The walnut is a dried fruit that is at its best in autumn. Discover its nutritional properties, its health benefits, and its use in cooking. (Nuts types and benefits)
The walnut is the fruit of the common walnut. The fruit is rounded, smooth, green, and 3-5 centimeters in diameter. Inside there is a spherical or ovoid nut, depending on the variety. The walnut is found inside a capsule that is fleshy and green when it is tender but ends up peeling and blackening when it ripens.
In turn, the nut is formed by a woody, hard, rough, and straw-brown shell, which is formed by two valves. The interior of the nut is divided into four compartments in which the seeds that occupy almost the entire interior of the fruit are arranged. These seeds are the edible part of the nut and are characterized by their sweet flavor, which remains on the palate after consumption. Their shape is irregular, they have a yellowish-white color and are covered with a thin yellow-brown skin.
History of the walnut:
According to some authors, the walnut tree is native to Europe, where it began to spread during the Tertiary Era. It seems that during the last ice age it disappeared, remaining only protected in the western part of the Asian continent. According to other authors, this would be the true area of origin of the walnut tree, from which it spread again thanks to the migration of peoples.
It was the Romans who introduced the walnut in the regions of the Rhine and in Spain and, later, the Spanish who brought the plant to France and England, thus spreading it throughout Europe.
Like many other products, the Spanish introduced the walnut to America, where it spread widely from California, at first, to the southern hemisphere.
Types of nuts:
The most important varieties of walnuts cultivated around the world are: Common, Mayette, Parisienne, Franquette, Hartley, Payne and Eureka.
The best known for its large export volume to all markets are California walnuts. These nuts are large, with regular shape and exceptional cleanliness, although their spectacular presence does not correspond to the quality of their almonds, which are very poor in meat compared to European nuts.
Walnuts produced by other species of walnut trees other than the common one, such as gray and black walnut, also form part of the human diet. The black walnut (Juglans nigra), native to East and North America and introduced to England in the 17th century, is larger than the common walnut.
The shell that surrounds the fruit is usually very thick and hard, so in the United States, there are special nutcrackers to break it. However, the edible seed is of good quality, has a fairly intense flavor, and in North America, it is used in confectionery and ice cream parlors, among other culinary applications.
The walnut of the gray, white or ashen walnut (Juglans cinerea), native to North America, is consumed very locally. This ellipsoidal fruit is very sticky and is covered with hair. It has a short tip and the shell is quite hard, although it is not difficult to break. In addition, it has a very pleasant flavor.
Tips for buying nuts:
In the market you can find walnuts with shell or without shell, and whole, chopped or ground as a more or less fine flour.
When buying walnuts, it is preferable to opt for the fresh fruit in shell or for the shelled walnuts vacuum packed. In the first case, it is advisable to choose the nuts that are relatively heavy and full, with the shell intact, without cracks or holes.
The best season to buy walnuts is the month of November, as that is when they are ripe and dry.
The best way to preserve walnuts is in a tightly closed jar, in a cool, dry place. The fats in this dried fruit are easily oxidized, so if they are stored for a long time, they can acquire a rancid taste. The tendency to rancidity is greater in the case of chopped or ground walnuts, since they have a greater contact surface with the air.
In-shell walnuts generally keep for 2-3 months. The husked ones should be stored in the refrigerator to slow rancidity. In this way, they can be kept for approximately 6 months. Walnuts can also be frozen, with or without the shell.
Use in the kitchen:
The nut is generally consumed raw, alone or combined with some other food, usually honey. It is even a typical dessert, along with cheese, in all Basque cider houses.
The walnut is included as an ingredient in many dishes made with vegetables, in various fillings, in the pasta or sauces that accompany it, and in many oriental dishes. They are even part of many traditional and regional desserts, such as the Aragonese nogada or the Basque intxaursaltsa.
Caramelised walnuts are a common ingredient in the production of ice cream.
In addition to being one of the most appreciated nuts for its pleasant taste, the walnut is also used to obtain derived products. Among them, the most prominent is walnut oil, whose flavor is very pleasant and sweeter than that of olive oil. It is generally used for salad dressing.
Curiosity about walnuts:
The old pseudoscientific theory of symbolism attributed to the walnut “ healing properties on the brain due to the similarity of the fruit to this organ.