By Ify Mgbemena
Walnuts are the seeds of the fruit that grows on the walnut tree, belonging to the Juglandaceae family. The tree, scientifically known as Juglans regia, is native to the regions stretching from the Balkans to the Himalayas. It is characterized by large, pinnate leaves and a relatively long lifespan, with some trees living for several centuries.
The walnut itself is encased in a hard, woody shell that is surrounded by a green, fleshy husk. The nut inside the shell is typically divided into two halves and has a wrinkled appearance. The trees are deciduous, shedding their leaves in the autumn, and they produce catkins in the spring. Walnuts thrive in temperate climates, requiring well-drained soil and a significant chilling period in winter for proper growth.
The origin of the walnut tree can be traced back thousands of years. Historically, walnuts were cultivated in regions of Central Asia, specifically in the area spanning from the Balkans to the Himalayas. Over time, they spread to various parts of the world through trade and migration.
Today, major walnut-producing countries include China, the United States, Iran, Chile, and Ukraine. Each region imparts its own characteristics to the walnuts grown there, influenced by factors such as soil composition, climate, and cultivation practices. The diversity in growing conditions contributes to the wide range of walnut varieties available, each with its unique taste and texture.
Walnuts have a distinctive taste that combines richness with a slight bitterness. The flavor is earthy and nutty, and the texture is often described as both creamy and crunchy. The thin, papery skin that covers the nut contributes a hint of bitterness, while the inner meat has a more buttery and savory taste. Whether eaten raw, toasted, or incorporated into various dishes, walnuts add a unique and satisfying flavor profile to both sweet and savory recipes.
Here are some amazing facts about walnuts.
1. The Walnut Marketing Board created the first National Walnut Day in June 1949, and President Eisenhower made it a public holiday in 1958.
2. The impressive little walnut is botanically classified as a fruit, but it is technically considered a tree nut.
3. Walnut trees grow at a rate of 24 inches per year reaching 40 to 60 feet tall and can produce walnuts for more than 100 years.
4. Walnuts have a formidable shell that resembles a human head, so ancient Greeks referred to them as karyon (meaning head). Crack open that tough exterior and you’ll find a bumpy textured meat that bears a marked resemblance to the brain.
5. Walnuts are among the oldest tree food known to man, being traced back to 7,000 B.C.
6. Ancient civilizations made walnut milk for a sweet refreshment, and many people still enjoy walnut milk today. Try this walnut milk and cherry berry smoothie, filled with tart cherry juice, a spoonful of honey, sweet strawberries, and walnut milk, for a refreshing snack.
7. Tasty California walnuts are used for more than their milk, too. They add delicious flavor and texture to many recipes with their subtle flavor and creamy texture. Have you ever had walnut butter or walnut hummus? This recipe for Roasted red pepper and walnut hummus, made with savory chickpeas, hearty walnuts, and a blend of spices, makes a great snack to serve while celebrating National Walnut Day.
8. In India, Prabhakar Reddy P crushed 212 walnuts by hand in a single minute to break the world record in August 2017. The previous year, Muhammed Rashid from Pakistan cracked 181 walnuts against his head in the same amount of time. Headaches aside, that’s pretty impressive.
9. Toasting walnuts is a great way to add extra flavor and texture to your favorite meals and snacks. California Walnuts has all the info you need to get your toasted walnuts just right.
10. Walnut powder and shells are often used to make natural soaps that are great for gifting. Of course, they’re great for pampering yourself, too!
11. For those of you looking for a plant-based alternative to meat, walnuts are the answer to your foodie dreams. Use them as a base for a meatless chorizo, give your “meat”balls a tasty twist to add flavor and texture to a number of meatless recipes.
12. Many people keep walnuts in their pantry, but they are actually best stored in the fridge or freezer. Once open, put them in an airtight container and store them in the freezer to maximize their shelf life.
13. California produces roughly one billion pounds of walnuts annually, accounting for more than 99% of the American supply and two thirds of the world trade