How to store nuts
Pecan pie, cinnamon starts made with almond flour, hazelnut biscotti…if these are some of your favorite holiday confections, you need to have nuts in the house! In fact, you may already have nuts in the house. But should you use them? Are they still fresh?
High fat content
Nuts have a high fat content and as such, the freshness of various nuts is subject to some volatility. These somewhat volatile oils make nuts delicious but can cause them to go rancid in fairly short order - or absorb other unwanted flavors from the kitchen. The bottom line is that you can't just keep nuts on hand in the same way you keep other ingredients on hand, such as flour or sugar. You need to be prepared to check for freshness and maybe even buy new nuts each time you want to use them in a recipe.
If you are at all unsure about the relative freshness of your nuts, buy a fresh package. Rancid nuts just plain ruin otherwise good eating.
Room temperature storage
Most nuts can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 months - but that's if they were relatively fresh when you initially purchased them! Nuts purchased in a sealed package likely can be stored longer than nuts purchased from the bulk foods bin because you don't know how long the nuts were there before you scooped them out!
When storing nuts at room temperature, be sure they are completely sealed. A rubber band around the original packaging isn't quite enough (pantry moths like nuts, too) and a little cellophane and a rubber band is easily thwarted by those icky kitchen pests. Best to seal them in a plastic container as well or at least a fully sealable freezer bag.
Storing nuts in the freezer requires similar attention. Make sure the nuts are completely sealed from the elements either in a freezer bag or plastic container. Once frozen, nuts will keep in the freezer for 6 to 7 months. And yes, nuts do need to be thawed, just like other ingredients. They don't take anywhere near as long to thaw, but do give them sometime outside the freezer to come to room temperature before proceeding with your recipe.
When in doubt, buy fresh
If you are at all in doubt, buy fresh nuts. You can taste your nuts for freshness, too -- but be forewarned that rancid nuts have a nasty aftertaste.
When purchasing fresh nuts, and particularly those from the bulk food bins, purchase your nuts from a market that has high inventory turnover. This way the nuts you do purchase are likely to be fresher -- and that means a longer shelf life for your baking.
While you may not be able to use last winter's nuts in this year's holiday cooking, you can take better care of the nuts you do purchase. And who says pecan pie, cinnamon starts and hazelnut biscotti are only for the holidays? They are just as tasty in spring or early summer -- before those stored nuts go past their prime.