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Exploring Walnuts: Facts, Nutrition, Trivia, and 6 Recipes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Walnuts are versatile, delicious, and nutritious, and  they can be used in countless sweet and savory recipes

Walnuts are versatile, delicious, and nutritious, and they can be used in countless sweet and savory recipes

It Was Named the Royal Nut

The walnut is a magnificent tree with a massive trunk and widespread canopy. Revered in the Middle East as an “ancient of days,” food historians believe the walnut was cultivated more than 7,000 years ago in Persia (now modern Iran).

During the Han Dynasty of China, a network of trade routes was formally established; it linked that part of the ancient world with civilizations to the West. On the passageway (which was actually several routes, not just one road) commodities were bought, sold, and bartered. You might be wondering why this is important to our story. This is why.

Jugians regia (Jupiter’s Royal Acorn) is one of about 20 species of deciduous trees in the family Juglandaceae. The common name for it is the walnut. Centuries ago that “royal acorn” was reserved for those of noble birth and, because it was such a valuable commodity, it was commonly a part of bargaining.

Thus it was carried to distant lands, spreading throughout the Middle East and Asia. Then sea trade took the walnut across oceans to new worlds. English merchant marines transported them to ports around the world; thus they became known as 'English walnuts.’ But, in reality, England never grew walnuts commercially.

How Walnut Trees Grow

The walnut is a deciduous tree, meaning that it drops its leaves in autumn. They are grown not only for their nutritious and delicious nutmeats but also for their high-quality wood. They typically grow to 50 feet tall or more and spread about as wide. Some trees (cherries are an example) require companion trees for pollination but not the walnut. The tree bears both male and female flowers and can self-pollinate.

Walnuts are fast-growing and produce their first fruits when about eight years old.

Growth Requirements

  • Light: Full sun
  • Soil: Well-drained, loamy
  • pH: between 6 and 7

Health Benefits of Walnuts

Walnuts are a nutritional powerhouse. While researching this topic, here’s what I discovered. One cup of walnuts can provide:

Health benefits of walnuts

Energy: 326 calories

Total fat: 33.3 grams (g)

Cholesterol: 0 g

Sodium: 1.1 milligrams (mg)

Potassium: 220.5 mg

Total carbohydrate: 6.9 g

But that’s not all; they are also a valuable source of:

  • Manganese: Important in building bones, healing wounds, and in how our body used carbohydrates and amino acids
  • Magnesium: Regulates muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure
  • Phosphorus: The mineral promotes healthy bones, teeth, skin, hair, and nails
  • Vitamin B6: An important vitamin for proper cell function and metabolism
  • Iron: Required for the production of hemoglobin
  • Copper: Works with iron to produce hemoglobin

How Many Ways Can You Use Walnuts?

If you do an internet search on "walnut recipes" you will instantly have about 400 million hits, and most of them are walnut cookies, walnut cakes, and candied walnuts. For this article, I've chosen recipes that highlight the beauty of walnuts—not hiding them under a sugar coating but rather celebrating their flavor, texture, and versatility.

Arugula walnut pesto

Arugula walnut pesto

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Arugula Walnut Pesto

Traditional pesto is made with basil and pine nuts. My take on pesto is a little bolder (arugula, also known as rocket, is a salad green with a peppery taste), and chunkier due to the walnuts.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed arugula
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place arugula, walnuts, zest, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse into finely chopped.
  2. Add cheese and olive oil and process until a smooth paste, stopping several times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Ideas for How to Use Arugula Pesto

  • Drizzle over thick slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella.
  • Add it to sour cream for a vegetable dip.
  • Use in place of red sauce on homemade pizza.
Gorgonzola walnut shortbread

Gorgonzola walnut shortbread

Gorgonzola Walnut Shortbread

Shortbread is a rich buttery cookie; typically they are slightly sweet. This Gorgonzola walnut shortbread is a savory treat, the perfect thing to pair with fall fruits. Put them on a fall dessert plate with slices of apple or pear. Add some hard, nutty cheeses and you have a delicious after-dinner board that pairs with a small glass of port.

Pasta with creamy vegan walnut sauce

Pasta with creamy vegan walnut sauce

Pasta With Creamy Vegan Walnut-Tomato Sauce

This vegan pasta dish comes with a double dose of walnuts. Walnuts are pureed with marinara sauce (any brand will do) to create a luxuriously rich and creamy dairy-free sauce. Then, to add interesting texture and flavor, she creates faux bread crumbs with walnuts that are toasted and then ground fine in a food processor. This meal is great for those who are sensitive to gluten. (The author of this recipe uses gluten-free pasta but feel free to use whatever your family likes.)

Walnut and lentil bolognese

Walnut and lentil bolognese

Walnut and Lentil Bolognese

This hearty dish also begins with a jar of marinara sauce. Unlike the traditional bolognese (which is a vegan nightmare of copious amounts of meat), this sauce is made satisfyingly "meaty" with protein-rich lentils and umami-packed walnuts. Walnut and lentil bolognese might even become a favorite of the meat-lovers in your family.

Walnut pie crust

Walnut pie crust

Walnut Pie Crust

Walnut pie crust is a perfect stand-in for the traditional graham cracker crust. With only two ingredients (walnuts, of course, and butter) it's a snap to fix. Substitute coconut oil for the butter to make this vegan, but it's also low-carb, keto, paleo, sugar-free, and gluten-free!

Walnut "meat"

Walnut "meat"

Vegan Walnut Meat

There are many faux ground meat recipes on the internet, but it seems that all of them are taco-flavored; well, all but this one. Julie uses a food processor to turn mushrooms and walnuts into crumbles that look just like ground beef. She also provides four different seasoning tips so that you can adapt the vegan walnut meat to work with any flavor profile.

Trivia

  • China leads world walnut production, followed by California, Turkey, and Iran.
  • It would take 1,051,818,240 walnuts laid end to end to circle the equator.
  • California is home to nearly 325,000 acres of walnuts orchards.
  • Walnut trees produce, on average, 3,500 pounds of walnuts per acre.
  • California produces roughly 1 billion pounds of walnuts every year.
  • It takes 170 days for a walnut to develop and mature.
  • Walnut trees are productive for 30-40 years.

Sources

© 2022 Linda Lum

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