Walnuts make a hearty snack on their own or add a welcome crunch to a wide variety of dishes.
The walnut is a hearty snack on its own and adds a wholesome bit of crunch to a wide variety of dishes. Encased in a grooved, light-brown shell, the walnut kernel is formed by two off-white, uneven lobes and has a mildly sweet and sometimes bitter taste.
In various corners of the globe, the walnut tree and its nuts have earned a historic place of reverence for their symbolic and practical value. The long lifespan and regal appearance of the tree have historically given it a god-like stature, and it has been utilized for a wide range of purposes including medicinal needs, food, dyes, and shelter-building material.
Persian/English/Common Walnut is the most common variety. Their thin shell is easy to crack, and their meat has a relatively sweet taste with just a mildly bitter twinge.
While they originated in the Middle East, Asia and the Balkan area, English merchants brought the nuts to the U.S., and they are now grown primarily by Californian farmers.
Black/American Walnut is native to North America and was a staple of the American Indians and early European colonists. Their shells are much tougher to crack than those of the Persian Walnuts and the nut is smaller, so they are farmed less frequently.
Butternut/White Walnut is native to eastern North America and has an oval-shaped nut. It is almost always sold shelled because the shells are difficult to crack.
Japanese Walnut is similar to the Butternut/White walnut, but has a round nut rather than oval.
If shopping for walnuts still in the shell, look for nuts that are heavy for their size and that don’t rattle when shaken (which may indicate a dry or shriveled nut). Also, seek nuts that sport shells without cracks, holes or stains, which can indicate rotting in the walnut.
Shelled walnuts are sold both packaged and in bulk. When buying shelled nuts, find the healthy-looking ones: plump and firm. Avoid any that appear shriveled or soft, and smell them if you can so that you can steer clear of any rancid nuts.
Don’t buy walnuts in bulk unless the store seems to have a high turnover rate—which indicates freshness of their products—and stores the nuts in covered containers.
Most of the nutritional value of walnuts is in their polyunsaturated fats, which also make walnuts quite perishable.
When walnuts remain in their shells, they can last a few months unrefrigerated in a cool, dark place, up to six months refrigerated or a year frozen. Unshelled nuts are the best choice for long-term storage.
Shelled walnuts should be stored in an airtight container and can last up to four months in the refrigerator or longer frozen.
• Shelled and/or chopped, walnuts can be added to dishes (or just snacked on) straight out of the package.
• Toast walnuts lightly in a microwave, skillet or oven to give them a bit of extra crunch and enhance their hearty taste.
Microwave: Spread walnuts out evenly across a glass dish or pie pan and microwave on high for approximately six minutes, stirring a few times.
Skillet: Toast walnuts over m