We discovered wonderfully flavorful nut oils as a college student taking culinary trips to France. Our first experience was a mesclun and goat cheese salad with a walnut oil vinaigrette. The flavor was a revelation that inspired us to tote back numerous bottles of walnut oil, not knowing if we’d find it in the U.S.
Today, fine nut oils are readily available at specialty food stores, waiting for you to discover the glories of almond oil, hazelnut oil, pecan oil, pistachio oil and walnut oil.* There are nut oil recipes galore for appetizers, salads, mains and desserts (here’s a good starter collection of recipes from La Tourangelle, a California producer of the finest nut oils).
The production and use of nut oils is a time-honored tradition in France. Originally, each village had a mill that roasted and extracted the oil from nuts gathered by the area’s farmers. These exquisite oils were used in both the local, hearty, rustic fare and in the haute cuisine of the finest restaurants of Paris.
Not just for salad: Nut oils add deep flavor to desserts and other courses. Photo courtesy La Tourangelle.
*All nuts contain oil. Almond oil, beech nut oil, cashew oil, hazelnut oil, macadamia oil, pecan oil, pistachio oil and walnut oil are the most popular for culinary use. They are packed with omega 3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids, which significantly reduce the risk of a cardiovascular related disease (olive oil is an excellent source of omega 9 but has no omega 3). Nut oil is also used in cosmetics, and was used by Renaissance painters to make their oil paints.
Following the industrialization of food production, just a handful of mills remain. The roasted artisan oils they make are very different from the far less expensive refined nut oils that are readily available in natural food stores and other markets (more about that below).
Think of it as the difference between extra virgin olive oil and refined olive oil:
Roasted nut oils, which are artisan produced from the best quality nuts available, require much more effort to extract the oil. The nuts are hand roasted in cast iron kettles, then expeller-pressed, lightly filtered and bottled. The result is a rich color, aroma and taste. Roasted nut oil is costly; but you need only a small amount to add flavor.
Refined nut oils are made from what the industry calls nut oil stock: substandard nuts sold at discounted prices to oil manufacturers. The nuts are expeller-pressed in a screw press and then refined to remove impurities. Many of the antioxidants are removed during the refining process. The result is 100% pure nut oil but with no flavor, no aroma and pale color.
Nut oils have a short shelf life. Buy a small bottle at a time, unless you find yourself using larger quantities.
A bottle of nut oil should be stored in a cool, dark place and used within four months. It can be kept fresh in the refrigerator for a year.
If refrigerated, the oil will become cloudy. This doesn’t affect its taste or use; and left at room temperature for 20 minutes, it will become clear again.
Discover more about nut oils in our review of La Tourangelle nut oils, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week.
Find more of our favorite oils and recipes in our Gourmet Oil & Vinegar Section.
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