Walnut Oil


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.


10 responses to “Walnut Oil

  1. I have to disagree. I have no idea what the store-bought walnut oil you have tastes like, but I have spent a fair amount of time in the country of Georgia where walnut oil works its way into a whole variety of dishes and sauces especially. It can be delicious. Try mixing it together with some crushed walnuts and garlic and using it as a topping for roasted, thinly sliced eggplant.

  2. We mix walnut oil and balsamic vinegar, dip french bread in it, and then press it into a mound of grated parmesan. Damn tasty.

  3. I use it for baking–works well in things like zucchini cake.

  4. Bluefish Altar

    You can also use it for lower temperature, slower sauteing. It has a special affinity for beets. You can use it to sautee them (cut the beets into very small cubes and sautee slowly for about 15 minutes). Or use it to make a vinaigrette for a salad with roasted beets in it. This plus arugula and some shallot is very nice.

    (I routinely get about 2-3 months of beet extravaganza from the CSA, so my walnut oil actually comes in very handy.)

  5. Is that a SPRAY BOTTLE? Because that may be your problem right there. Also, I second the above — don’t use it to saute, use it for more delicate treatments, like part of the oil in a vinaigrette.

  6. I’ve got that very same bottle of roasted walnut oil in my pantry, because there’s one purpose for which it is, in fact, clearly superior.

    Walnut oil is the very best thing to use to season your wooden cutting boards and/or butcher block. Unlike mineral oil, it’s not made of petroleum. Unlike vegetable oils, it doesn’t go rancid when thus used. And unlike every other nut oil, it actually cures over time. In fact, it cures faster when it’s been heated, so the roasted stuff you’ve got there, Matt, is the most perfect treatment possible for any wood that’s going to come in contact with food (with the exception of food that will be eaten by someone with a nut allergy). As if all that weren’t enough, if the wood surface you’re oiling is out in the open, it will make your kitchen smell beautifully of roasted walnuts for a while after you’ve oiled it, and I’ve never noticed any transfer of flavor. So don’t throw the bottle away, but for heaven’s sake stop eating that stuff! It’s valuable!

  7. Matt — wtf, EVOO? We might have to kick you off the IFA.

  8. Traditionally, walnut oil is also used in makeup to make white people look Indian or Native American. I believe Ben Kingsley’s “Gandhi” makeup consisted largely of walnut oil.

  9. Pingback: Daily Food Porn: Leftovers Never Looked So Delicious « The Internet Food Association

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