China may be the world’s largest grower of walnuts and peanuts, but its vast new middle class can’t seem to get enough of U.S.-grown nuts.

“It’s a changing world over there,” said Bob Coyle, managing director of LBVD marketing agency, which works with the Atlanta-based National Peanut Board.

“We’ve been exporting finished products such as peanut butter to China,” Coyle said, “but we’re starting to see some demand for raw and minimally processed peanuts.”

In the past four years, China has become the largest market for California’s in-shell walnuts, said Jack Mariani, partner in Mariani Nut Co., Winters, Calif.

“We ship them to China and they crack them and season them,” he said.

Turkey has also become a major buyer, Mariani said, though it appears to be trans-shipping walnuts to the Middle East.

California pistachio exports to China have grown 700% in the past five years, said Richard Matoian, executive director of Fresno, Calif.-based American Pistachio Growers.

“Since the Chinese are very health-oriented, we promote the fiber, potassium, protein, antioxidants and plant sterols in our nuts,” Matoian said.

Sales are also increasing in other Southeast Asian countries, he said, though it’s a challenge to help consumers distinguish U.S. from Iranian pistachios.

The association’s name change last year has definitely helped sales, he said.

“Our former name, Western Pistachio Association, didn’t translate well,” he said. “People thought it meant Western Europe, and the Japanese and Chinese thought it referred to Western movies.”

The Almond Board of California, Modesto, said the Chinese typically eat almonds during the fall and winter as a roasted, salted snack, with peak consumption during Chinese New Year.

The Georgia Pecan Growers Association, meanwhile, is criss-crossing the world to boost exports.

“We currently have a group in Turkey,” said chairman Duke Lane, “and we’ve been to China, Dubai, India and Canada promoting the health benefits of pecans.”

Even Oregon’s small but growing hazelnut crop is finding a home in China.

“Last year we exported 70% of our crop, most to China, Vietnam and Hong Kong,” said Polly Owen, manager of the Hazelnut Marketing Board, Aurora, Ore.