While flavorful cooking oils like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil get plenty of air time these days, walnut oil is as distinct and beneficial as its popular compatriots, and a touch more luxurious. In its unrefined state, this subtly bitter oil is as great whisked into vinaigrettes and tossed with pasta as it is in desserts, where it adds a gentle savory element.
A little goes a long way. Just a light drizzle can add a whole new dimension to any manner of dishes, so if you’re looking to jazz up a meal, think of it as your last minute, secret weapon.
Where’s the love for walnut oil? Once you start using this delicate yet rich oil, you’ll be asking the same question. (But you might want to keep the secret to yourself.)
What to Know About Walnut Oil
Walnut oil, as you might expect, is made from ground and pressed walnuts that have either been dried or roasted. Produced in California and in the Burgundy and Perigord regions in France, it’s a specialty oil that’s primarily meant for applications that require little to no heat—unlike other vegetable oils that are meant for cooking.
Heating walnut oil risks turning it bitter. At room temperature, however, the oil has a light, pleasantly bitter flavor and aroma that’s earthy and subtle, making it great for late additions that will elevate your dishes from ho-hum to complex in a matter of seconds.
What Walnut Oil Tastes Like
Walnut oil tastes like a smooth, gentle version of walnuts, with that wonderful hint of bitterness to balance the rich, buttery taste.
There are four kinds of walnut oil:
- Unrefined, cold-pressed walnut oil: This is the most expensive kind. It’s made by grinding walnuts into a paste and pressing the paste to separate the oil and solids. Because the walnuts are never heated, this is the least bitter in taste.
- Refined walnut oil: The first kind of refined walnut oil is expeller-pressed walnut oil, made by applying extreme pressure to extract oil. If the oil does not carry a label saying “expeller-pressed,” the oil has most likely been extracted with the help of a solvent. If a solvent is used, the oil will then get heated to remove the solvent. You can use both of these kinds of refined walnut oil as finishing oils, although they won’t have as pure and bold a taste as cold-pressed walnut oil. You can also use the refined kind for sautéing and baking.
- Blends of unrefined and refined walnut oils: Some brands, like the well-known La Tourangelle, blend cold-pressed oil with expeller-pressed oil for a softer flavor and more versatile profile. You can sauté and bake with their Roasted Walnut Oil, but it’s also really nice for dressings and finishing touches.
- Olive oil infused with walnuts for flavor: This isn’t actually walnut oil at all, and you’ll be able to taste the difference.
Where to Buy
You can find walnut oil in most grocery stores or online. If it seems expensive, remember that it’s very potent, so you use it in small quantities.
How to Store
One more oil to make room for in the cupboard? Walnut oil is worth the space, and, just like other oil, it does go bad. Solve your space problem by buying small quantities and replenishing often. Like most oils, it is best used within six months but will keep unopened for 24 months.
How to Use
- Drizzle: Pour a small amount of cold-pressed walnut oil on top of steamed or seared fish, roasted vegetables, pasta or grains, bruschetta, grilled or poached fruit, or a cheese plate.
- Whisk: Substitute a tablespoon of cold-pressed walnut oil into your vinaigrette for an earthy, nutty dimension.
- Sneak it in: Love your everyday desserts but want to add a little something-something? Add a few tablespoons of unrefined olive oil to your brownies, quick breads, or apple crisp!
- Saute: Use refined walnut oil or blends that include refined walnut oil for sauteing vegetables and giving some extra flavor. This would work for adding nuance to a range of flavor profiles, from Asian dishes to French or Mediterranean.
- Remember: Don’t heat unrefined walnut oil! Cold-pressed walnut oil has a wonderfully subtle bitter taste, but it may become a little astringent if heated, so keep the heat low or just use it as is.
Substitutes for Walnut Oil
You can substitute other nut oils like almond or hazelnut oil for unrefined walnut oil. While they’ll have a different flavor profile, they serve the same purpose of elevating a dish with a minimal amount—and minimal effort on your part!
Recipes That Use Walnut Oil
- Vegan Banana Bread
- Circassion Chicken Salad
- Rotini with Kale and Walnut Pesto: Swap in 2 tablespoons for the olive oil here.
- Grilled Branzino with Rosemary Vinaigrette: Swap in 1/4 cup of walnut oil in the 1/2 cup of olive oil called for in this recipe, or use the full amount of walnut oil.
- Mixed Greens with Pecans, Goat Cheese, and Honey Mustard Vinaigrette: Swap in 1/4 cup of walnut oil in the 3/4 cup of olive oil called for in this recipe, or use the full amount of walnut oil.
- Farro Salad with Green Beans, Corn, and Cherry Tomatoes: Swap in 3 tablespoons of walnut oil for the olive oil here.
- Asparagus and Ricotta Bruschetta: Swap in 2 tablespoons of walnut oil for brushing the bread and drizzling here.
- Brownies in a Mug: Use 2 tablespoons of walnut oil where this recipe calls for butter, mild extra virgin olive oil, or neutral oil.