Perhaps you have wondered what the difference is between a walnut and a black walnut? The answer is far more intriguing than you would first think and it shows the lengths people will go to consume their favorite foods.

Most people are familiar with walnuts and the one that is most popular is called the English walnut. Except it was first called the Persian walnut because it came from what is now called Iran. Walnuts have been cultivated for thousands of years and were even mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi. It was the Greeks who used selective breeding to produce the enlarged walnut that we are familiar with today.

Due to English walnuts transporting these walnuts the term English walnut became popular. Later on, in the 18th century, Franciscan monks in what was then called Alta California started to grow them. The name was changed again to reflect this fact so now they were called either Mission walnuts or Californian walnuts. Now people just call them walnuts.

The Californian Black walnut is native to North America and is commonly called the Black walnut. Native Americans used to eat them but the English walnut became more popular because it has a thinner shell and a milder taste. The Black walnut is said to have a stronger taste but it is reckoned to have a harder shell as well as likely to leave a black stain on the consumer’s hands.

There is a company that sells Black walnuts called Hammons. Black walnuts still grow in the wild, mainly in the central and eastern parts of the United States but Hammons have their own crops in order to meet their demand. By breeding nuts with thinner shells, they’ve been able to increase their profit by 500%.

What are the nutritional differences between the English walnut and the Black walnut? As a matter of fact, you should get the same amount of protein, calories, and fiber from each of them but the difference is that Black walnuts have less omega-3 than English walnuts but have more arginine and selenium than English walnuts.Omega-3 lowers blood pressure and has other benefits as well such as lowering cholesterol, helping with blood clots, increasing bone strength, and decreasing the possibility of heart disease. The downside is that walnuts are high in calories with one ounce (28 grams) being equal to 180 calories.

It’s also easy to identify the different leaves on each tree as well. An English walnut tree will have  5 to 9 leaflets while the Black walnut tree will have between 15 to 23 leaflets. The leaves also have different sizes with the English walnut leaf being 2 to 5 inches(5 cm to 12.5 cm) while the Black walnut leaf is smaller with sizes varying between 1 to 3 inches(2.5 cm to 7.5 cm). 

The Black walnut tree can be used to produce wood which is tough and can be used to make products that can withstand a lot of usages such as furniture, musical instruments, and closets. The Black walnut tree is preferred for this purpose because it grows a lot faster. The English walnut tree produces wood that is smoother and more delicate than the Black walnut tree and due to its slow growth is considered a poor investment. This explains why the English walnut is preferred for food production while the Black walnut is considered more suitable for wood production.

Interestingly enough the shell of the Black walnut is so hard that it has an industrial application as an abrasive material in sand blasting.they have been employed cleaning such as the side of ships and the insides of jet engines and smoke stacks.No such application exists for the English walnut shell.

Photo Credits: unsplash.com

Finally, the other big difference is in their price. Black walnuts cost between $10-14 per pound(.45 kg) compared to English which cost $2 per pound. Black walnuts remain relatively unfashionable as a source of food compared to English walnuts. I hope I’ve provided some food for thought the next time you consume a walnut, whatever the variety may be.

Nick Hanlon

I'm an Aussie interested in topical issues.

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