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Aug 20, 2009 11:15 AM

What defines a 'black' walnut versus a green one?

I've been looking up several recipes for pickling walnuts, like this one , and all of them say to use either (depending on the recipe) "green" or "black" walnuts. Which is the kind I would find in a store like Whole Foods labeled generically as "walnuts"? Or is it just a difference in how ripe they are?


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  1. There are several different types of walnuts. Black walnuts are native to the Americas, while common (aka English) walnuts come from Eurasia. Some people claim the flavor of black walnut is superior, but it's a lot more work to get to the nutmeat, so the demand is pretty limited.

    There are lots of orchards growing English walnuts in this part of California, and they're easy to spot: the bottom foot or two of the trunk looks completely different than the rest of the tree. The top is English walnut (for the fruit), and it's been grafted onto California black walnut rootstock (for hardiness in the local soil).

    As far as green walnuts, they're just the immature fruit of any walnut tree. The shell hasn't hardened yet, so if you can poke a pin through the center of the nut, it's green.

    10 Replies
    1. re: alanbarnes

      Nice summary, alanbarnes. Just one thing to walnuts are very small, with shells that are so hard and thick they're not worth the effort to crack.

      1. re: ricepad

        I'm assuming youe mean the NUTMEATS are smal, the actual black walnuts (with their shells and/or husks are significantly larger than english walnuts (at least all of the one's I've seen are) Unless you actually mean the California Black Walnut (J. californiensis), Hind's Black Walnut (J. hindsii), Arizona Walnut (J.major) or Texas Walnut (J. microcarpa) rather than the Eastern Black Walnut (J. nigra) that is the standard Black Walnut of commerce

        1. re: jumpingmonk

          All black walnuts will almost indelibly stain the heck out of the hands, floor, hammer, clothing and surrounding area of the person making a brave attempt to crack them.

          1. re: EWSflash

            Any walnut placed in alcohol to "steep" will also create the stain. We used to do this with the green English walnuts (grafted as Alan says) grown on my property here in California.

            The flavor of black walnuts is one of the most distinctive in flavor-dom, IMO.

            1. re: EWSflash

              Black walnuts are high maintenance. When I was a kid in the Ozarks, they would be gathered and put in burlap bags ... my mom would then put the bags in the driveway and run over them with the car for a month or so to get the green husk off. The nuts would then have to be cracked with a hammer, and she would spend many evenings in front of the TV with an embroidery needle digging the meat out. The flavor is unmistakeable ... oily and intensely nutty.

                1. re: Samalicious

                  Your mother was brilliant! I hulled/cracked/picked many a black walnut in my Ozarks childhood. Nobody in my family ever thought of running them over with the family car. Your story made my day.

                  Now, I need to go home and make grandma's bananna/date/nut bread with some black walnuts (if I can find any here in S. GA).

                  1. re: Samalicious

                    We did the driveway thing too, Sam. It worked great for getting the thick fleshy husk off to reveal the impenetrable nut inside. Husked nuts were gatherd to take to the woodshop, where I ws assigned the task of putting them one at a time into the bench vice, and cranking the screw until they cracked a bit. First crush was at the north and south poles, then around the equator a few times, all this over a cardboard box to catch the makin's.
                    Then in the house, we used channel lock pliers to bring them down further to where the meat could be picked out with nutpicks. Then everything was floated to separate meat from dusty chaff.

                    Fun memories.

                    1. re: Samalicious

                      My grandpa spent his evenings in front of the radio and a bench vice. Because of this, we all had plenty of black walnuts to go around. They are an essential ingredient in my mother's banana bread.

                    2. re: EWSflash

                      Black walnuts have traditionally been used to dye basket materials, as a colorfast ink and hair dye.

              1. black walnuts have a very distinctive, strong flavor that not everyone appreciates. My dad loves them and used to collect, ripen, peel (what a mess) then crack. A labor of love. I still have a bag in my freezer labeled 1996! Guess that shows exactly where my appreciation level for their flavor lies!

                2 Replies
                1. re: DGresh

                  I'm going to get a lot of practice opening the things (or more likey someone in the future is) as this year we had 1-3 black walnt seedlings pop up in varios places in out yard (i say 1-3 becuse they're still small enough and my memory isn't good enough to concusively identify them and two of them could be something else similar like hickory trees. The third was moved when we cleared out the giant pot it had spontaneouly shown up in (a squirred proably buried a nut from the tree down the street and then forgot it so I saw the nutshell and know that ones a black). We've decided to keep all three (we may have to move the other two as well though, ones in the much pile and the other is growing out of a rock crack in the driveway wall) we's lost a lot of our border trees this year and will be glad of getting the cover back in a decade or so. I'd love a Butternut (J. cinera) even more but from what I undersand they've all caught some sort of blight and are rare now so the odds of one showing up in our yard are pretty low I I dsont have great results with store bought trees.

                  1. re: jumpingmonk

                    Yesterday I discovered a local black walnut tree and gathered around 20lbs of the dropped green fruit.

                    I was worried about husking the nuts but I saw on the wonderful web that if you hit them with a hammer the nut is easily released. After confirming this I gathered the 20 lbs and today and husked them all, then washed them, now I'm drying them for a month.

                    The weather was beautiful and the whole endeavor was worthwhile, I'll enjoy snacking on my walnuts this winter!

                    I also stumbled upon a shagbark hickory yesterday where the squirrels were having a big party, again collected nuts (maybe 5 lbs). These were really tough to husk, I'm going to dry them for a week and have a go again next weekend. The one nut I tasted was really good.