• Black walnuts.Photo by David Stonner, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.
    Black walnuts.Photo by David Stonner, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – It's the time of year when walnuts will start dropping off their trees.

"Picking these walnuts up to sell can be a great moneymaker, but don't forget that you can actually eat those nuts," says Tammy Roberts, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

"Black walnuts are a tasty, healthy addition to your diet," she says.

The nuts aren't quite ready to eat when they come off the tree. You need to remove the green (or brown) outer hull to reveal the shell of the nut. Be sure to wash the nut with the garden hose. That can be a messy job, so wear heavy rubber gloves. (Some people, Roberts says, just put them on the driveway and run over them until the nut is revealed.)

Leave the clean, unshelled nuts in a cool, well-ventilated area for about two weeks before cracking to get the nut meats. They are ready when the nuts break crisply.

If you look at the nutrition information from a bag of Diamond shelled black walnuts, you'll find that ¼ cup provides 190 calories, 18 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein. They also contain iron, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, zinc, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and molybdenum.

While there is a lot of fat in a quarter cup of walnuts, Roberts says, "It's actually good fat." There is only 1 gram of saturated fat, and the other 17 grams are the healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.

"Black walnuts have omega-3 fatty acids, which have been attributed to heart health," she adds. Two large studies have concluded that people who ate walnuts had a lower risk of heart attack and heart disease after consuming 1 ounce (about ¼ cup) of walnuts five times per week.

Roberts says black walnuts have their own unique flavor and can be used in a variety of ways. Of course, they can be eaten alone as a snack, added to oatmeal, muffins, yogurt or ice cream, or tossed in your favorite wild rice or pasta dish.

"It can be a bit of a challenge to pick the nuts from the shell, but once you do, the storage life is a long one," she says. "Black walnuts will stay fresh for up to one year when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and up to two years when stored in an airtight container in the freezer."

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