Varieties Of Walnuts

There are about fifteen different varieties of the walnut family. They are indigenous to East Asia, south-eastern Europe and North and South America . All walnuts are edible but the English walnut is known as the most delicious and certainly the most important. It is believed to be native to a vast region including Turkey , Iran , Iraq , Afghanistan , southern Russia and northern India . In prehistoric times, walnuts were most likely collected from wild trees for food, a process that lasted for millennia. Starting with caveman, knowledge was gained gradually about walnuts, and preference was undoubtedly given to nuts with the largest and sweetest kernels, with thin shells, which were easier to crack.

Many legends and superstitions have been associated with the walnut. The Greeks and Romans regarded it as a symbol of fecundity. It was customary at Roman weddings for the bridegroom to toss handfuls of walnuts much as we now throw rice, to be scrambled for by young boys. By flinging the nuts away, the bridegroom showed he was mature and had finally laid aside childish amusement. In China , where the cricket has traditionally been considered a creature of good omen, musically trained, singing crickets were carried about in intricately carved walnut shells.

Walnuts have been introduced to a broad range of temperate climates extending across the Northern Hemisphere, most notably in Australia and New Zealand . This broad dispersal has led to the development of numerous walnut varieties, suited to the different ecological conditions in each location.



Cultivation Of Walnuts:

Throughout a long history of cultivation, the walnut has been highly esteemed as a superior dessert nut, which requires neither roasting nor salting to enhance its flavour. The green, immature walnut, including the husk, is edible. In England , young walnuts are traditional delicacies when pickled. Green walnuts can also be made into walnut marmalade, added to jams, or preserved whole in syrup. A nut brandy can be prepared from green walnuts. Like the maple, the walnut tree can be tapped in spring for the rising sweet sap and the liquid boiled down to sugar. The walnut tree has also widely famed for its beautiful wood that is used in furniture.


Eastern Black Walnuts:

The eastern black walnut is native to the deciduous forests of the eastern United States . It is the largest of the native species in North America reaching a height of up to 150 feet. It bears dark coloured edible nuts with a thick, hard, black shell, smaller in size, more circular in outer shape and with a somewhat stronger flavour than that of the Persian walnut. Its high quality wood has long been prized for furniture and cabinet making. There is a large demand for the black walnuts themselves. They are used for candies, cakes, and ice cream. Due to the scarcity and trouble cracking the shells they are priced quite higher than English walnuts.

English Walnuts:

:The English walnut is a large, shapely, round-headed, deciduous tree, which under favourable conditions grows to a height of about 100 feet. It has a clear, straight trunk and silvery-grey bark. The feathery leaves are six to twelve inches long, divided into leaflets three to six inches in length.

Producers Of Walnuts:

For many years, the United States has been the leading world producer of walnuts. California accounts for nearly all of the country's production. Oregon has a smaller production but their contribution is negligible compared to that of California . The majority of California walnut production is concentrated in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys .

The Hartley has become the most extensively planted variety of walnuts in California , especially suitable for the in shell trade. A well-filled walnut shell yields a higher kernel percentage, but the kernel should not be so tight in the shell that it is hard to extract and would tend to break in a cracking machine. A superior walnut should be well filled, but have adequate space between shell and kernel.

Walnut trees require spacing of at least fifty feet in each direction to obtain maximum yield. Depending upon the variety grown, harvestable crops are produced within five to eight years. Some reports mention that trees that are fifty, seventy-five and even one hundred years old continue to bear good crops. Walnuts are mature when the hull can easily be separated from the shell.

Harvesting begins when about eighty percent of the nuts can be removed from the trees. This may be done at one time or over a period of several days. Almost all the nuts are harvested mechanically. Since all the nuts have not separated naturally from their hulls, the harvested crop is a mixture of hulled and unhulled walnuts. Machines then hull and wash the walnuts brought in from the orchards. To prevent deterioration, the walnuts must be thoroughly dried as soon as possible by mechanical dehydrators.

Following the harvest, walnuts are dried to a moisture content of eight percent maximum to prevent darkening of the kernels, retard mould development and permit efficient shell bleaching. They are separated into three categories: in the shell, kernels, or as by-products.

After the nuts are sorted the in shell nuts are then bleached in a diluted solution. This is not harmful, as the weak solution does not penetrate the shell. The walnuts are rinsed and rubbed to obtain a uniform tan colour. The nuts are then dried and sampled to determine their quality. Next, they are graded based on size into four categories: Jumbo, large, medium, and baby. About thirty percent of California 's crop is kept in the shell.

The remaining seventy percent of the crop is known as "cracking stock" and is shelled. After cracking, the kernels are conveyed to air separators to remove shell and fibre material. They are then sorted by electronic, colour sorting machines, which separate dark walnuts from light. The shelled walnuts are then packaged. It takes approximately two and one half pounds of walnuts to obtain one pound of kernels.

The United States is the world's leading walnut producer and exporter. They are said to be the American homemaker's favourite ingredient nut. Walnuts are a good source of iron and Vitamin B and are also rich in phosphorous.