What are walnuts?
Firstly, they are not true nuts. They are actually the seeds of either the English walnut tree that originated in Persia or the black walnut tree, which is native to North America. It’s generally English walnuts that are grown commercially for eating as the black walnut has an extremely hard shell and it is difficult to remove the husk. Nowadays around half of all walnuts grown commercially worldwide come from China. However, interestingly English walnuts grown in Eastern Europe have the highest yields – around six times the world average!
They can be eaten while they are still green, usually pickled, The kernel, also known as nut meat, can be eaten too, once fully ripened. At that point, the outer husk is removed to reveal the wrinkly hard shell we’re all familiar with. The shell is brittle and in two halves, so it’s relatively easy to break and remove the kernel inside.
Generally, you can buy shelled walnuts all year round but those still in their shell are likely to only be available in the winter.
Just a note of caution, walnuts must be stored properly in a cool, dry place. If not, they may become rancid or mouldy – and some nut moulds are carcinogenic. Keeping them in the fridge is best, and they will last around six months.
Most of us won’t want to use pickled walnuts in recipes, but they can be used as an interesting addition to salads, as can shelled walnuts in dishes such as Waldorf salad with its lovely combination of apple, celery, raisins and walnuts.
You can either buy walnut butter or make your own – it’s really easy using a food processor. And the oil makes a lovely salad dressing. Don’t use it for frying though, as it smokes.
Walnuts can be added to mixes such as muesli or used in energy balls, cakes or pies, or as a super healthy topping for ice cream.