The walnuts we're all most familiar with are called English walnuts. The variety actually started out as the Persian walnut, and was thought to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and even mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi. Through selective breeding, the Greeks enlarged the fruit of the Persian walnut to resemble the size of the walnuts we eat today.
The Persian walnut picked up the name "English walnut" over the years since it was English merchants who introduced the nuts across the globe. Then in the 18th century, in what was then called Alta California, Franciscan monks began growing English walnuts, later renamed to California or Mission walnuts.
But wait—it gets even more confusing.
There's a type of walnut native to the U.S. that's called the California Black Walnut. The Persian walnut became the English walnut, which many people call California or Mission walnuts, and the California Black walnut is mostly referred to as simply a Black walnut. Have I lost you yet?
So what kind of walnuts do we eat? Well, the Black Walnut was in fact part of many native American diets but most of the walnuts we eat today are actually English walnuts, which have a milder taste and broader appeal. They also have thinner, easier-to-crack shells. Black Walnuts on the other hand have a bolder, earthier flavor. Their shells are thick, tough to crack, and will likely stain your hands.
Black walnut trees are not really cultivated on the same scale of English walnuts. They mostly grow wild across central and eastern parts of the country. Hammons is a company that's dedicated to preserving the legacy and availability of the Black Walnut.
Are you nuts for walnuts? Black or English? Do you have any favorite recipes using either variety?
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.