There’s just something about a bowl of mixed nuts that people inherently love. Well, people that don’t have severe nut allergies of course. Within the nutty world, no one seems to rule over the others, not even the mighty peanut. One of the more popular varieties of nut though happens to be the walnut, the strange brain-shaped treasures locked within incredibly durable shells. Those who have the time and the willingness to crack the shells get access to the inner goodness and ultimately a handy helping of nutrition. At least that’s the theory! So let’s take a look at walnuts for today’s nutrition facts article!

Walnut Culture and History

Yet again, we’re left with only good guesses and high hopes as to the actual history of the particular food item, so with walnuts we’re once more in the realm of “We think it comes from…” Today that location is believed to be Persia according to what the ancient Romans seemed to think. Hey, the Romans haven’t steered us wrong yet, so we might as well believe them.

It might not actually be too crazy as the Greeks were using walnut oil as far back as the 4th century BC. We also know at least that in their early days, walnuts were cultivated throughout southeastern Europe and spread through to the Himalayas and Asia Minor. Oh course, you’re not really interested in where they came from unless we’re talking specifically about the US, correct? Alright then Mr. Patriotic, we got them right around 1770 when Franciscan priests decided to bring them to California. These days you have to go through customs to make sure you aren’t introducing non-native plants to the area, but back then it was totally cool.

What I find fascinating yet again has to do with language. The walnut’s Latin name is “Juglans regia”, which I doubt I have to explain as everyone is already up to snuff on their Latin. Just in case, that translates roughly into “regal nut of Jupiter” or “regal nut of the gods.” Seems the ancient people of Rome or Greece or wherever believed that the gods loved walnuts. Meanwhile, in the “but where did the name walnut come from?” front, scholars of language debate whether it’s from Teutonic German (“wallnuss” or “welsche nuss”), or from Anglo-Saxon (“wealh hnutu”, meaning “foreign nut”). Oh language, you so crazy!

Health Benefits of Walnuts

Walnuts are firmly in the “high density nutrients” club as they have a rather high amount of proteins and amino acids. This makes just a little bit of walnut go a long way as there’s so much packed into a single serving. It should be noted that walnuts are high in fat content, but the mixture of fats aren’t the bad kind. Rather, the mixture is made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is rather unique to walnuts. Studies are being run to see if a walnut-based or walnut-enhanced diet could be rather beneficial to one’s health and while short term studies are currently very hopeful, we’re a ways away before we know for certain one way or the other.

You’ll also find a good helping of the usual vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, manganese, magnesium, potassium, copper, calcium, zinc, and selenium. So as you’d expect, yes walnuts are good for you on a fundamental “they contain a lot of vitamins and minerals” level, which is always nice as you’ll probably want to add them to desserts of all shapes and sizes but can do so knowing they aren’t empty calories.

What’s really interesting about the little brain nuts is that they may actually have some properties to increase the amount of stored fat your body burns, as well as your ability to deal with stress a lot better. In studies, lab rats were fed diets with 2% to 6% walnut content and is seemed to suggest that they were becoming healthier and weren’t aging as fast, though a diet of more than 9% walnuts seemed to have the opposite effect, as you’d expect. Either way, walnuts actually have the most antioxidants when compared to peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts, so there’s that to chew on.

Eating More Walnuts

And speaking of chewing on something, why not chew on some raw walnuts? As they’re extremely difficult to eat owing to the need to crack their practically bulletproof shells, you aren’t able to snarf them one after the other, assuming you’re going for a bowl that hasn’t already been shelled (and that’s cheating). This delayed consumption is perfect for a TV snack as it will effectively slow you down and keep you from overindulging.

Naturally though, walnuts find use in the same place as other nuts, so in baked goods, on top of ice cream, mixed into cereal, chopped up into salads, stirred into pasta, and pretty much wherever you can think to add them. You need to be careful when adding them to meals with new guests since there’s a chance they could have an allergy (though you’ll probably know this as they would have told you), but otherwise there’s no limit to what they can be added to. Maybe not lemonade, but perhaps yes to milkshakes? Something to try out and see!

One of the simplest and most effective ways to eat nuts is to candy them. You can do this with anything from almonds to cashews to hazelnuts, but walnuts work just as fine. Roast them up with some maple syrup and brown sugar and you’ve got one heck of a treat on your hands. Granted, this effectively does away with the “best for you when you have to crack them before eating them” theory of mine, but hey, you can’t always be looking for the healthiest options while eating, right?

Okay, we’ve hit the end and it appears to be lunchtime for me at last, meaning I am now just starving enough to find it hard to concentrate on anything other than some delicious recipes. Maybe you’d like to suggest a few walnut recipes of your own? Who is a fan of walnuts all around and likes to add them wherever possible? While you answer that, I certainly have some walnuts to candy.