DRIED FRUITS

ALMOND, HAZELNUT, CHESTNUT AND WALNUT

Almond, hazelnut, chestnut and walnut are the three varieties of fruit trees with the largest surface area in Spain. While the cultivation of the first two has been progressively reduced in recent years, more in the case of hazel than in the almond tree, walnut cultivation is booming and currently occupies more than 12,600 hectares when a few years ago there was neither half. Almond production was finally higher than the previous season, with 198,700 tonnes of peel. In addition, the balance for the nut sector was negative for another year in production, as it was not able to exceed 12,900 tonnes, almost 1,000 tonnes less than in 2013. The hazelnut harvest was also worse (13,500 tonnes, 2,000 tonnes less).

The Spanish production of nuts is very variable from year to year due to the incidence of frost, which affects the flowering and subsequent fruit setting. This problem is not only in Spain, but also in the main producing countries, which determines large fluctuations in the prices of almonds in the international almond and hazelnut markets. Almonds, hazelnuts and other nuts are usually harvested in the Northern Hemisphere from late summer to mid-autumn. The time of harvest is determined in the almonds and other nuts when the fruit opens and lets see the almond existing inside, which is the innermost layer of the fruit. Inside that hard shell is the almond grain that is the True seed.

Almonds and hazelnuts can be marketed in shell or grain, but their sale to the public in shell is becoming more rare, since most of the crop is peeled to reduce unnecessary weight. Only the nuts, whose peeling usually involves the breaking of the seed, are still sold as is in some cases. Almond grain yield is low, from 30% in hard shell varieties to 40% in soft shell or cane varieties.

The world’s largest producer of almonds is the United States (California and Florida), which has specifically specialized in the varieties mollares. The development of the almond tree in the United States has been spectacular and has been based on the mechanization and the use of varieties of high yields in regular plantations. In addition, they have achieved significant tariff reductions for one of the world’s largest consumers of almonds such as the European Union. Even Spain, where imports of almonds were not very frequent, increasingly uses Californian almonds for the preparation of nougat, marzipan and pastries.

The most cultivated varieties in Spain are those of hard shell (planet, largueta, marcona, commune, etc.), although there is also production of almonds. On the other hand, the hazelnuts are a characteristic fruit of the countries of the Mediterranean basin. From Greece they passed Turkey to the east and Italy and Spain to the west. Turkey is currently the world’s largest producer (67%) and Italy is the largest Community producer and second largest in the world. Hazelnuts provide higher grain yields (45%) than almonds. In Spain there are several varieties of hazelnuts (Negretas, Cordobes, Asturian, etc.). The commercial production of hazelnuts has been reduced practically to the province of Tarragona because the crop is little profitable.

Another traditional dried fruit is chestnuts, whose world production is close to 2 million tons in grain. In Spain, production in 2014 rose to 217,000 tonnes of shell, 25% more than in the previous year. In 2013 production also grew by a similar percentage. The production of chestnut is mainly concentrated in Andalusia and Galicia and is basically intended for animal feed, although the healthiest fruits go to human consumption, either for direct consumption, or as completely dried chestnuts (chestnuts “pilongas”). Also consumed part of the production as marmalade of chestnuts and the famous “brown glacés”, which are fruits cooked, peeled, soaked in sugar water and glazed with sugar. In the European Union, the production of chestnuts exceeds 160,000 tonnes annually. The main European producers are Italy, Portugal and France.

 

PISTACHIOS AND OTHER DRIED FRUIT

In addition to these productions, another dry fruit that is gaining ground in the Spanish fields is the pistachio. In 2014 the area devoted to this crop increased by 20%, to exceed 4,400 hectares throughout the country. Pistachios are nuts that open easily, contain seeds similar to pine nuts and are used as “snacks”. Most pistachios are imported from other Mediterranean countries and the Middle East. The crop is taking a boom in Spain, although the relatively low prices of imported pistachios make it difficult for the crop to be profitable. This lack of profitability has also virtually eliminated peanut cultivation in Valencia, because the competition from tropical countries is very strong.

Finally, pine nuts, acorns and peanuts are nuts commonly consumed in Spain. The pine nuts are harvested in the pine trees, but the high costs of this harvest places the fruit toasted and peeled at prohibitive prices, which have very difficult to compete with the pine nuts coming from outside. At the global level, in addition to the aforementioned nuts, the Brazilian cashew nut, the pecan (American nut), the macadamia (Australian and New Zealand) and the peanut (Brazilian) peanut are economically important.

 

TRADE AND CONSUMPTION OF DRIED FRUIT

The nuts are usually consumed directly, once the husk is extracted. A good part of the production of nuts is used for the manufacture of snacks and various snacks, but there is also a small, decreasing consumption of almonds and other fruits covered with sugar (peeled, sweetened, etc.). However, the main destination of nuts is the industrial one. The turronera, marzipan, pastry and bakery industries each year absorb about 40,000 tons of almonds, of which 70% are imported, although the best qualities of nougat and marzipan continue to use national almonds, basically of the Marcona variety. The balance of trade in the nuts sector usually has a negative balance. Nuts are about 40% of imports from the fruit group. In 2014, total imports of nuts increased in both value and volume. According to customs data, 132,973 tonnes of these fruits were imported for a value of 727.5 million euros, when a year earlier had been purchased abroad 123.195 tonnes for 613 million euros. In turn, exports also grew in both value and volume. In 2014, 95,419 tonnes were sold abroad (about 10,000 more than in 2013) for a value of 584 million euros. Of all the nuts, hazelnut and almond are the most commercialized. In Spain, between almond grain and shell were exported in 2014 about 59,000 tonnes, while 76,476 tonnes were imported. The country of origin of most of the almond that arrives in Spain is the United States, which has dominated the world market since Their California productions. For hazelnuts the figures were significantly lower. Thus, some 2,676 tonnes were exported with and without shell, practically the same amount in the previous year, and imported 6,578 tonnes. In this case, the country that most hazel sold us was Turkey. Precisely, the Spanish hazelnut market has been losing importance in recent years because Turkey controls the world market, scheduling its exports and its industrialization. In addition to almonds, we import significant quantities of nuts annually (23,328 tonnes in 2014, a slightly higher volume than in the previous year). The United States is also among the countries with the highest number of nuts bought by Spain, and another importing country is Chile. Spain, for its part, also exports small quantities of nuts (2,210 tonnes in 2014), which mostly go to the Community market. Among the exports of nuts, the highlights are fresh chestnut, which in 2014 amounted to almost 15,324 tonnes (some 2,000 more tonnes), compared to imports of 3,203 tonnes. Equally, the trade in pine nuts is also important as about 7,000 tonnes are exported each year and about 4,000 tonnes were imported. Other nuts that we also import in significant quantities are pistachios. In 2014 imports amounted to 8,520 tonnes and exports to only 606 tonnes. Spain also imports cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, macadamias and, in general, other species that help to diversify the supply of nuts in the domestic market and satisfy the demands of the demand. As for walnuts, almonds are the most widely consumed. The most important native Spanish varieties include Planeta, Largueta and, above all, Marcona, with their soft taste, juiciness and strong flavor.

About the author

Montse Gonzalez