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Why Do My Walnuts Taste Bitter?

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  • Lindsay B. Feb 5, 2002 09:24 PM
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A few weeks ago I bought some raw walnut halves and pieces from Whole Foods. Since then, I've been storing them in an airtight container in the freezer. The problem is that the nuts taste bitter, alone or in cooking. Sauteeing them in butter or olive oil doesn't seem to help. All the recipes I've tried have called for raw walnuts, so I haven't tried dry toasting them yet. Might dry toasting help get rid of the bitter taste?

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  1. j
    Janet A. Zimmerman

    Walnuts *are* bitter, at least compared with some other nuts. I think it's that they have a high tannin level in the skins.

    That being said, if you're familiar with walnuts and this particular batch is worse than usual, they might just be old. My experience is that they get more bitter with age.

    Finally, I'm assuming that what you taste is bitterness and not rancidity (rancid nuts are pretty unmistakeable, though, so that's probably not it).

    But assuming that they're merely bitter, you can lessen the bitter flavor by blanching them for a minute or so, then draining and drying them out in a medium warm oven (or toasting them, which also seems to mellow out the tannins).

    3 Replies
    1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

      When I carmelize walnuts - I blanch them for several minutes in boiling water. As you see all the scum that comes out you will realize why it helps to remove the bitterness from the walnuts.

      1. re: gordon wing

        I make a walnut milk/cream for certain vegan desserts my daughter likes. I follow this blanching process twice, then blend the walnuts with warm water and strain them through a cloth, wringing out all the liquid. It's very mild, not bitter, and delicately walnut flavored. Since it's a chocolate dish I'm putting it in, no one can tell it's not real cream I'm using.

        I used to work in a restaurant/bakery. The owner would have us leave out the walnuts and pecans from the recipes because some people don't like nuts and think they're bitter. The real problem was that we bought them prechopped, probably years old, and never fresh.

        I've never had a problem at home. Fresh walnuts are light-colored under their skins. Fresh pecans are plump and pale in color. Older nuts are shriveled and darker or yellowed. For any but the freshest, it's easy to see the difference within a handful of them, as they don't seem to stale at the same rate. I always pick through them to remove the old ones.

        1. re: ironmom

          ironmom, would you suggest quantities for your walnut milk/cream? How many walnuts do you blanch twice and then blend with how much warm water? I assume the liquid you squeeze out is the resulting milk/cream. Correct? I want to try that. Thanks. Practicing.

    2. The bitterness is in the skins. If you toast them you can rub much of the skins off.

      1. As a pastry chef/baker I have often come across nuts - not just walnuts - with a bitter, unpleasant flavor. When walnuts are on the road to rancid, they taste "off" which is usually "bitter." I shop at Whole Foods, but try not to buy their baking ingredients because of bad experiences like this.