the yield is less than two percent of the country’s overall production.

Plus, pecan pie. Say no more.

3. Pine nuts

At the heart of traditional pesto resides the beautiful pine nut. Rich, sweet and buttery, the pine nut is dear – both in terms of taste and price. But is it any wonder? Pine nuts don’t come from farms, they come from the forest where they are naturally foraged for harvest.

While all pinecones produce nuts (or seeds, technically), there are only about 18 species of pine trees that produce nuts large enough to be worthwhile for human consumption. In the U.S., those trees are predominantly in New Mexico and Nevada; pine nuts are also harvested in Utah and Colorado. That said, most of the pine nuts we see in this country are exported from China. Look for locally harvested ones, and then make pesto! Also know that supplementing or completely substituting other nuts for pine nuts makes for some lovely pesto combinations as well. (My favorite pesto hack involves swapping basil for cilantro and/or dill, switching out pine nuts for sunflower seeds, and adding fresh jalapeno for some pop. It may sound kooky, but it's great.)

4. Sunflower seeds

Yes, more seed than nut, but still. Sunflower seeds are nutritionally exuberant and can be applied in many of the ways that nuts can be, from snacking to nut butter to inclusion in both savory dishes and desserts. Is there anything this happy seed can't do? And as anyone who has lived in or traveled through the middle of The States in the summertime knows, they are abundant there. In fact, most of the nation's sunflower seeds come from North and South Dakota, followed by Kansas and Colorado.

Also, any of these options are a great addition when watching your nuts: 7 super seeds to add to your diet

5. Peanuts

Peanuts got a bad rap when during their heyday, it was decided that calories and fat content were the sole criteria with which to judge the nutritional merits of food. While peanuts, like all nuts, are high in both calories and fats, that does not mean they aren’t fabulous little powerhouses. They are nutrient dense and packed with healthy fats, antioxidants, dietary fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin E, thiamin, and magnesium. And while there are some peanuts grown in California, the bulk of them come from Georgia, followed by Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Virginia, New Mexico and South Carolina.

They may not be as glamorous as almonds or as trendy as pistachios – they’re more like the girl next door who will never lets you down. And: peanut butter! OK, they’re more like everyone’s favorite girl next door who never lets you down. Aside from the perennial favorite sandwich of peanut butter and jelly, here are some other places to put some peanuts: Senegalese Peanut Soup, Peanut Crispy Energy Bar, Easy One-Pan Mole Sauce.