Why Are Walnuts Bitter? Want to Remove the Walnut Bitterness?

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Walnuts are one of the most prevalent and delicious nuts in the world. They are loaded with antioxidants and are known for their unique shape – but walnuts can also be a bit bitter, especially if they aren’t prepared the right way. 

Luckily there are easy ways to fix their slightly bitter flavor!

Why are walnuts bitter? Want to remove the bitterness? Walnuts contain natural compounds called tannins that give them slight bitterness. To remove the bitterness, you can use a few techniques to break down the tannins. We recommend soaking walnuts in water, roasting them, or blanching them for a more favorable flavor. 

Read on to learn more about the characteristics of walnuts, how some can be more bitter than others, and what you can do to fix walnut bitterness!

Walnuts – A Unique Nut!

Walnuts are one of the most widely used tree nuts in the world. They have been consumed for thousands of years in several different ways. Walnuts can be cooked and used as a flavor enhancer in recipes and they can also be used in baking to make various walnut-centric baking goods.

Not many people know this, but walnuts are the seeds of a fruit! They are extracted from a green fruit that is largely discarded or sometimes used in pickles – or for infusing liquors. 

The fruit is either cut to remove the seed or it can also dry up and push out the seed on its own if left to mature long enough. Usually, walnuts are harvested from fresh and dried fruit. 

Walnuts are known to be quite nutritious and are an excellent source of good fats and other macro/micronutrients. Walnuts are consumed all around the world and since they can be stored in their shell, they also have a very stable shelf life, often lasting about a year if the shell is intact.

Exposed walnuts usually last about 3 months but their flavor and texture can be preserved if they are stored in the fridge or the freezer. 

Walnuts are unique because of their lobe-like shape and their hard shell which keeps the nut fresh and delicious. All you need to do is to crack the nut using a nutcracker like this or you could also tap the rim of the shell with a hard object, like a rolling pin, to crack it open.

We highly recommend that you crack walnut shells using a dedicated nutcracker and avoid using any other object to break the shell because cracking nuts without a cracker can lead to mild or even serious injuries. Plus, you might also have to deal with tiny and sharp fragments of the shell!

Now that we have all the precautions out of the way, let’s talk about the characteristics of walnuts!

Characteristics of Walnuts 

Here are the top features of walnuts.

walnut bitterness

Flavor

The flavor of walnut is best described as being mild. It’s rather difficult to compare it to another food but you can expect subtle complexities in walnuts. They have a mildly sharp flavor with a bit of tang but some walnuts can also have a combination of woodsy, earthy, and sweet flavor.

Walnuts have a high oil content like many other nuts which lends to their overall flavor. In some cases, you can even squeeze out a bit of residual oil by pressing the walnuts down over a tissue using a flat hard surface. 

Walnuts are also known to have a distinct bitter flavor – but their bitterness is largely dependent on the quality and maturity of the nut. Younger walnuts are known to have a higher concentration of tannins, the same compound that gives this nut (and others) its distinct bitterness.

It is important to understand, though, that not all walnuts are bitter and most of them are quite delicious! But since it’s hard to tell apart a great-tasting and bitter-tasting walnut, it’s best to treat them using a few techniques to get rid of the overall walnut bitterness.

Texture

The texture of walnuts is what makes them so interesting. Let’s start with the shell first. The shell is made from a hard fiber that encases the entire nut. Walnut shells are quite hard and can even damage delicate surfaces if they are thrown – so it’s best not to throw walnuts around!

The shell has subtle ridges around it and a rim that holds the two sides (or lobes) of the shell together. In fact, the rim is the only weak part of the walnut and it’s always best to break a walnut shell around the rim so that the nut inside remains intact.

If you strike it from any other angle, you will likely cause a lot of mess and may even end up breaking the nut inside too. 

When properly cracked, you will be able to find a nut in each cross-section. If you notice closely, you will find that each nut is covered with a fibrous inner hard shell that can be picked out very easily. The texture of the nut can also depend on whether the shells are dried or packaged fresh.

The nut itself has a shape that resembles the two lobes of the human brain. In some cultures, it is also believed that the unique shape of this nut makes them a great food for boosting brain health.

Research has indicated that walnuts can indeed improve cognition due to some of the compounds found in them!

Walnuts have an almost crispy (or snappy) texture when you bite into them but they are quite tender and have a soft mouthfeel when chewed. Their textural qualities can also vary as dried walnuts are crispier and have a more complex flavor.

Uses

Walnuts are used in several recipes! They can either be enjoyed on their own or they can also be added to a range of baking goods. Their distinct earthy and mild flavor provides an excellent contrast between sweet and even savory ingredients. 

They are also widely used in salads, pasta, soups, stews, and even breakfast cereals to boost nutrition and add an interesting flavor. If you want to enjoy walnuts on their own then we highly recommend that you try roasted walnuts!

The nutritional profile of roasted walnuts may be slightly less since they are processed using heat which destroys some nutrients, but it also greatly increases their flavor and also significantly lessens their bitterness.

Reducing the Walnut Bitterness

As we explained above, walnuts contain tannins which are compounds that give this nut its unique bitterness. The flavor of walnuts usually comes down to preference: some people enjoy the natural flavor of walnuts while others dislike the subtle bitterness that they provide.

It is important to keep in mind that not all walnuts are inherently bitter and their overall flavor profile depends on several factors like quality, freshness, processing techniques, and more. But if you dislike bitter flavors in general, then there are a few ways that you can prepare walnuts.

Here are the top three ways of reducing or eliminating the walnut bitterness.

Soaking in Water

Soaking walnuts in water overnight can significantly reduce their bitterness. When cracked nuts are submerged in water and left to hydrate, some of the tannins get washed away.

This results in a sweeter and more flavorful nut that also has a much more satisfying mouthfeel.

nuts soaking in water

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to soak them.

Step 1: Crack the shell and carefully extract the nut. 

Step 2: Fill a bowl of water with clean tap water (room temperature) and submerge the walnuts in the bowl. Make sure that you don’t overstuff the bowl with walnuts! The idea here is to keep all the walnuts submerged. If you have a large batch then simply use a deeper bowl or a small pot if needed.

Step 3: Leave the walnuts submerged for at least 4-6 hours. For the best experience, we highly recommend that you soak them overnight.

Step 4: Before taking out the walnuts, drain the water and then wash them under clean water 1-2 times to remove any residual tannins from their surface. This step is optional but it will result in a much less bitter walnut!

Note: Once the walnuts are hydrated, it’s best to dry them using a paper towel. Store the walnuts in the fridge at 40F to maintain their freshness and flavor. Keep in mind that hydrated walnuts are susceptible to spoilage and should be consumed within 1-2 days for the best quality.

Roasting Method 

Roasting walnuts is by far the best way to get the most out of their unique texture and flavor. Roasting not only renders the tannins in the nut but also significantly improves its overall flavor and textural profile.

Sure, you might lose some nutrients in the process, but if you dislike bitter flavors then roasting walnuts is the best way to get rid of their bitterness. There are primarily two ways to do this: you can either roast them in an oven or roast them in a pan. 

Oven Method

Here is how you can roast them:

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350F.

Step 2: Crack fresh walnuts and place them over a sieve. Shake them to release any debris or lingering pieces of shells.

Step 3: In a bowl, pour all the nuts and then drizzle a bit of olive oil (or any neutral oil) over the walnuts. Give them a toss to cover all the walnuts. You should only use a drizzle as we only want to coat the walnuts and not drench them with oil.

Step 4: Line a baking tray with baking paper and spread the walnuts evenly. Do not stack them over each other. You can roast a large batch of walnuts by spreading the walnuts to the edge of the baking tray.

Step 5: Place the tray in the middle rack of the oven and toast them for about 7-10 minutes or until they become fragrant and golden brown. We recommend shuffling them around the halfway mark. Do not overcook them or the walnuts may end up with significantly fewer nutrients and a burnt flavor.

Step 6: Once the walnuts have been roasted, remove the tray from the oven and let them cool for about 10-20 minutes and enjoy!

Pro Tip: You can also add a bit of salt while coating the walnuts with oil. This will improve their flavor and might also help in reducing their overall bitterness.

Pan-Roasting Method

Here is how to roast the walnut when you don’t have an oven.

pan-roasting walnuts

Step 1: Coat the walnuts in oil just like in the oven-roasting method. 

Step 2: Warm up a non-stick pan and add the walnuts. Use a medium flame so that the walnuts don’t burn as soon as they touch the pan. 

Step 3: Stir and roast the walnuts in the pan for about 3-4 minutes or until they are fragrant and golden brown. Remove the walnuts from the pan and let them cool down for at least 10-15 minutes. 

Step 4: Store roasted walnuts in an airtight container and consume them within one week!

Blanching Method

Blanching is just like the soaking method described above – but blanching takes less time and is a quick and easy way to remove the walnut bitterness .

Here is how to blanch walnuts:

Step 1: Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil. Once the water is bubbling, turn down the heat and bring it to a simmer. 

Step 2: Add walnuts to the water and let them boil for about 2-3 minutes. Then quickly remove them from the pot and run tap water over them to cool them down and to stop the cooking process. 

Step 3: Pat the walnuts with a dry paper towel and enjoy!

Storing Walnuts

Improperly stored walnuts can also become bitter over time. This is why we recommend that you either buy fresh walnuts from the market or store them properly to maintain their freshness.

The best way to store walnuts is to keep them in a cool and dry place, away from sunlight. For the best experience, we recommend that you buy walnuts in their shell so that they are easier to store. Please keep the shells in an airtight container to keep them fresh and protect them from pests.

walnuts in a jar

If you don’t like cracking walnuts then you can also go with cracked walnuts. Storing cracked walnuts can be challenging as they are most likely to go bad if they are not stored properly.

Store cracked walnuts in an airtight jar and consume within 1-2 months for the best flavor. You can also store them in the fridge or freezer to prolong their shelf life.

Make sure that you store the walnuts in a separate airtight container or freezer-safe bag because walnuts can take on aroma from other ingredients.

For the best experience, keep the walnuts at the back of the fridge or freezer – and from strong-smelling foods like garlic or ginger. Ideally, try to eat frozen walnuts within a year and refrigerated walnuts within 2-3 months.

Related Questions 

Walnuts are delicious and unique food that can be enjoyed in several ways. If you don’t like their slightly bitter flavor then there are a couple of methods that you can use to make them even more irresistible!

Now that you know how to reduce their bitterness, here are some related questions:

Can Walnuts Go Bad?

Walnuts contain a lot of fat which is why they are susceptible to spoilage. For example, when exposed to warm temperatures, the fat molecules can undergo chemical changes that can turn them rancid. When this happens, the walnuts will give off a foul odor and they may even have an altered texture.

If you notice web-like structures in the nuts or if the nut has a soft or squishy spot, then it’s likely that they have gone bad.

Can the Walnut Bitterness Impact the Flavor of Food?

When used in baking goods or everyday recipes that require heat, it is not necessary to separately treat the walnuts as they will take on a favorable flavor when they are cooked with other ingredients. But when you use them in salads, it’s best to use roasted or blanched walnuts for the best flavor.

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