A walnut is the edible seed of a drupe, and thus not a true botanical nut. It is commonly consumed as a nut. After full ripening for its edible seed when the shell has been discarded, it is used as a garnish or a snack. Nuts of the eastern black walnut (Juglans nigra) and butternuts (Juglans cinerea) are less commonly consumed.
Walnuts are rounded, single-seeded stone fruits of the walnut tree commonly used for the meat after fully ripening. Following full ripening, the removal of the husk reveals the wrinkly walnut shell, which is usually commercially found in two segments (three or four-segment shells can also form). During the ripening process, the husk will become brittle and the shell hard. The shell encloses the kernel or meat, which is usually made up of two halves separated by a partition. The seed kernels - commonly available as shelled walnuts - are enclosed in a brown seed coat which contains antioxidants. The antioxidants protect the oil-rich seed from atmospheric oxygen, thereby preventing rancidity.
Walnuts are late to grow leaves, typically not until more than halfway through the spring. They secrete chemicals into the soil to prevent competing vegetation from growing. Because of this, flowers or vegetable gardens should not be planted close to them.
History and cultivation
During the Byzantine era, the walnut was also known by the name "royal nut." An article on walnut tree cultivation in Spain is included in Ibn al-'Awwam's 12th-century Book on Agriculture.
The two most common major species of walnuts are grown for their seeds - the Persian or English walnut and the black walnut. The English walnut (J. regia) originated in Iran (Persia), and the black walnut (J. nigra) is native to eastern North America. The black walnut is of high flavor, but due to its hard shell and poor hulling characteristics it is not grown commercially for nut production. Numerous walnut cultivars have been developed commercially, which are nearly all hybrids of the English walnut.
Other species include J. californica, the California black walnut (often used as a root stock for commercial breeding of J. regia), J. cinerea (butternuts), and J. major, the Arizona walnut. Other sources list J. californica californica as native to southern California, and Juglans californica hindsii, or just J. hindsii, as native to northern California; in at least one case these are given as "geographic variants" instead of subspecies (Botanica).
In 2019, world production of walnuts (in shell) was 4.5 million tonnes, with China contributing 56% of the total (table). Other major producers (in the order of decreasing harvest) were the United States, Iran, and Turkey.
Walnuts, like other tree nuts, must be processed and stored properly. Poor storage makes walnuts susceptible to insect and fungal mold infestations; the latter produces aflatoxin - a potent carcinogen. A mold-infested walnut batch should be entirely discarded.
The ideal temperature for the longest possible storage of walnuts is -3 to 0 °C (27 to 32 °F) with low humidity for industrial and home storage. However, such refrigeration technologies are unavailable in developing countries where walnuts are produced in large quantities; there, walnuts are best stored below 25 °C (77 °F) with low humidity. Temperatures above 30 °C (86 °F), and humidities above 70 percent can lead to rapid and high spoilage losses. Above 75 percent humidity threshold, fungal molds that release dangerous aflatoxin can form.
Walnuts in their shells available for sale in a supermarket in the United States.
Walnut meats are available in two forms; in their shells or de-shelled. The meats may be whole, halved, or in smaller portions due to processing. All walnuts can be eaten on their own (raw, toasted or pickled), or as part of a mix such as muesli, or as an ingredient of a dish: e.g. walnut soup, walnut pie, walnut coffee cake, banana cake, brownie, fudge. Walnuts are often candied, or pickled. Pickled walnuts that are the whole fruit can be savory or sweet depending on the preserving solution. Walnut butters can be homemade or purchased in both raw and roasted forms.
In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided a Qualified Health Claim allowing products containing walnuts to state: "Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces (43 g) per day of walnuts, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease." The FDA had, in 2004, refused to authorize the claim that "Diets including walnuts can reduce the risk of heart disease" and had sent an FDA Warning Letter to Diamond Foods in 2010 stating there is "not sufficient evidence to identify a biologically active substance in walnuts that reduces the risk of coronary heart disease." A recent systematic review assessing the effect of walnut supplementation on blood pressure found insufficient evidence to support walnut consumption as a BP-lowering strategy.
The United States Army once used ground walnut shells for abrasive blasting to clean aviation parts because of low cost and non-abrasive qualities. However, an investigation of a fatal Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter crash (September 11, 1982, in Mannheim, Germany) revealed that walnut grit clogged an oil port, leading to the accident and the discontinuation of walnut shells as a cleaning agent. Commercially, crushed walnut shells are still used outside of aviation for low-abrasive, less-toxic cleaning and blasting applications.
Large, symmetrically shaped, and sometimes intricately carved walnut shells (mainly from J. hopeiensis ) are valued collectibles in China where they are rotated in the hand as a plaything or as decoration. They are also an investment and status symbol, with some carvings having high monetary value if unique. Pairs of walnuts are sometimes sold in their green husks for a form of gambling known as du qing pi.
^Wagner, Roberta (22 February 2010). "FDA Warning Letter to Diamond Food, Inc". US Food and Drug Administration, Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations. Archived from the original on 12 January 2017. Retrieved 2016. the evidence supporting a relationship between walnuts and coronary heart disease is related to the omega-3 fatty acid content of walnuts. There is not sufficient evidence to identify a biologically active substance in walnuts that reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Therefore, the above statement is an unauthorized health claimCS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
^Li J, Jiang B, O Santos H, Santos D, Singh A, Wang L. Effects of walnut intake on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Phytother Res. 2020. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6740. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32510725.
^Metabolism of Antioxidant and Chemopreventive Ellagitannins from Strawberries, Raspberries, Walnuts, and Oak-Aged Wine in Humans: Identification of Biomarkers and Individual Variability. Begoña Cerdá, Francisco A. Tomás-Barberán, and Juan Carlos Espín, J. Agric. Food Chem., 2005, 53 (2), pages 227-235, doi:10.1021/jf049144d
^(-)-Regiolone, an ?-tetralone from Juglans regia: structure, stereochemistry and conformation. Sunil K. Talapatra, Bimala Karmacharya, Shambhu C. De and Bani Talapatra, Phytochemistry, Volume 27, Issue 12, 1988, pages 3929-3932, doi:10.1016/0031-9422(88)83047-4