TRIED & TESTED / Taking a crack at it: We sample seven nutcrackers. The hard shell won when it came to the crunch

Most of us would probably eat a lot more nuts - and they are now sold loose in supermarkets all the year round - if cracking them were made easier. It can be off-putting, when your nutcracker sends minute pieces of kernel flying all over the room, or if you spend more time excavating stubborn fragments from the shell than you do eating the nuts. So to find a nutcracker that is really easy to use, and effective, we asked four regular nut eaters to try out a selection. We gave them a supply of walnuts, brazils, hazelnuts and almonds to test each one against. Read on, to find out which would crack even the toughest nut.

THE PANEL

Michael Bateman, Independent on Sunday food editor; Toby Howes, managing director, Abacus Trading Co, nut suppliers; Gaynor Williams, editor, Design magazine; and Abby Wackett, communications assistant, the Vegetarian Society.

THE TEST

Testers gave each nutcracker marks out of 10 for ease of handling, the effort required to crack the nuts, how effective they were at cracking the shell and at keeping the nut intact, the nutcrackers' looks, and their value for money. The scores were converted into a best buy rating.

**** JOHN LEWIS TRADITIONAL STYLE NUTCRACKER pounds 1.25

Testers thought this was easy to handle and excellent value for money. But it took a fair amount of effort to crack the shells, and some testers found that the kernels got easily broken. Abby Wackett liked the design: 'What a classic] Like all the best things, simple, elegant, efficient.' But Toby Howes thought it was outdated. 'The two different sized holes are too small now that we import much larger grade nuts,' he said.

***HOUSE OF RIMES CRACKERJACK pounds 10

'It operates a bit like a jack on a car,' said Gaynor Williams, 'so if you understand that principle, it's easy to operate and effective. The instructions are a bit off-putting though.' Although testers found this one a bit fiddly and slow to handle, it required little effort and was the best of all at getting the shell open without smashing the nut to smithereens. 'Wonderful, even with the exceptionally recalcitrant brazil nuts,' said Abby Wackett. But it didn't pick up many points for its looks.

***ROBERT WELCH NUTCRACKER with clamp pounds 18.00

Testers liked this one's looks best of all. It was also easy to handle and most testers found it effective at cracking shells without needing too much muscle power. 'The Gothic one]' said Gaynor Williams. 'It looks like a thumbscrew, but once you've got over your nerves, it's simple to use.' Abby Wackett thought that it was 'very sexy. The most elegant of all, which compensated for the fact that it tended to crush rather than crack.' But Michael Bateman found it ineffective. 'Almost useless, but a nice toy,' he said.

*ROBERT WELCH CHESTNUT PIERCER AND NUTCRACKER pounds 19.95

A new design from Robert Welch, this didn't have many fans. 'Hideous, clumsy, difficult to use, ineffective. Chestnut piercer a waste of time,' said Michael Bateman. 'You have to have hands like shovels,' said Toby Howes. Despite its poor ratings from three testers, it was popular with one. Abby Wackett found it 'simple, elegant and aesthetically pleasing. Very efffective and pierced chestnuts convincingly.'

**BODUM CIRCULAR NUTCRACKER pounds 10.95

Three out of four testers didn't find this very effective. 'Looks better than it works,' said Toby Howes. It was too small for larger sized walnuts or brazils. The fourth tester, Gaynor Williams, rated it highly, though she added: 'We got an extraordinary whoopee-cushion sound effect with it.' A plus was the dish to catch the pieces.

*BODUM NUTCRACKER with rectangular dish pounds 19.95

You'll need strong arms to use this device, which is a modern variation on the traditional design. Testers found that, out of the bunch, it required the most effort to crack the shell. They didn't think it very good value for money, although most liked its style. 'Despite its rather high price tag, it gets my vote for its looks and practicality - I just wish it had spring-loaded arms on the crackers,' said Toby Howes.

CONRAN SHOP NUTCRACKER pounds 55

A cave man or woman would have been familiar with the principles behind this tool, which works in a similar way to a thrush bashing a snail against a stone. Its simplicity is inversely related to its price. The weight pulverised nuts into fragments. 'How to turn a whole nut into 100 pieces of shell in one fell swoop,' said Toby Howes, 'it's unlikely to become one of Sir Terence's design classics.' Abby Wackett thought it was 'an ideal wedding present for people you don't know or like'. You could find banging the weight against the wood therapeutic, though. 'The whole office thought it a complete waste of time until it was actually used - then everyone wanted a bash,' said Gaynor Williams.

(Photographs omitted)

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