The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat walnuts. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.
What walnut etiquette is
Walnut etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve, use, and eat walnuts. Such rules help avoid behaviors that may disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.
If you are hosting, follow the etiquette to serve walnuts to your guests appropriately.
As a guest, respect the etiquette rules to properly eat walnuts at the dining table and avoid offending your hosts.
What you should know about walnuts
Walnuts are tree nuts from the eponymous tree. Even if they are considered nuts, technically they are stone fruits.
Walnuts have a non-edible, hard oval shell, brown in color. The kernel is edible raw or cooked, rich in flavor with a bitter note, creamy in color, and firm in texture with a grooved surface. A thin, brown, edible, and slightly bitter skin covers the kernel.
Etiquette rules to serve and eat walnuts
1) How to store walnuts
You can store walnuts in a cool and dry place, out of the fridge. Keep them in a sealed container, away from direct light and sources of heat. When properly stored, unshelled walnuts can last up to 3 months.
In the fridge, unshelled walnuts can last between 3 and 6 months. Store them in a sealed container or plastic bag. However, walnuts can absorb odor from other foods, and humidity risk spoiling them. Thus, it is best to avoid storing them in the fridge.
In the freezer, unshelled walnuts can last for over 12 months.
Store shelled walnuts in the fridge. They can last up to 3 months. However, it is best to eat them within 7 days.
2) How to clean walnuts
You do not need to clean walnuts. Before serving them, you can crack them with a nutcracker and remove the shell and skin.
Before using or serving them, check that the kernels haven’t turned rancid. Discard them if you notice mold, a softer texture, or a foul odor.
3) How to prepare & cook walnuts
You can serve walnuts whole or use them as an ingredient.
Walnuts can be eaten raw or roasted. You can easily roast them in the oven at medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Before using walnuts as an ingredient or for decorating, you should open the shell with a nutcracker and remove the peel. Walnuts can be an ingredient in savory dishes and desserts. You can add them to salads, vegetables, fish and meat dishes, and fruit salads. They are a popular ingredient for pies, cakes, confectionery, and cookies.
Tree nuts are among the most common allergens. Thus, some guests may avoid walnuts in their diets. Before hosting a meal and using walnuts as an ingredient, it is considerate to ask your guests whether they have some dietary restrictions.
4) How to serve & present walnuts
You can serve whole walnuts for breakfast, as a snack, or at the end of a meal as an accompaniment to cheese and dessert. Walnuts are appropriate for after-dinner drinks, and formal and informal meals.
Serve whole walnuts at room temperature. You can serve them whole in their shells, shelled and peeled, or crushed. Serve walnuts in a ceramics or glass bowl, or on a plate. Present them with a serving tablespoon.
When serving whole walnuts in their shells, provide your guests with a nutcracker and a small plate or bowl to discard the shells.
5) Foods & beverages to pair walnuts with
Walnuts pair well with many aromas, such as chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, caramel, honey, coffee, and balsamic vinegar.
You can use them with many vegetables, such as beets, pumpkin, kale, celery, spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms. They pair well with chicken and poultry.
Serve walnuts to accompany cheese, such as Brie, Cheddar, Manchego, Taleggio, or goat cheese. Walnuts pair well with blue cheese, such as Roquefort, Stilton, and Gorgonzola. They are also an excellent match with aged cheese, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, and Pecorino.
Walnuts go well with many fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, and figs.
You can pair walnuts with many wines. Red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, or Merlot. White wine, such as Riesling or Malvasia. Fortified wine, such as Port, Madeira, or Sherry. Sparkling wine, such as Champagne or Franciacorta. Rum and Cognac are perhaps the best spirits to accompany walnuts.
6) How to eat walnuts
Whole walnuts are usually served in a bowl with a serving spoon. Use the spoon to put one or two walnuts on your dish or hand. If a serving spoon is not available, pick walnuts with your fingers.
The hard shell is not edible, while the peel on the kernel is. When walnuts are served whole in their shell, remove the shell with a nutcracker. You can either eat or discard the skin around the kernel. It is most polite to eat the skin.
Discard the shells in a spare bowl or plate. If a spare bowl or plate is not available, place the shells on a side of your dish or in an ashtray. Avoid discarding them directly on the table.
Eat one walnut at a time. Do not put more than one kernel in your mouth at the same time.
Walnut etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst walnut etiquette mistakes.
- 7/10. Discarding the shells on the table.
- 7/10. Eating more than one walnut at a time.
Additional information for properly serving walnuts
How many calories per serving?
Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.
Walnuts contain about 654 calories per 100 grams (3.5 oz). One kernel contains about 26 calories.
How to buy the best walnuts
A crucial factor in walnut etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.
Walnuts are harvested after they fully ripen in autumn, between September and November. They are usually available between November and February. However, shelled walnuts are available in commerce all year round.
Choose the best
Good quality shelled walnuts look plump and feel firm.
Alternatives to walnuts
- Walnuts: A worthy addition to your daily diet? health.harvard.edu