A Whole New World for Walnuts

Approximately 75% of the world's trade of walnuts comes from California, but that far distance does not stop people from all over the globe from importing walnuts into their own country so they can take advantage of California walnuts' delicious flavor and healthful properties.

Approximately 75% of the world's trade of walnuts comes from California, but that far distance does not stop people from all over the globe from importing walnuts into their own country so they can take advantage of California walnuts' delicious flavor and healthful properties. They are integrating them into dishes that reflect their local culinary culture and styles. Americans could benefit by viewing these diverse recipes and concepts as opportunities to introduce new flavors into the U.S. marketplace, either via the food service industry or in retail settings. We can make these exotic global cuisines our own by combining familiar flavors and textures — most notably that of our own California walnut — with hints of European, Asian, and Middle Eastern flair.

Have a Ball with Walnuts
Kibbeh, from the Arabic word kubbah, is translated literally as "ball." The dish consists of ground-up seasoned meat (usually lamb) that has been coated in a bulgur dough shell and then baked or deep fried until the outside is crispy. Many versions of this dish exist in Levantine cuisine (the region that is modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine), but it is the Turkish version that has uniquely incorporated onions, red peppers, and walnuts for added texture and crunch.

 

Food service and retail can take advantage of the latest meatball foodie trend (meatballs have been deemed "the new cupcake") by exploiting unique flavor profiles like that of the Kibbeh meatball. They can be adopted as signature items, to be sold in the frozen section of the supermarket or featured on a casual dining/quick service menu. Kibbeh is a unique artisan meatball that is made by hand rolling a bulgur-wheat dough shell around a precooked seasoned walnut meatball. This "football" shape appearance can be recreated on a larger scale (up to 90 pieces per minute) using specialized Rheon equipment, which encrusts the raw meat in bulgur-wheat dough. The final meatball is then deposited on a conveyer belt, baked, flash frozen and weighted into retail ready-to-eat bags. Call the dish "Kibbeh Balls" and you will attract the meatball lovers and health foodies alike! The dish can also work well as an appetizer and can be dipped in a cool, contrasting yogurt or fruit chutney sauce.

Brain Food
Walnuts are very popular in Asian cultures as "brain food" because their shape resembles that of the human brain. For example, in Korea walnuts are one of the four foods that are recommended to students before they take their SATs. Asians also greatly appreciate walnuts' heart healthy properties and take great effort to incorporate them into shelf-stable aseptic beverages and dry "add hot water" drink mixes. One type of dry-beverage mix is called walnut tea, of which there are several versions on the market. All have a combination of flour, sugar, nuts, and starches that when combined with hot water, turn into a hot and creamy healthful beverage. The U.S. market, which is accustomed to dry-blended instant beverages, could easily incorporate walnut-meal and small walnut pieces into these recipes, thereby providing added nutritional value and appeal over the typical chocolate-and-sugar blends.

 

Walnut Shellfish
Some Asian dishes that take off in the U.S. are of unknown origin. A case in point is the popular dish called honey walnut shrimp. Although believed to have originated in Hong Kong, it is now mostly consumed in America, particularly in San Francisco and other parts of California. The sweet and savory concoction combines deep-fried walnuts; a mixture of honey, mayonnaise, and condensed milk; and, of course, battered deep-fried shrimp. Honey walnut shrimp may be popular primarily within California Asian cuisine, but the all-American ingredients suggest that it has the potential to be a huge hit on the restaurant chain scene. Easily reproducible in scaled-up industrial-size tanks, it could be prepared as a cold-storage refrigerated sauce with a shelf life that yeast and mold inhibitors help to extend. Packaging by a cold-fill salad dressing manufacturer could maintain the integrity of the mayonnaise emulsion. The sauce could then be combined with any food-service frozen breaded shrimp.

 

Pasty and Tasty
Georgia, a sovereign state in the Caucasus region at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, has a transcontinental character to its cuisine. In Georgia you can find dozens of walnut sauces and pastes. The Georgian sauce called bazha is a tangy creation made with red wine, vinegar, and pomegranate juice concentrate similar to the Turkish version known as Muhammara sauce. Georgians also serve satsivi, a starch-thickened sauce made with walnuts, butter, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, and vinegar. Satsivi can be used as a cold dip similar to hummus and is often served as part of a chicken stew known as chicken satsivi. Both the bazha and satsivi sauces can be cooked, but the high pH of bazha allows it to be shelf-stable without retortSatsivi would perform better as a minimally processed and refrigerated hot-filled pouch. Refrigerated pouched products can be sold as a foodservice item or as a small single serving retail pouch inserted into a bag of frozen precooked chicken or vegetables. This would allow retail food companies to market this gourmet item to the home chef as well. These sauces are made with familiar ingredients that mainstream America would be comfortable eating but perhaps not as comfortable pronouncing. A retail company or restaurant chain would benefit from renaming the sauce with a name that reflects the sauce components. Highlighting the vinegar and spices in the sauce name would provide consumer comfort that they were about to eat a variation on flavors they have experienced in the past.

 

Whip Up a Dessert
Chocolates and walnuts together make for an amazing combination that England has capitalized on a popular confection consisting of a simple chocolate cone, filled with vanilla marshmallow and topped with a half walnut. This mainstream supermarket confection is so popular that the manufacturer has reported that one is consumed every two seconds in the U.K. American confectioners should creatively incorporate walnuts into their own confections, and they can find more international confection inspirations by attending the annual Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago. The event will host over 550 food companies as they showcase thousands of confections and snack products.

 

Beyond Conception
Other innovative food events and trade shows are great places to discover inspirational concepts that lend themselves to the incorporation of walnuts. Walnut meal in gluten-free tortillas, fruit and walnut salsas, and fermented walnut-milk yogurt are all potential ways that walnuts can be used to create healthy, flavorful versions of products that are already familiar with the U.S. market.

 

Food developers in other countries have learned a great deal about the healthful and delicious ways that walnuts can be integrated into snacks, beverages, and main dishes. The United States can look to East Asia, Turkey, Georgia, and the UK for concepts that they can adapt and mainstream to appeal to the American palate. Few of these international items have been commercialized for the U.S. market. Innovative food companies can easily own these internationally inspired, walnut-friendly concepts and introduce and popularize them in the U.S. by using existing technology. The methods are already here, and so is the walnut itself.

-- Rachel Zemser