Walnuts had been introduced into Italy from the Middle East, where archaeological evidence from caves in northern Iraq shows that they were eaten as far back as the Mesolithic period (8000 to 2700 BC), and from Italy the Romans introduced them to Britain and the rest of the known world. English walnut trees, though, have never been as prolific as those from warmer climates, and most of the walnuts we find in the shops today at Christmas have been imported from France, Italy, China, California or Romania. 

Their woody and musty nuttiness makes walnuts — together with almonds — a favourite European nut. High in protein (a 100gm serving provides 11-15gm of protein) walnuts are also a rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and some of the B vitamins.

Jars of pickled unripe walnuts with their white and milky kernels, still in their husks, are produced in England and make a great treat. But most of us are more familiar with the ripe kernels of the dried walnut that is harvested in late September or early October. Once the nuts are fully ripe and the husks begin to split open, the traditional way of harvesting is for the branches of the tree to be shaken or beaten until the walnuts fall to the ground. After the nut is removed from the husk it is washed and then dried, either in the sun or hot air dryers, before it is immersed in a bleaching solution and graded. Unfortunately the shelled nuts quickly lose their sweet flavour, and so it is important that they are stored in airtight containers and consumed as quickly as possible.

Halved walnuts are used for garnishing cakes and desserts as well as salads and savoury pies. They are also an unusual ingredient in soups and go well with fish and poultry. The Italians toss them with garlic, oil and parsley when they scatter them over pasta, while the Greeks prefer to mix them with yoghurt and honey. Walnuts also have important medicinal qualities. They are recommended for complaints ranging from gout to diabetes and loss of energy, while the husk of the nut and the bark of the tree are useful for curing eczema and other skin diseases.

Nutrition Information

Typical valuesper 100g  
Energy 2738kJ 
Proteins 15.2g30%*
Carbohydrate 13.7g11%*
    Total Sugars 2.6g 
Total Fat 65.2g 
    Saturated 6.1mg 
    Monounsaturated 8.9mg 
    Polyunsaturated 47.2mg 
Dietary Fibre 6.7g22%*
Sodium Trace  
Vitamin C 1.3mg4%*
Thiamin 0.3mg38%*
Niacin 1.1mg14%*
Riboflavin 0.2mg18%*
Vitamin B6 0.5mg25%*
Folate 98mcg49%*
Vitamin E 0.7mg7%*
VitA 20IU1%*
Vit K 2.7mcg4%*
Calcium 98mg20%*
Iron 2.9mg24%*
Magnesium 158mg53%*
Zinc 3mg30%*
Manganese 3.4mg170%*
Selenium 4.9mcg9%*
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