Walnut oil, a great classic at risk of extinction

The history of walnuts and their best-known derivative - walnut oil - has ancient roots. Its benefits have been known since the 7th century B.C., and in more recent times it has been a cheaper substitute for butter throughout the foothills. Today, however, its consumption is increasingly a niche market, so much so that some countries have taken steps to protect its production.

Naming the nut oil today means associating it with a demanding and expensive cuisine, which is not satisfied with the cheapest seed oil. In fact, few people are aware that walnut oil has been an ancient ally of poor and traditional cuisine, and has been known since ancient times, when the walnut was called the "Jupiter's heath" for its excellent nutritional values and goodness.

The walnut tree, from antiquity to the present day

Originally from Asia Minor, the nut tree was introduced to Europe by the Persian kings. Pliny the Elder testifies in his Naturalia Historia that the nuts were imported by the Greeks as early as the 7th century BC. The myriad benefits of walnut consumption and use have been known since ancient times, and during the Middle Ages its oil was used as an ointment, lamp fuel, paint thinner and, of course, as a condiment in cooking. Only the wealthy classes, however, could enjoy cold-pressed walnut oil, as this technique was the most expensive. The poorer classes had to make do with hot pressing, which gave the oil a strong and pleasant aroma of roasted nuts. For these reasons, at the beginning of the 20th century and then at the turn of the century, hot pressing took over and today this technique has not been sidelined, but rather revalued and relaunched on the market (in the lagAlpi shop, you can find a traditionally pressed walnut oil here). 

The Walnut Tree and its darker roots

The walnut tree is not only the bearer of good news. As is often the case, mythology comes to our aid to shed new light on everyday things. The walnut cult was linked to the god Dionysus. The myth says that Dionysus, a guest of King Dione of Lakonia, fell in love with one of his three daughters, Caria. The sisters, however, began to denigrate the god to the point of anger. Blinded by rage, Dionysus drove them mad and killed them, and Caria, in the face of such cruelty, fell ill until she herself died of grief. Dionysus transformed her into a walnut tree, and the people of Lakonia erected a temple with three walnut statues of the three sisters: the Caryatids.

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Maybe because of its link with the god Dionysus, the Bible mentions it as a tree excluded from the earthly paradise, and in the Gospel it is said that the cross on which Jesus Christ died was made of walnut. Lastly, let us not forget the fascinating and dark story of the Nut tree of Benevento, around which the Lombards, who settled there in the 6th century, performed bloody rites in honour of the Germanic god Odin.

The walnut tree of Benevento is also mentioned in the Gospel.

Nut oil, from traditional condiment to niche product

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Returning to more recent times, walnuts and their best-known derivative, walnut oil, have been an important source of livelihood and an excellent substitute for olive oil throughout the foothills. Here, before the spread of industrial butter (which lowered production costs), walnut oil was considered the most traditional condiment. With the economic boom and the subsequent spread of cheap butter and olive oil to non-Mediterranean areas, its consumption has slowly declined and its cost has risen sharply, so much so that some countries have taken steps to ensure that the production of this valuable traditional food is not lost. Switzerland, for example, has included walnut oil in the Slow Food presidium, which aims to protect its production and distribution.

The recent rediscovery of walnut oil

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While walnut oil may not be widely known these days, its timid rediscovery is undoubtedly due to a more recent awareness of food. As well as being a condiment that often has a lower environmental impact compared to butter and olive oil (especially if the latter is bought far from its climate of origin), walnut oil is an important source of essential Omega-3 fats, which are essential in the fight against cholesterol and hypertension, and has antithrombotic and anti-arrhythmic properties. An excellent ally of the imagination in the kitchen, it is traditionally used to season salads and meat, as well as being a perfect ingredient in the preparation of traditional sweets.

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In the lagAlpi shop you will find two types of walnut oil. The cold-pressed one (you can find it here), and the old-fashioned, traditionally pressed one, which you can find at this link