As today’s consumers focus on health & wellbeing, reducing meat consumption is one of their key goals. Yet the use of walnuts as an alternative meat source is relatively unexploited
Flexitarianism, vegetarianism, veganism – all are currently on-trend diets that seek to reduce or eliminate meat consumption, spurred by global concerns on personal health and the health of the planet.
In fact, the volume of meat substitutes consumed in the UK increased to 76.5m kg last year, an increase of around 8.1%, according to Statista. While this was a significant decrease from the 2021 growth rate of 24%, the analyst still estimates that meat substitutes will continue to grow over the next few years, with the UK market predicted to see a CAGR of 17.5% from 2023-2027, more than doubling the market to 154.1m kg.
In their search to satisfy and supply this developing market, food manufacturers are seeking out alternative protein sources. In fact, a report highlighted in Food Manufacture last year, pointed out that there is an estimated £1bn market for plant-based alternatives to protein in the UK, with predicted 30% year-on-year growth for meat alternatives, currently dominated by products such as soya.
Meat alternative ingredient
With many ready meals based on products such as mince or chicken, food manufacturers are keen to find healthy alternatives that will feed this growing meat alternative market and one product potentially overlooked hitherto is walnuts.
In fact, according to Pam Graviet, senior marketing director international at California Walnuts, consumers, chefs and food manufacturers are only just realising how versatile walnuts can be. “They have a soft, meaty texture that easily absorbs the flavours of other ingredients,” she says. “They can also be used as an addition to favourite main dishes, on salads, yoghurt and porridge, in sauces and spreads, as wonderfully flavoured snacks and as an alternative to mince when looking for a more plant-forward way of eating.”
As an example she suggests walnut chorizo-style tacos, Asian-inspired lettuce wraps and walnut Bolognese.
Meanwhile online publication, simple-veganista.com points out that “walnut meat is a fantastic, healthy alternative to its ground meat predecessor”, suggesting a number of international dishes using different spices to make flavourful cuisines, such as burritos, chilli, nachos and pasta dishes.
In terms of food manufacture, walnuts can also be used as a thickener in gluten- and dairy-free soups and sauces, as well as a broad number of recipe formulations.
Over the past 10 years, walnut imports to the UK have grown by 75%, which suggests that consumers are realising the importance of the product as a healthy addition to their everyday diet, notes Graviet. “Over that time, imported walnuts from California have grown five-fold, demonstrating that UK consumers have an affinity for the deliciously mild flavour and creamy texture they deliver,” she says.
What’s probably even more appealing to modern-day consumers is the comparative healthiness of walnuts in the diet. According to healthline.com, at 4.5g of protein per 29g serving, chopped walnuts offer a great way to boost protein intake and are also a source of heart-healthy fats. “Specifically, they contain more Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other nut,” it says.
Now, with functional foods that aid different aspects of health coming to the fore, emerging research is showing that eating walnuts daily could fend off the negative effects of stress and support mood in young adults.
Yet the opportunity for walnuts is still to be exploited, as annual per capita consumption in the UK is very low at 0.107kg. Moreover, statistics from the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, tracking consumption across 20 countries, found an average per capita consumption of just 0.14kg per year or only 6-7 walnut halves.
“Walnuts can play a role in offering a nutrient-dense, flavourful addition to the daily diet, which aligns with consumers’ desire to eat not only nutritious foods, but ones that also offer functional health benefits,” says Graviet. “Most notably, walnuts are a heart-healthy food, recognised by Heart UK and the American Heart Association, with a qualified health claim in the EU.”
Why California walnuts?
History: Walnuts have been grown commercially in California since 1867, managed by multi-generational family farms. More than 99% of the US supply is grown in California’s Central Valley, where a Mediterranean-style climate favours their production.
Sustainability: “For over 50 years, California walnut growers and processors have supported research and innovation in water quality and usage, water conservation, soil usage and replenishment, energy use and air quality,” notes Graviet. “The California walnut industry is always looking for new methods to grow and process walnuts that minimise waste, enhance productivity and preserve natural resources.”
Supply chain safety: While walnuts are available from many parts of the word, Graviet points out that California walnuts are grown, harvested and processed under stringent state and federal regulations, reputed to be the world’s toughest. “Handlers also meet individual customers’ standards and specifications,” she says. “A food safety control program and quality control regime (HACCP) is in place that meets the standards imposed by all regulatory authorities. As a result, the California walnut industry has had an impeccable food safety record for more than a century.”
To be inspired by a recipe involving walnuts, please see below:
To find out more about how to use California walnuts in food manufacture, contact the California Walnut Commission on 01628 535755 or email email@example.com.