Since my entire world revolves around food, science, culinary arts and Culinology®, it’s not uncommon that a typical work week for me would include the following activities:

  1. A work-related trip up north to oversee the production of low-acid retorted canned food.
  2. A visit to the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy, the facility that was kind enough to host the RCA certification commission biannual meeting where we reviewed the study guide created by the commission, for CCS and CRC candidates wanting to become certified!
  3. A press trip to Napa on behalf of the Walnut Board of California that included fine dining, a walnut manufacturing facility tour and doing lunch with Mollie Katzen at Bottega.

But last week I promised to provide an exclusive insider report on my California Walnut Board Spring Press Event experience, and I know everyone is just dying to know… How do they get the walnuts out of the shell in one piece!? Well, to be honest, even after my in depth tour of the Mariani Nut Company manufacturing facility, I am still not completely sure how the mechanical nut cracking process can result in two perfect walnut halves. Even when I viewed the shelling in process, the cracking part was a covered operation.

The walnut tour was exciting, even to someone like me who has been walking through manufacturing facilities for 19 years. I never get tired of seeing how our food gets from farm to bin to retail package to fork. However, unlike other plant tours I have been on, I didn’t ask to review their HACCP plan or sanitation procedures. (This was, after all a press trip, not a third-party audit!) But I know that even if I had, they would have been happy to show me all of their safety and quality documentation, because California is known for having the toughest inspection regulations in the United States. So, to all the food manufacturers out there who are interested in California walnuts, you can rest assured that they will meet all of your regulatory requirements.

It seems like every day we are learning that foods we thought were bad are actually really good for us. For example, people tend to shy away from nuts because they are fattening, but as it turns out, the 18 grams of fat in 1 oz. of walnuts is mostly good fat (like the polyunsaturated fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid). Recent studies are indicating all kinds of exciting health benefits like cholesterol reduction and bone-health improvement. Also, walnuts are filling, so adding an ounce to your meal can actually help you lose weight! Of course you can’t eat a pound a day, but 1.5 oz. per day can provide you with non-weight-gaining health benefits!

The Walnut Board wanted to make sure we were introduced to some of the creative ways that walnuts can be incorporated into food, so they had some of the best restaurants in Napa prepare us special walnut menus. I loved the Walnut Gnocchi at La Toque, the Spring Vegetable and Walnut Tagliatelle at Bottega and the Walnut Romesco Sauce by Mulvaney’s B&L. These dishes were like an ideation spring board, inspiring me to think about how walnuts can be incorporated into manufactured products for both retail and foodservice. The walnut “romesco” sauce could easily be made into an acidified, shelf-stable, tomato-based sauce that would pair well with any protein or pasta! A small-dice walnut could be mixed with mushrooms and brown rice to create frozen meatless burgers (an alternative to the soy version that seems to dominate the vegetarian meat-like items on the market these days). Walnut flours can be incorporated into spice blends and won’t go rancid if they are stored in airtight containers. Dairy-free, creamy walnut sauces could be manufactured in refrigerated and/or frozen form, and they can also be incorporated into frozen breakfast items like waffles or muffins. All a food company needs is an experienced product developer to translate walnut menu concepts into manufactured, shelf-stable, refrigerated or frozen items. The Walnut Board will be exhibiting at IFT this summer, so you should stop by their booth and welcome them to the industrial ingredient community.

I would like to thank the Walnut Board for reminding me about walnuts, their health benefits and their versatility in food. I am looking forward to seeing more manufactured retail and foodservice items with walnuts developed. The Walnut Board has an informative website with resources, grower information and menu ideas. Take advantage of it!

About rachel zemser