Walnuts have been around for a very long time and have a rich history dating back thousands of years; some 7000 B.C.! That’s pushing 9000+ years that they’ve been part of human history – impressive. The Romans called walnuts Juglans regia, “Jupiter’s royal acorn.” The nuts have been revered since ancient times as the symbol of intelligence. Because their bi-lobed kernels feature a convoluted surface resembling the structure of the human brain, it’s easy to see how walnuts got their association with brain power – in fact, many today still parrot this message but mistakenly attribute the walnut’s braining-loving nutrition to their alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, content; a type of omega-3 fat but not to be confused with the omega-3 fats EPA & DHA – the kind of omega-3 fats that our brains really crave found in fish, seafood and omega-3 fortified eggs.
There at least 30 different cultivars types of walnut grown world-over. However, only three traditional varieties grown for their commercial purposes are English or Persian walnut (Juglans regia), Black walnut (Juglans nigra), and the White or butternut walnut (Juglans cinerea). Early history indicates that English walnuts came from ancient Persia, but because English merchant marines transported walnuts for trade to ports around the world and they became known as “English Walnuts.” England, in fact, never grew walnuts commercially. Through years of selected breeding and improved growing conditions, the walnuts that are commonly used today have their roots in this distant past.
- Walnuts are a rich source of many health-promoting nutrients; minerals, antioxidants and vitamins that are essential for well-being.
- They are a rich source of heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fat (about 72% of total fat) and an excellent source of the plant form of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – one of the essential fatty acids that must come from our diet.
- Regular consumption of walnuts can help to increase and maintain HDL cholesterol levels in the blood; higher levels of HDL lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Research has shown that Mediterranean-style diets which are rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, and omega-3 fatty acids from both plants and fish & seafood (EPA & DHA) lower the risk for heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Walnuts contain 100s of phyto-nutrients that are anti-inflammatory which may help lower blood pressure, cut down coronary artery disease and stroke risk, and offer protection from breast, colon and prostate cancers.
- Further, they are an excellent source of vitamin-E, especially rich in γ -tocopherol (gamma-tocopherol); about 21 mg of gamma tocopherol per 100 g serving. Vitamin-E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant essential for maintaining the integrity of cell membrane of mucosa and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen-induced free radicals.
- Walnuts are also packed with several important B-complex groups of vitamins such as thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5), pyriodoxine (B-6), and folate.
- They also very are a rich source of minerals such copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
Walnuts can be available year round in the markets. In the stores, you may get to see different forms of kernels put for sale; unshelled, shelled (without the shell), salted, sweetened, or ground, etc. Buy whole, “unshelled” nuts instead of processed ones.
While buying, look at the nuts that should feature bright brown color, compact, uniform in size and feel heavy in hand. They should be free from cracks, mold, and spots and rancid smell.
Unshelled walnuts can be placed in a cool, dry place for many months, whereas shelled (without the outer shell) kernels should be placed inside airtight container and kept in the refrigerator to avoid them turn rancid.
Cooking and Eating Walnuts
- Walnuts can be enjoyed as they are, without any seasonings/additions.
- They can also be enjoyed roasted, salted, or sweetened.
- The kernels have nutty yet pleasantly sweet in taste.
- Add them as toppings on yogurt, cereal, pizzas, oatmeal, oat-bran or quinoa porridge
- Sprinkle chopped walnuts over salads, soups, or stews
- Candied walnuts can be added as seafood toppings.
- Use them in place of other nuts in recipes like pesto, hummus, add to avocado or bean dips
- Chopped walnuts can easily be added to any baked goods like quick breads, muffins etc.
- The nuts are also used to make walnut butter, which is quite popular particularly among those with peanut allergy individuals.