Walnuts 101 – The Basics
Walnuts have been cultivated for thousands of years, with the different types having different origins. There are many different species of walnut trees, with the three most popular being the English (or Persian) walnut, the black walnut, and the white (or butternut) walnut. The English walnut is the most popular type in the United States. It has a thinner shell that is easily broken with a nutcracker. The black walnut has thicker shells that are harder to crack, and a pungent, distinctive flavor. The white walnut has a sweeter, oilier flavor than the other two common types of walnuts. It is not widely available and may be hard to find in grocery stores.
English walnuts originated in India and areas surrounding the Caspian Sea. Hence, it is also known as the Persian walnut. In the 4th century, Romans introduced walnuts to many European countries, where they have been grown ever since. Throughout history, walnut trees have been highly prized, not only for their very long lifespan, but for the fact that they produced food, medicine, shelter, dye, and lamp oil for many civilizations throughout history.
Black and white walnuts are native to North America, in the Central Mississippi Valley and Appalachian areas. Walnuts had an important role in the diets and lifestyles of both Native Americans and early European settlers.
Today, China is the largest commercial producer of walnuts, harvesting about 360,000 metric tons each year. The United States falls second in line, harvesting about 294,000 metric tons of walnuts annually. Within the United States, most walnuts are grown in California.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Walnuts are an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids. In fact, a 1/4-cup serving of English walnuts provides 113% of the recommended daily amount of omega-3 fats! They also contain noteworthy amounts of molybdenum, biotin, calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc. Walnuts also supply a lot of phytonutrients with important health benefits, along with Vitamin E.
As long as we don’t have a tree nut allergy, it is recommended that we eat about one ounce of walnuts or other nuts a day. With walnuts, that amounts to 7 whole walnuts or 14 walnut halves.
Cardiovascular Benefits. The benefits of walnuts on heart and circulatory health have been widely studied and verified by research. Walnuts contain compounds with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that positively affect our blood pressure, blood composition (including blood cholesterol and fat levels), inflammation-regulating factors in the body, and flexibility of blood vessel walls. These benefits are attributed to the omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats found in walnuts, along with their generous supply of phytonutrients. Researchers have found that people who ate as few as four walnuts a day, showed improved biomarkers.
Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a term that includes a number of simultaneous problems including high blood pressure, imbalanced blood fats and cholesterol (low HDL with high total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides), and obesity. Recent research has shown that eating one ounce of walnuts a day for 2 to 3 months can reduce the problems associated with metabolic syndrome. Furthermore, these benefits were achieved with the loss of belly fat and without weight gain (which one might expect from adding nuts to the diet). If you have metabolic syndrome, speak with your healthcare provider about adding some walnuts to your daily routine.
Benefits for Type 2 Diabetes. In addition to other health problems, people with Type 2 diabetes are particularly at risk for cardiovascular issues. Reducing those risks is usually a part of the healthcare plan for such patients. Repeated research on the health value of walnuts has shown improved responses in the cardiovascular system of individuals with Type 2 diabetes following meals containing a small amount of walnuts on a daily basis. A mere one ounce of walnuts daily has shown such benefits.
Anti-Cancer Benefits. Walnuts have shown measurable anti-cancer benefits due to their array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. In particular, the risk of prostate and breast cancers has been shown to be reduced by the inclusion of walnuts in the diet. However, in this case, subjects included three ounces of walnuts per day in their foods instead of the usually recommended one ounce.
How to Select Walnuts
When buying whole walnuts still in their shells, select ones that feel heavy for their size. The shells should be intact and not cracked, pierced or stained. Those can indicate that the nuts inside have decayed.
Shelled walnuts are usually available prepackaged. They may be in halves, in pieces, or chopped. Look for the “Best by” date on the packaging and select one with the farthest date in the future to help ensure freshness.
When buying walnuts in bulk bins, be sure there is a fast turnover of the product, to help ensure they are fresh. Avoid any that look rubbery or shriveled. If possible, smell them to be sure they are not rancid. If they have an “off” odor, choose something else.
How to Store Walnuts
Walnuts have a high fat content, which makes them very perishable. They will go rancid when exposed to warmth for long periods of time. Shelled walnuts should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where they will keep for six months. They may also be stored in the freezer, where they will keep for one year.
Walnuts that are still in their shells will keep best in the refrigerator. However, they may be kept in a cool, dry, dark place for up to six months.
If you notice an “off” odor to any walnuts that you have, they have become rancid and should be thrown away. Some have described the smell of rancid walnuts as being similar to paint thinner. If they don’t smell fresh, with the usual aroma that walnuts should have, throw them away. When in doubt, toss them out!
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Walnuts
* Add toasted walnuts to your favorite green salad.
* To easily toast walnuts on the stove, heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add walnuts to a dry pan, adding only enough to create a single layer. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Transfer to a plate to cool. Don’t walk away during the process. Walnuts can burn fast!
* Try adding walnuts to your favorite smoothie.
* Try a simple salad with spinach, arugula, and/or mixed greens. Top the greens with sliced red onion, toasted walnuts, and raspberries. Top with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
* Add chopped walnuts to your breakfast oatmeal. Dress it up even more by topping it with vanilla yogurt.
* Wait to shell and/or chop walnuts until you’re ready to use them. Since they are very perishable, this will help to keep them fresh when you need them.
* Make your own trail mix with a mixture of walnuts and other nuts, seeds, and dried fruit of choice. Example: Chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried apple pieces, and diced dried apricots. Toss in some dried coconut for a little tropical flavor.
* Top yogurt with chopped walnuts and fresh fruit.
* Top roasted Brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts.
* Try a kale salad with diced fresh pears and chopped walnuts. Top with your favorite vinaigrette dressing.
* For added crunch, flavor and protein, add walnuts to brown rice in vegetarian dishes.
* Add chopped toasted walnuts to your favorite stuffed squash recipe.
* When eating shelled walnuts, try to include the thin skin that is found on the walnut meat itself. Some resources recommend removing it before eating the walnut. That’s simply because it has a slightly bitter flavor. However, that bitterness comes from important, very healthful compounds found only in the skin. In fact, 90% of the phenols found in walnuts are in that skin. So, if you can bear to eat it, do so for your own health benefits.
* Add chopped walnuts to your favorite poultry stuffing.
* Add walnuts to your favorite sautéed vegetables.
* Try homemade walnut granola. In a large bowl, combine ½ cup of honey, 3 tablespoons of molasses, 1 tablespoon of vanilla, a dash of salt, and a teaspoon each of spices, such as cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg. Stir well to combine the ingredients. Add 6 to 8 cups of rolled oats to the honey mixture and toss to coat well. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet and bake at 275°F (135°C) for 45 minutes. Cool and mix in ½ to 1 cup of chopped walnuts. Enjoy!
* To roast walnuts, it’s best to do so at a low oven temperature to preserve the healthy qualities of the oils in the nuts. Spread walnuts on a cookie sheet and roast at 160-170°F (about 75°C) for 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool and enjoy!
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Walnuts
Basil, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, parsley, salt, sage, thyme, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Walnuts
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Bacon, beans (in general), beef, cashews, chicken, eggs, fish, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, pork, pumpkin seeds, turkey
Vegetables: Artichokes, artichoke hearts, arugula, beets, bell peppers (esp. red roasted), cabbage, carrots, celery, celery root, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, garlic, greens, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, spinach, squash (summer and winter), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini
Fruits: Apples, apricots (esp. dried), avocados, bananas, berries, cherries, coconut, cranberries, currants, dates, figs, fruits (in general, dried and fresh), grapefruit, grapes, kumquats, lemon, olives, oranges (juice and zest), peaches, pears, plums (dried and fresh), pomegranate, pumpkin, quinces, raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Amaranth, barley, bulgur, couscous, whole grains (in general), muesli, oats, oatmeal, pasta, phyllo dough, quinoa, rice, spelt berries, wheat berries
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese, cream, ice cream, mascarpone, yogurt
Other Foods: Caramel, chocolate (dark, milk, white), coffee, honey, maple syrup, miso, molasses, oil, pomegranate molasses, sugar, vinegar (esp. sherry), wine (sweet)
Walnuts have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e., breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, pastries, tarts), baklava, cereals (hot), desserts (pies, fruit crisps), granola, Greek cuisine, pancakes, pastas, pâtés, pestos, pizzas, salads, sauces, snacks, soups, stuffings, tabbouleh, tapenade, trail mix
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Walnuts
Add walnuts to any of the following combinations…
Apples + beets [in a salad]
Apples + cinnamon [in oatmeal]
Apples + wheat berries
Arugula + beets + feta cheese
Basil + eggplant
Beets + spinach
Roasted bell peppers + garlic + parsley [with pasta]
Blue cheese + onions
Bread crumbs + garlic + olive oil + Parmesan cheese
Butternut squash + sage
Carrots + raisins
Cheese + fruit
Cranberries + ginger + orange + vanilla
Figs + honey + yogurt
Mushrooms + thyme
Sweet & Spicy Walnuts https://walnuts.org/recipe/sweet-spicy-walnuts/
Mexican Dark Chocolate Cinnamon-Coated Walnuts https://walnuts.org/recipe/mexican-dark-chocolate-cinnamon-coated-walnuts/
17 Delicious Sweet and Savory Walnut Recipes You’ll Go Nuts For https://morningchores.com/walnut-recipes/
40+ Nutty Walnut Recipes https://www.myrecipes.com/ingredients/recipes-with-walnuts
Roast Beef with Walnut, Thyme, and Sea Salt Crust https://fishernuts.com/recipes/entrees/beef-roast-with-walnut-thyme-and-sea-salt-crust
Chinese Honey-Glazed Beef and Walnuts https://www.daringgourmet.com/chinese-beef-with-walnuts/
Spicy Beef-Style Walnut Meat https://www.plantpowercouple.com/recipes/walnut-meat-beef-style/
Walnut Meat (4 Ways) https://simple-veganista.com/walnut-meat/
Beef with Candied Walnuts and Garlic https://www.rachaelrayshow.com/recipes/make-your-own-fancy-take-out-beef-with-candied-walnuts-and-garlic
Walnut Pear Yam Skillet https://walnuts.org/recipe/walnut-pear-yam-skillet/
Walnut Pear and Oat Nuggets https://walnuts.org/recipe/walnut-pear-and-oat-nuggets/
Pears with Walnut and Spinach with Citrusy Dressing https://walnuts.org/recipe/pears-with-walnut-and-spinach-with-citrusy-dressing/
Walnut Broccoli Apple Slaw https://walnuts.org/recipe/walnut-broccoli-apple-slaw/
Walnut Pear and Avocado Bowl https://walnuts.org/recipe/walnut-pear-and-avocado-bowl/
Creamy Egg Cups https://walnuts.org/recipe/creamy-egg-cups/
California Walnut Meatless Meatballs https://walnuts.org/recipe/california-walnut-meatless-meatballs/
Walnut Pear Quesadilla with Spicy Pear Salsa https://walnuts.org/recipe/walnut-pear-quesadilla-with-spicy-pear-salsa/
50 Crunchy Walnut Recipes for the Seriously Nutty https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/walnut-recipes/
10 Easy and Delicious Ways to Use Walnut in Your Diet https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/food-news/10-easy-and-delicious-ways-to-use-walnut-in-your-diet/photostory/67572243.cms
Unbelievable Walnut Crusted Chicken https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/unbelievable-walnut-crusted-chicken/
Stir-Fried Walnut Chicken https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/stir-fried-walnut-chicken/
Parsnip, Apple, and Carrot Salad https://producemadesimple.ca/carrot-parsnip-apple-salad/
Portobello Mushroom and Walnut Salad https://producemadesimple.ca/portobello-mushroom-walnut-salad/
Roasted Halibut with Walnut Crust https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/roasted-halibut-with-walnut-crust-240087
Turkey with Walnut-Parmesan Sauce https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/turkey-with-walnut-parmesan-sauce
Walnut Crusted Pork Chops https://www.ketoresource.org/keto_recipes/keto-walnut-crusted-pork-chops-dinner-recipe/
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.