Walnuts are nutritious snacks in their own right and are also hearty, tasty ingredients for other dishes.
Though they contain the word ‘nut,’ walnuts are not technically nuts. They are the dried seeds of the drupe fruit. The bit we eat, that weird wrinkly bit, is contained within a shell, which itself is contained inside a green husk when on the tree.
Walnuts are harvested from August to November when the outer husk becomes brittle and the shell hardens.
You can buy shelled or unshelled walnuts. Unshelled are obviously easier to eat but you don’t get the satisfaction of cracking open the shell. This is a great stress-relieving activity!
Like other nuts, walnuts need to be stored properly to avoid fungal growth. The best temperature for storing walnuts is 27°F-32°F. This means that they should be stored in the refrigerator between uses.
The big question is, can you freeze them? Well, yes you can. Freezing is a great way to make sure you have a store of walnuts to enjoy all year round.
Freezing walnuts is a simple process. Whether you have shelled or unshelled walnuts, the freezing process is the same.
How to Freeze Walnuts
If you have an unopened packet of walnuts, you can just throw that in the freezer. You’ll need to consume within a year but the packaging should prevent freezer burn or contamination.
However, throwing a whole bag of walnuts in the freezer means that you’ll have to use the whole bag when you defrost them. So, as always, it’s best to portion them out.
When you portion your walnuts, you’ll need sealable bags or containers to store your walnuts. Ziplock bags are perfect, as are small plastic boxes.
The aim is to keep air and moisture away from the walnuts. These contaminants will allow fungus and rot to fester. You do not want these anywhere near your walnuts.
You can also freeze the walnuts individually if you want to. I’m not really sure when you’d need a single walnut but it can be easier to defrost a handful of walnuts rather than a big clump.
To do this, you need to place the walnuts on a metal baking sheet. Make sure you spread them out so that they aren’t touching. Once the walnuts are completely frozen you can pour them into a storage bag or container.
Before placing your portioned walnuts into the freezer, you need to write the date on the bag or the box. Your walnuts will keep for a year in the freezer. This means you can store them in August when they're fresh and have a supply until the next picking season.
How to Defrost Walnuts
The easiest way to defrost walnuts is to leave them overnight in the fridge. This will make sure that they defrost without being exposed to warmer temperatures that can spoil them.
Obviously, defrosting overnight takes time. If you need to use them as an ingredient in a cooked meal, you’ll be glad to know that you can just throw them in frozen. They’ll defrost as they cook.
You can also toast the walnuts from frozen. Pop them in the oven for about 5-10 minutes until they are golden brown. You can also toast the walnuts in a pan or skillet. You won’t need any oil or butter, just toss a few in the pan and cook until they are golden brown.
If you want to defrost the walnuts quickly but not cook them, you can leave them out at room temperature. It will be quicker but it will also increase the risk of spoiling.
If you are going to leave them at room temperature, I suggest defrosting smaller amounts at a time. This will reduce the amount of time they need to be exposed to room temperature.
Things to Consider
Walnuts have a high fat content like other nuts. This means that they are particularly prone to spoiling if not chilled.
Shelled walnuts will spoil faster than unshelled walnuts. This is because they are exposed to the air and moisture. If you notice a single bit of mold on a batch of walnuts, you really should throw them out.
Unshelled walnuts will keep for a bit longer and don’t need to be refrigerated. They can be stored in a cool, dark place for about 3 weeks. If unshelled walnuts go bad, you’ll notice that the shell looks dry and shrunken.
Again, you should dispose of them immediately.
One thing you should note is that walnuts tend to absorb the smell and flavor of whatever they are near. This is why you need to make sure that you put them into a sealed container before freezing. Nobody wants bacon-flavored walnuts!
If you have walnuts in a mix of nuts, you can freeze the whole mix. Pretty much all nuts can be frozen so you won’t need to painstakingly separate them.
Walnuts are a handy little nut. They can be used in a huge range of recipes, both sweet or savory. They are also delicious when toasted or enjoyed raw.
To preserve this tastiness, you should store your walnuts in the fridge if you intend to eat them within a few weeks. This will stop the oil in the nuts from going rancid.
If you want to keep them for longer, you should freeze them. Freezing can extend the life of your walnuts by a year.
Freezing is a simple process and defrosting is often unnecessary. You can throw your frozen nuts into the pot and they will defrost as they cook.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy your walnuts all year round as long as you store and freeze them appropriately.