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A Brief History of Walnuts

What's the history of walnuts?

The juglans regia, the walnut species we commonly know as the English walnut, finds its historical roots in Persia (modern day Iran) circa 7000 B.C. The fruit then spread East and West across the Asian and European continents where you find native trees from the Balkans to China. The term “English” derives from the fact that the British primarily facilitated the early global walnut trade. These dry fruits are considered the "oldest tree food known to man" and were prized by the Romans among other groups for both medicinal and celebratory purposes. In connection with its attributed benefits, the walnut tree is considered a symbol of "intelligence, wisdom, knowledge and inspiration".

Why Eat Walnuts?

Like the Romans, we continue to find a range of positives stemming from eating walnuts - from health to culinary delicacy. Modern research has found that a daily intake of walnuts can improve key cognitive functions like memory and speed. This is likely attributed to the alpha-linolenic acid found in walnuts, a type of omega-3 fatty acid.

On the culinary side, the walnut has graced some of the US’s most iconic dishes. Over time, it became a prized ingredient in the famous Waldorf Salad, first created in 1893 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.  In addition to salad, walnuts are now featured in a variety of preparations - candied, adding crunch to a loaf of bread or Thanksgiving stuffing, or as a snack on their own.

Current Production - California Walnuts

In the United States, modern-day walnut orchards are concentrated in California. Walnut cultivation began in California at the end of the 18th century, pioneered by the Franciscan Fathers. The region was attractive for its Mediterranean climate. Today, walnuts thrive in California’s Central Valley which delivers almost 100% of US walnuts and 75% globally. Beyond the amazing nut itself, the walnut tree offers versatility as the shells can be used as a thickening agent and walnut wood is prized for its hardness and beauty.

As the oldest tree food, overflowing with symbolic and historic meaning, featuring a unique, rich taste and important nutritional benefits, the walnut remains as important today as it was in traditional culture.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our series on the history of almonds or mandarin oranges.


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Artem Milinchuk
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