By Matthew Yglesias
Since moving into my new apartment a few months ago, my basic approach to stocking my pantry has been to just be observant whenever I’m in the Safeway downstairs and then when I see something pantry-ish and relatively non-perishable that’s on sale and that I don’t already have, I buy it. My conclusion based on reading some of the happiness literature has been that it’s best for me to really stick to blind algorithms when possible and not make actual decisions about this sort of thing. Consequently, I follow this principle where it takes me whether or not it really stands up to scrutiny in an individual case.
Thus, right before Christmas I found myself in possession of a bottle of walnut oil — an unfamiliar and pretty obscure ingredient.
After some experimentation, my conclusion is that you probably shouldn’t buy walnut oil even if it’s on sale. Walnut oil is not very useful to cook with. It has a low smoke point and well before you reach the smoke point it starts to turn kind of bitter-tasting. Thus, you’re basically left with using it as a dressing for cold dishes. I tried adding a little fresh ground pepper to some walnut oil and dipping bread in it. This was good, but relative to olive oil I think the stronger flavor mostly serves to detract from the bread.
And that’s generally how it goes. You can use walnut oil for most of the non-cooking stuff you can do with olive oil. But you can also cook with olive oil, olive oil’s cheaper, and there were no real examples I could find of walnut oil being clearly superior. The semi-exception to this is salad dressing. Green salad is always at risk of being dull, and swapping out your EVOO for some walnut oil helps combat boredom. This works all up and down the salad/dressing scale, but the effect is more noteworthy the lazier your salad and dressing. My “good” vinaigrette of oil, balsamic, diced garlic, dijon mustard, parmigiano-reggiano, and fresh pepper tastes about the same with either oil. But using walnuts helps render a very basic lettuce + oil + vineagar salad somewhat less banal.