by Nancy Yang, Rochester Minnesota
If you’ve ever eaten American baked goods, there’s a good chance you’ve tasted walnut. You would even ingest walnut if you licked a chopping board, a Monet painting, or an Egyptian mummy - not that we suggest these! There is walnut oil in each one! This important oil has been a versatile ingredient in all of human history. Native Americans used it to disinfect wounds, treat gangrene, and massive tissue death. Ancient Egyptians used it to replace the blood of their mummies. European aristocracy prized walnut oil’s flavor, but also burned it as cheap lamp fuel when walnuts were plentiful. Artists throughout history--Impressionists in particular--favored the uniquely glossy sheen that walnut oil lent to their oil paints, especially since it dries quickly and doesn’t yellow like other paint oils. Woodworkers especially prize walnut oil finishing for the way it enhances wood’s beauty. It protects the wood, is completely food safe, and when dried in the wood, it hardens and doesn’t go rancid.
Medical researchers were at first baffled by the healthy hearts of the residents of a region of southern France called Perigord, well-known for its affinity for gourmet walnut products. Though the people of the region enjoy a diet rich in oily, fried foods, Perigord has the second lowest rate of heart disease in the world. Medical researchers have concluded that Perigordians’ generous consumption of walnuts and, particularly, walnut oil, actually helps keep their cholesterol low. Recently, Penn State researchers found that walnut oil, rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, is also great for lowering blood pressure.
But despite its value, the profitability of walnut oil production has decreased, so it can be quite expensive; an 8.5 fl oz bottle of refined walnut oil (about 250mL) easily runs eight to ten dollars. Unrefined, cold pressed walnut oil is uniquely flavorful and nearly as nutritious as fresh walnuts, but is highly perishable, loses nutrients, and becomes bitter when cooked. Refined walnut oil is purified, can be cooked, and stores longer, but doesn’t have nearly the nutritional value. Walnut oil is produced wherever walnuts are grown, the best being from France, China, and California. Californian producer La Nogalera uses traditional French methods and environmentally conscious production methods.