I’ve noticed a hack the French use to elevate their everyday meals to fantastic while keeping them healthy and easy to prepare: They add an unusual, high-quality ingredient to a simple recipe to up-level the taste and avoid boredom.
This also helps them avoid buying unhealthy takeaway meals or packaged food for a quick dish. With a touch of a well-made product, they know they don’t need to outsource to anyone for delicious food. Case in point: walnut oil.
When I was growing up in the US, I loved walnuts. My father would bring home cases of them as a gift. But it never occurred to me that you could use walnut oil to make everyday dishes taste fabulous. No one I knew used walnut oil in cooking. That is until I came to France.
The French use walnut oil in savory dishes, from meat sauces to vinaigrettes, and in pastry-making. Here’s some good news: it has as many health benefits as olive oil.
You can read more about the benefits of walnut oil today than ever before, particularly for brain health. It’s known as one of the healthy fats.
French Walnut Oil: how and where it’s made
The French produce walnut oil from walnuts harvested in the Isere, Limousin, and Perigord regions.
The Perigord region has a special AOC – “Appellation d’Origine Controlée” (in English: PDO – “Protected Designation of Origin”) attached to its walnut production.
This is a guaranteed quality label. It designates the product’s geographic origin and the know-how used to make it essential to the final product’s quality.
While China, the U.S., and Turkey are the largest producers of walnuts, the French are the second largest exporters of walnuts in the world, behind the United States.
The three categories of walnut oil produced in France:
1. Virgin, Cold-Pressed:
This is the finest quality and where the highest amount of nutrients are found. The oil comes from walnut pieces that are mechanically cold-pressed. Artisans can vary the intensity of the flavor by roasting some of the walnuts to be pressed.
2. Refined Walnut Oil:
This oil is made from walnuts considered of low quality. The oil’s impurities are removed through refining, which also removes some of the nutritional benefits of virgin walnut oil.
3. Pure Walnut Oil:
This oil is assembled from a blend of virgin and refined walnut oil. It’s usually sold in supermarkets or under generic brand labels.
How to choose high-quality walnut oil, how to store it, and what to avoid:
Walnut oil is fragile :
• it can’t be stored for long periods
• it needs to be kept from light, air, and heat. (I store mine in the refrigerator).
• it can’t be heated at high temperatures, so it’s not suitable for frying
• as with hazelnut, pistachio, or almond oils, it’s best to buy walnut oil in small quantities and try to use it up within six months after opening the bottle. To extend its lifespan, keep it in the refrigerator, and take out the quantity you need beforehand so it can warm up and the aromas develop.
• A good quality walnut oil will have a golden light brown color and pronounced aroma, which can also be described as, well, walnut (!) or similar to toasted bread crust or crackers.
• Always select an “extra virgin” or “cold-pressed” oil. (The price can vary widely depending on the quality and origin of the walnuts used).
Two walnut oil recipes to up-level your everyday meals
1. Endive, Roquefort & Walnut Salad with a Walnut Vinaigrette:
If you’ve read my Cheat Sheet on “My 10 French Food Habits,” you know I always try to begin my dinners with a salad. So this endive salad is a French classic and one of my go-to starters during the Fall and Winter when endives are in season.
It’s a beautiful mixture of textures and flavors: the crunchiness of the endive leaves and walnut pieces, plus the creamy, sharp taste of the Roquefort cheese, go well together.
You can either plate this salad individually and drizzle the vinaigrette over the top or toss it in a large bowl with the vinaigrette and serve.
• Make the Vinaigrette for 2 (double the quantity for 4, etc.): Whisk 3 Tb of walnut oil and 1 TB red wine vinegar
• Add salt & pepper to taste.
• Cover the leaves of endive with Roquefort or other blue cheese and then add the walnuts halves
• Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top if plating or toss in a large bowl before serving.
2. Whole Wheat Toast with Spinach and Fourme d’Ambert Blue Cheese:
The French use Fourme d’Ambert for this recipe because it is less sharp than other blue-veined cheeses. However, you can use any blue cheese you like. Serve with a green salad to make a meal.
• Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F
• Brush the slices of whole wheat bread with walnut oil
• Spread the young spinach leaves on the bread
• Cut the cheese in strips and add on top of the spinach
• Add Salt & Pepper
• Cook in the oven for around 15 minutes
The 3 Recipes I add walnut oil to :
1. Carrot Cake:
I substitute 2/3 of the melted butter in my carrot cake batter with walnut oil for added aroma
2. Roasted Chicken:
Add 1 Tablespoon of walnut oil to the pan drippings at the end of cooking for a fantastic gravy to go with your roasted chicken. The walnut taste will be subtle, but the gravy will be extra-delicious.
3. Yogurt or Oatmeal:
Mix a teaspoon of walnut oil into your Greek-style yogurt or oatmeal in the morning to start your day. Walnut oil provides healthy fats that will keep mid-morning hunger under control.
Where to buy high-quality French walnut oil:
Amazon.com sells two high-quality French walnut oils:
- J. LeBlanc French Walnut Oil Stone Milled Cold Pressed on Amazon.com. (J. Leblanc is expensive: 16 oz costs around $27, but it’s the top quality used by French chefs and one of my favorite brands because the taste is so outstanding)
- La Tourangelle Roasted Walnut Oil 16.9 oz. on Amazon.com
Several websites sell California walnut oil. Make sure it’s cold-pressed, food-grade, and not refined oil for cosmetic purposes.
You don’t have to be a great cook to have restaurant-quality meals at home.
If you use an unusual ingredient like French walnut oil in your kitchen, a simple raw vegetable can be transformed into a delicious dish.
This is why it’s one of the ingredients on my French Pantry Checklist.
If you haven’t already, download your FREE “French Pantry Checklist” here. This curated list of ingredients will help you up-level your meals.
And now you: Have you ever used walnut oil in your home cooking?
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Good morning Nancy
Reading your article about oils thank you it is so informative. As a user of Olive Oils for many years I am happy to know that I am storing them correctly.
I have not used Walnut Oil and can not wait to go shopping.
Tank you also for the little recepies I know I am going to enjoy your site.
Hello Pamela, I’m glad you find the information helpful! Walnut oil is a very healthy and delicious alternative to olive oil. (I always have both in my kitchen). You’ll find many uses for it and can always refer to the suggestions here. A bientôt!