Smith: Black walnuts | Food and Cooking

When I was growing up, we had an old black walnut tree next to our driveway that would drop walnuts causing me to trip over them while chasing my brother. I loathed this tree, especially when it was my turn to mow the grass, as I had to first rake the walnuts, wasting more of my precious time. Little did I know that we could have used these annoying nuts for delicious food. However, they’re a hard nut to crack.

If you’re determined enough to remove the husk (hop in your vehicle and drive over them a few times…yes, seriously) as well as the hard shell (forget the nutcracker and grab the hammer), you’re left with a nutritious nut with a richer, earthier flavor than the English walnut. Black walnuts have the highest protein content of any other tree nut with 15 grams protein per ½ cup. Plus, they’re an excellent source of omega-3 alpha linolenic acid, an essential amino acid with multiple health benefits that the body cannot make on its own.

Due to the oil content of the walnut, it’s best to store the nutmeat in a sealed, airtight container in the refrigerator for 9-12 months or in the freezer for up to two years. Use black walnuts in baked goods, such as cakes, breads or cookies and in other sweets like ice cream. Black walnuts may be substituted for other nuts and used in salads, pasta or stir-fries. If you don’t have a black walnut tree growing in your yard, or you’ve just given up the fight to get to the nutmeat, look for local hulled black walnuts at farmers markets, food co-ops or online.

Baked Black Walnut Banana Oatmeal

1/3 cup black walnuts, chopped

¼ cup packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¾ cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large banana, halved and sliced

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 8×8-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine oats, black walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, yogurt, oil and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until well-combined. Gently stir in banana pieces. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and bake 40-45 minutes until golden brown.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 290 calories, 11 grams fat, 230 milligrams sodium, 39 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 11 grams protein

USDA Food Data Central,

Eileen Haraminac, Michigan State University Extension, Walnuts: One of Mother Nature’s healthy snacks

Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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