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Walnuts

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

More than just something delicious to munch or to stir into brownie batter, walnuts have some valuable health benefits to offer. New studies show that walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids. Fish are the more familiar source of these beneficial fats, but walnuts contain an omega-3 called alpha linolenic acid (ALA). A high intake of ALA is protective against heart attack. Studies suggest that 2 grams of ALA--the amount in an ounce of walnuts--a day is sufficient to produce these benefits.

Walnuts also contain compounds called sterols, which are naturally occurring plant compounds that are chemically similar to cholesterol. Some plant sterols are not absorbed by the digestive tract and block the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. One ounce of walnuts contains 50 milligrams of plant sterols, which scientists believe may play a chemoprotecive as well as a cardioprotective role.

And walnuts also offer protein, fiber, magnesium, manganese, and copper. In addition, walnuts also contain ellagic acid--a flavonoid, also found in several types of berries, that has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Varieties

There are three basic varieties of walnuts:

English walnuts: Also called Persian walnuts, these are the most familiar type. They are native to Asia and Europe; California is now the major world producer. The shells of English walnuts are relatively easy to crack with a nutcracker, and the halves of the nut kernel can usually be removed in one piece.

Black walnuts: These walnuts have a very tough and dark outer hull and the inner shells are also thicker than those of English walnuts. The shells have to be broken under so much pressure that the nut meats are usually crushed as well. These have a very distinctive, "cheese-y" flavor. They are not to everyone's taste, but aficionados of these walnuts will go to great lengths to get their hands on them.

Butternuts: Also called "white walnuts," these are native to the United States, but are rarely harvested for the marketplace. They are oilier and sweeter tasting than the other two walnut varieties.

Availability

English walnuts are widely available; they're sold in the shell, shelled, and also shelled and chopped.

Black walnuts are marketed on a very small scale; you may find them in farmers' markets and some specialty stores. The same is true of butternuts. Both are more likely to be found during the fall and early winter.

Shopping

When buying walnuts in the shell, look for undamaged shells with no tiny wormholes. Shake the nuts. Those that rattle or feel extra light may be withered or dried out inside.

When buying unshelled walnuts, look for a freshness date on a sealed jar, can, or bag. If visible, the nuts should be plump and uniform in size.

Buy nuts in bulk only if you are sure the store has a rapid turnover of their stock to ensure freshness. Check to see that the nuts are crisp. Don't buy them if they are limp or rubbery, or smell musty or rancid; their high oil content makes them susceptible to spoilage.

Storage

Walnuts are more perishable than other nuts because of their high polyunsaturated fat content, but keep well if properly stored. Heat, humidity, and light will speed spoilage.

In their shells walnuts will keep for six months to a year if stored in a cool dry place. For longer storage, keep them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Keep raw shelled walnuts in their original package until you are ready to use them. Store in a cupboard or other cool, dry place. They will stay fresh until the date marked on the package. If there is no date, count on them lasting for 3 to 4 months.

Once the package is opened, wrap the nuts well and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. The nuts will stay fresh for six months in the refrigerator and for a year in the freezer.

If shelled walnuts seem a little soft (but do not smell rancid), freshen them by spreading them on a baking sheet and heating them in a very low oven (150°F) for a few minutes.

Preparation

To shell walnuts: English walnut shells split readily with the squeeze of a nutcracker, allowing quick extraction of unbroken nut halves. Nut picks can be helpful, however, in teasing them out.

Black walnuts have very tough, dark outer hulls, and the shells are rock-hard. They usually have to be broken by a very hard hammer blow or with a vice. (Some people even resort to running over black walnuts with their car.) Because so much force must be used to break the shell, halves are virtually impossible to rescue and the meats have to be picked out in pieces with a nut pick.

To chop walnuts: For large pieces break the nutmeats by hand. For finer sizes, use a good-sized chef's knife on a large cutting board, or use a curved chopper in a wooden bowl or a mechanical nut chopper.

Chopping nuts in a blender or food processor is hard to do without turning them into butter, so process a small amount at a time and pulse the machine on and off only once or twice. If you're chopping them for a cake, process them with a small amount of the flour and proceed with the recipe.

To toast walnuts: On the stovetop: Place shelled nuts in a single layer in a heavy, ungreased skillet. Toast over medium heat, shaking the pan and stirring them to keep them from scorching, until they are golden brown, from 5 to 10 minutes.

In the oven: This is convenient when you are preheating the oven for baking. Place shelled nuts in a shallow baking pan and put them in an oven set for 350°F. Cook until they are golden, from 7 to 10 minutes, stirring them occasionally.

In the microwave: Spread the nuts in a single layer on a paper plate. Cook 90 seconds at 100% power, then stir and let stand for a minute. Cook for another 90 seconds.

Peeling: Occasionally a recipe will direct you to remove the biter walnut skin. To do this, drop shelled walnuts into boiling water and blanch 1 minute. Drain, rinse under cold water and rub skin off. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes until crisp.

Nutrition Chart

Walnuts/1 ounce

182
Total fat (g)
18
Saturated fat (g)
1.6
Monounsaturated fat (g)
4
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
11
Dietary fiber (g)
1.4
4
Carbohydrate (g)
5
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
3
Copper (mg)
0.4
Magnesium (mg)
48
Manganese (mg)
0.8

Walnut Oil/1 tablespoon

120
Total fat (g)
14
Saturated fat (g)
1.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
3.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
8.6
Dietary fiber (g)
0
0
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
0


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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