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About the nut supply chain

The global nut trade is a byzantine maze of producers, traders, exporters, and re-exporters. Because nuts tend to come in a hard shell that’s difficult to crack by hand and heavy to transport, they’re typically cleaned and shelled in cheaper countries for processing before being exported to rich countries for consumption. Many nuts have been grown, processed, and packaged in multiple countries across a few continents before arriving at their final destination.

What does that mean? It means that traditional nut importers focus on cost, rather than quality. Since, for example, cashews from West Africa and India are dumped together, then sent for processing and sorting in Vietnam, nut traders can't identify the best farms with the highest quality nuts, and focus instead of the cheapest nuts, in the most volume.

It also means that as consumers, we have no idea that nuts taste different depending on where they were grown and what variety they are. There are hundreds of varieties of nuts in the world. We know the difference between a walnut and a cashew, but what about the difference between a soft-shelled and hard-shelled almond? Between the flavors of Californian versus Afghan almond varieties? We would never buy "red wine." Why should we buy "an almond?"

Next time you pick up a “cocktail mix” of nuts, take a moment to check the label and see if you can identify the countries of origin for the many different products inside that can. Those nuts have probably traveled the world multiple times before arriving on that store shelf.

A version of this article appeared in Goods & Services.

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