It’s likely that when someone says “walnut”, you imagine an English walnut. The walnuts sold in grocery stores are mostly English walnuts. Black walnuts are available for sale but they are hard to find. Black walnuts and English walnuts have different flavors and shapes. Black walnuts have a bolder taste, with more fruity and musty flavors than English walnuts. The strong flavor makes black walnuts a more attractive ingredient nut as opposed to a snack nut. The less earthy flavor of the English walnut has broader appeal and English walnuts make a great snack. English walnuts have thinner shells that are easier to crack with a higher nutmeat/shell ratio (more meat per nut). English walnuts are more easily shelled at home with a hand-operated cracker.
Both kinds of walnuts are really healthy foods. Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based source of omega-3 fats. Both kinds have been found to contain phytosterols, a cholesterol-lowering agent. Walnuts are low in saturated fats and high in fiber. Proportionately, English walnuts may have a little more omega-3 than black walnuts but not as much arginine and selenium. There is no wrong answer when trying to choose the healthiest kind of walnut.
Black walnuts are native to North America. But are English walnuts native to England? As it turns out, English walnuts grow in England but that’s not where the tree originated and English walnuts are not a major English commercial crop. The tree originated in the Middle East and the nuts are called English walnuts because historically the English merchant marines would trade them around the world; the nuts became commonly known as English walnuts. The English walnut and the Persian walnut are the same walnut.
Black walnuts are an heirloom American ingredient. Because they have a different flavor than English walnuts, they cannot be substituted 1:1 in recipes calling for walnuts without affecting the recipe outcome. Heirloom ingredients may require heirloom recipes or the creation of new recipes. Here’s a fun example from Sheryl Lazarus, who posts and tries family recipes from a hundred years ago and has noticed that trying these recipes has caused her to eat healthier foods made with local, seasonal ingredients. Got your own heirloom black walnut recipe over 100 years old? Please contact us to share.