1/26/2013

Where do walnuts come from?

Walnuts are single-seed fruits that come from the walnut tree.    The fruit is initially enclosed in a green, fibrous husk (that’s inedible).   The husk is removed to leave what we commonly associate as being a walnut – a hard outer shell with the fruit inside that we consume as the walnut.

Worldwide production has increased dramatically in recent years; current global production stands at approximately 1.5 million metric tons.    China is the world’s largest producer and consumer accounting for nearly 40% of total global production and nearly half of the world’s total consumption.   Other important producer countries include the United States, Ukraine, Turkey, EU, Chile and India.   However, the United States is the fastest growing producer in the world with production nearly doubling in the past ten years; walnut production occurs predominately in the state of California.  The U.S. is the world’s largest export of walnuts.  

The two most common species of walnuts grown commercially are typically hybrids of the English Walnut (versus a Black Walnut that’s commonly found in the wild or grown domestically for landscaping purposes).

Walnuts are increasing in popularity and usage.   According to U.S. Market research, 86% of consumers believe walnuts to be healthy and 61% of respondents said there were buying walnuts more often versus five years ago – primarily because of nutritional benefits and taste.     Walnuts are primarily utilized for baking and as snacks.

Walnut harvest is a fairly complex process in larger commercial operations that includes several steps.  First, a mechanical shaker is utilized to dislodge the walnuts from the tree where they fall to the ground.  Second, they’re swept into rows in between the trees.  And three, they’re picked up mechanically off the ground.    From there they enter into a drier and then either processed or remain in the shell for storage and/or shipping.

The health benefits of walnuts has been promoted heavily in recent years.  Walnuts are renowned for their protein content and high levels of unsaturated fat.   

Did you know?
There’s black walnuts and then there’s black walnuts?   More specifically, some walnuts are black because they come from a Black Walnut tree and hence the name.  However, when it comes to the English Walnut, if it’s black that’s due to another cause  - the walnut husk fly.    The larvae feed within the husk of the walnut and stain the shell.   The nut meat inside is still edible but the infestation makes removal of the shell from the husk somewhat difficult.  Additionally, consumers typically don’t like discolored shells when purchasing inshell-walnuts.

And now you know.  

**Source: Nevil Speer