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Red Walnuts are ovate and consistently sized with a three-centimeter diameter. The walnut shell is hard and furrowed, with deep ridges covering the entirety of the surface and a seam extending through the middle. Once split, the shell reveals two nut halves covered in a rich, burgundy-colored skin. The halves are symmetrical with large bumps, and long, deep ridges, creating a winged, butterfly shape. Red Walnuts have a piney and citrusy aroma with a deeply nutty, sweet, and creamy flavor.
Red Walnuts are available year-round, with fresh nuts being harvested at the end of fall.
Red Walnuts are the edible, ridged seed of a variation of the Juglans regia tree that produces nuts with a deep red skin color. Red Walnuts were developed in 1991 in California. These walnuts are not genetically modified but were created using natural methods of grafting Howard walnuts, a creamy variety of English walnuts with Purpurea Walnuts, a Persian red-skinned variety. There are two commercially available varieties of Red Walnuts: the Robert Livermore Walnut and the Yolo Red Walnut. Red Walnuts should be shelled by hand to avoid damaging the rich burgundy skin of the nut. Red Walnuts are not a popular commercial variety of walnut, mainly because the trees can take up to ten years to produce a crop, and the nuts look exactly like conventional walnuts when in the shell, which can cause confusion during production. However, demand for Red Walnuts continues to increase as chefs and home cooks search for more rare and unique items, leading to specialty growers and smaller California farmers creating a niche market for the highly sought-after nut.
Red Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid, which boosts memory, concentration, and cognitive function. Red Walnuts have a high concentration of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation and fight free radicals in the body. This is unique to the variety due to its red skin. The nuts are also a rich source of vitamins and minerals known to support the brain and the immune system, including vitamin E, copper, selenium, iron, and niacin.
Red Walnuts can be used in the same applications as conventional walnuts, but their sweeter, creamier, and less bitter flavor lends itself to sweeter applications. Red Walnuts are the ideal nut for brownies, cookies, brittle, and quick bread-like muffins and scones. Their sweet taste can help balance salads comprised of bitter greens or on cheeseboards with salty and tangy cheeses. Red Walnuts can be ground into flour, nut butter, or blended into nut milk that can then be used in baking or in the production of cream-based sauces, custards, and ice cream. The nuts pair well with various fruits, including nectarines, apricots, dates, apples, pears, and bananas, as well as warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. They can be added to roasted root vegetables like carrots and beets, sprinkled over sauteed green beans, or served atop creamy pasta dishes. Red Walnuts should be shelled before being consumed and are often eaten as a nutritious snack. In-shell Red Walnuts should be stored in a cool and dry place and used within three months. Shelled Red Walnuts should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for optimal freshness.
Research to develop Red Walnuts began at the University of California, Davis, in 1991. Scientists at the university obtained a rare cultivar of walnut, informally called the Red Zinger, from the French National Institute of Agricultural Research collection. This variety was crossed with a standard English walnut, resulting in a cultivar with a deep burgundy color, sweeter flavor, and fewer tannins than the standard walnut varieties. This new Red Walnut was selected for production in 1998, patented in 2001, and named the Livermore Red Walnut after Robert S. Livermore, an influential walnut farmer and pioneer in breeding new varieties of walnuts. The variety became popular with small farmers but proved problematic for commercial farmers who were concerned that a stray Red Walnut could get into a shipment of standard walnuts and confuse overseas buyers who may think there was something wrong with the shipment. Today, the rare and short-season nuts are enjoyed by chefs and foodies globally, thanks to online purveyors.
Walnuts were first found in Persia and are now native to a broad region across Asia, stretching from the Balkans to China, and have been eaten in the area for over 8,000 years. The nuts were highly prized in Ancient Greece and Rome and enjoyed in China since 200 BCE. The nuts were spread throughout Europe by the Roman Empire during Charlemagne’s rule and along trade routes through Asia and the Middle East. By the Middle Ages, Walnuts were cultivated as far north as England. The English are credited with spreading the nuts to other parts of the world, including North and South America, which is how the nuts became known as English walnuts. Walnuts flourished in the Mediterranean-like climate of California, and by the 1870s, commercial production in California began. Red Walnuts were developed in California in the 1990s through grafting and became popular in the area with small farmers and local chefs. Red Walnuts can be found in specialty stores, at farmer's markets, and online retailers.