When the nuts are first harvested, they have a high moisture content and the natural oils have not yet developed. The nuts need to be air dried, in shade, for at least two weeks to reduce the moisture content and to allow the oils to develop. If you crack the nuts before this drying they taste a little like coconut and not much of a nutty flavor. Ideally, the nuts can be placed on drying racks which allow a lot of air to circulate on all sides. Not more than two nuts deep on a wire mesh tray. After this two week drying, the nuts are ready to be delivered to the warehouse, or for your home drying.
It is very important to sort your nuts. Take out the nuts with obvious problems like cracks, worm holes or discoloration. Undersized nuts also have to be removed (under 1/2 inch). Since the Co-op pays substantially different amounts to the growers for premium and regular nuts, we use the following test to determine the quality of acceptable nuts being shipped.
Nuts need to be the best possible to satisfy our customers. We take a random sample of nuts (usually 20 or more) from the sacks delivered to the warehouse and weigh the whole nuts. We then crack out the sample and weigh the meat, the percentage of nut meat weight to nut shell weight is the crack-out.
If the nut meat percentage to the whole nut is 36% or higher, the nuts are graded as Premium, and pays the grower a premium return. If the weight percentage is 28% to 35%, they are graded as Regulars. Keep in mind that the nuts may vary in size but the percentage of meat to whole nut may be the same.
At the warehouse the nuts are dried in a walk-in dryer, for at least another 48 hours at 104 to 110° F. to reduce the moisture to around one percent. The shell will become brittle too, so it is easier to crack the shell without damaging the nut meat. A kitchen oven at the lowest warm setting, or a food dehydrator at the nut setting (around 104 degrees) for two to three days. Take a few nuts after 48 hours and test them by cracking them open and biting into them to see if they are crunchy. If they are still a little chewy, give them another 24 hours or so. Test a couple again. You can over-dry them. The time it takes for this drying is determined by how much moisture was removed during the air drying step.
Storing Dried Nuts
Once the nuts are dried and are chrunchy, you can store them in a sealed container in a cool, dry place or in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. A heavy plastic bag will prevent nuts from reabsorbing moisture.
You can crack the nuts and store the meats in a tightly sealed container in your refrigerator. The nuts store well, are tasty, and ready to eat when you need them for up to a year. You may prefer them roasted. See the Roasting page for those steps.