Walnuts have long been thought of as “brain food” because of their crinkly, brainlike appearance. These delicious nuts also have been used to heal emotions because of their resemblance to the heart. Today, research tells us that both of these beliefs are true!
Grown in temperate climates since 7,000 BC, walnuts come from the world’s oldest food trees. Their wrinkled kernels are off-white with a thin brown skin. The skin is completely edible, but it does have a slightly bitter flavor. The common walnut (also called English or Persian) is the most widely available and has a pleasant, savory flavor and smooth, buttery consistency. Black walnuts, which have a stronger, more distinctive taste, primarily come from wild trees in Missouri. When purchasing shelled walnuts, select those that are firm, plump and crisp, and without cracks and holes.
Walnuts contain 15 percent protein and 64 percent fat, all of it healthy. Unlike the oil of most other nuts, walnut oil is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, essential for good functioning of the brain and the immune and cardiovascular systems. Omega-3s have also proven effective at warding off depression, protecting bone health and serving as an anti-inflammatory, helping those with conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and psoriasis. One quarter-cup serving of walnuts provides about 90 percent of your body’s daily requirement for omega-3s. Walnuts also offer a powerful dose of other nutrients that help support heart health: antioxidant-rich phenolic compounds like vitamin E, folic acid and healthful monounsaturated fat.
Whole, raw walnuts are healthiest, but they can also be toasted, pressed for oil, crushed for sauces or pastes, or used to create nut milk.
- Add walnut pieces to smoothies to create a tasty, nutty treat that’s great for breakfast, lunch or snacks. Use whole or chopped on salads, pastas or breakfast cereals.
- Substitute walnuts in pesto recipes calling for pine nuts. Chop walnuts finely for crusting poultry or fish before sautéing or baking.
- Shelled walnuts should be kept in an airtight container and refrigerated or frozen. In the fridge, they’ll last for two to three months; in the freezer, up to one year. Store walnuts in the shell in a cool, dry place for up to three months.
- Toasting walnuts intensifies their nutty flavor. To toast shelled walnuts, lay them flat on a baking sheet and place in an oven preheated to 160 to 170 degrees F for about 15 to 20 minutes (at higher temperatures, walnuts lose antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids). Unfortunately, toasting walnuts also increases the bitterness of the skin. So, after toasting, it’s best to remove the skin so you can enjoy the walnut’s clean, rich flavor without any trace of bitterness. Place warm walnuts in a towel and gently rub for about two minutes. Then put the nuts in a colander or sieve and shake away the loose skin.
- Crush walnuts by placing them between parchment or wax paper and putting pressure on them with a heavy object, like the bottom of a small sauté pan.
Bulgur Wheat Walnut and Raspberry Salad
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup fine grain bulgur wheat
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas thawed and steamed
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tbs. raspberry infused vinegar
- 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- 1/8 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tbs. finely chopped chives
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts
- Place the water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the bulgur into the boiling water and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let it stand for about 15 minutes, just until tender. Drain and press out any remaining water. Place in mixing bowl. Stir in the peas and red peppers.
- For the dressing, whisk the garlic, vinegar and olive oil together and season with the salt and pepper.
- To the bulgur add chives, mint and walnuts. Toss with the dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed.
- 6 cups baby lettuce
- 1 ripe pear (bosc), cored and sliced
- 1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup Pear Walnut Vinaigrette
- 1/4 cup Roquefort cheese
- Place baby lettuce, pear slices, walnut pieces, cranberries and pear vinaigrette in a large mixing bowl and toss gently to moisten lettuce.
- Divide salad equally on four salad plates. Garnish each salad with 1 tablespoon crumbled Roquefort cheese.
Pear Walnut Vinaigrette
Makes 20 1-ounce servings
- 12 ounces chopped, drained, light syrup, jarred pears, liquid reserved
- 1/3 cup reserved pear syrup
- 1 tbs. Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup pear balsamic vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 tsp. toasted walnut oil
- 1/8 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. dried chives
- Place the pears, pear syrup, mustard and vinegar in blender and purée until smooth.
- Drizzle in the canola and walnut oils.
- Add the salt and chive and pulse to combine.
Use on top of grilled chicken or fish, spread on flatbreads or toss with pasta or steamed broccoli.
Makes 2 cups
- 2 cups packed fresh parsley
- 2 tsp. fresh oregano
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts pieces
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. lemon zest
- 2 tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/8 tsp. sea salt
- 1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 3 tbs. canola oil
- 1 tbs. toasted walnut oil
- In a food processor, combine the parsley, canola oil, oregano, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, zest, cheese, salt and pepper. Blend until finely chopped and slowly drizzle the walnut oil into the blender through the hole in the lid.
- Blend until mixture is smooth and thick. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper as needed.
- Place in food storage container, cover, label, date and refrigerate until needed.
This article has been updated. It originally appeared online on December 1, 2008.