Walnuts are one of the most popular and versatile of all nuts. When picked young, they're known as wet and their milky white kernels are mainly used for pickling. Far more common is the dried nut, either shelled or unshelled. The brown-skinned kernel has a ridged surface, which looks like two halves of the brain.
Slightly bitter in flavour, walnuts are good eaten raw or cooked, in either sweet or savoury dishes, and are particularly useful for baking.
Shelled walnuts are available all year round. Unshelled walnuts tend to be available in our winter.
Choosing the best walnuts
If buying unshelled walnuts, look for those that are uncracked, with no holes. Shelled walnuts should be plump and crisp. Avoid any that look shivelled.
Walnuts in their shells can be opened using a nut cracker. To avoid damaging the nut inside, squeeze the shell gently until it cracks, then extract the nut - there are lots of different nut crackers available, so find one that's easy for you to use.
Walnuts can be eaten raw, as they are, or toast to bring out more of their flavour: place the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake on a medium heat for 10-12 minutes. They are ready when the kernels turn golden. You can achieve the same effect by dry frying them: put in a dry frying pan over a medium heat, and keep the pan moving to make sure they colour evenly and don't burn. Leave whole, halve or chop, as required.
Unshelled walnuts should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place - they'll last for around three months. Shelled walnuts should be kept in an airtight container in the fridge - they'll last for up to six months.
Add to salads (particularly Waldorf salad, with apple, celery and raisins) or muesli; use for baking cakes, biscuits or pies. Eat as a snack.
Health benefits of walnuts
Walnuts are an excellent source of antioxidants and the minerals manganese, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium. Walnuts are a very good source of protein, dietary fiber, the amino acid arginine, omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Walnuts are unique because they are rich in n-6 (linoleate) and n-3 (linolenate) polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid found mainly in plant sources, especially walnuts. There have been numerous clinical studies that suggest that alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) intake reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in walnuts may reduce cardiovascular risk through a variety of biologic mechanisms, including platelet function, inflammation, endothelial cell function, arterial compliance, and arrhythmia.
Walnuts also contain other potentially cardioprotective constituents including phytosterols, tocopherols, squalene and the amino acid arginine.
Walnuts are rich in the antioxidant ellagic acid, and in a preliminary study, it has been suggested that the ellagic acid present in walnuts has a high anti-atherogenic implicating the beneficial effect of a walnut-enriched diet on cardio protection.
A diet supplemented with walnuts has been shown to significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Fibrillar amyloid beta-protein (Abeta) is the principal component of amyloid plaques in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Over 90% inhibition of Abeta fibrillization from walnut extract was observed in a laboratory study, suggesting that walnuts may reduce the risk or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease by maintaining Abeta in the soluble form.
There is some concern amongst dieters about incorporating walnuts into a weight loss program due to the high fat content. A 12-month study of 90 participants has demonstrated that weight gain from daily consumption of walnuts has been shown to be insignificant.
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