Texture has always played a role in our eating experiences, and its popularity and importance remain as relevant as ever. According to Innova Market Insights Top Ten Trends for 2020, "45% of, on average, US and UK consumers are influenced by texture when buying food and drinks, while 68% share the opinion that textures contribute to a more interesting food and beverage experience."
Even Popular Science has tackled the topic of texture, calling it the "final frontier of food science," in a comprehensive article that details how little we know about texture in terms of the actual science that happens when we chew food.
Despite often being overlooked by food science in favor of flavor and aroma, texture is immensely important and plays a significant role in consumer enjoyment when eating. Walnuts provide food scientists with countless textural variables, all in an ingredient that's a whole food and nutritious.
Creating the Perfect Bite
Walnuts have the perfect bite that is quite unique compared to other nuts. The texture of a walnut is neither too hard nor too soft, making them the ideal inclusion in everything from ice cream to snack bars to plant-based meat. Yes, you can formulate plant-based meat products with walnuts due to their unique texture that mimics meat.
For example, Eat Nice's Meaty Walnut Ravioli uses walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes and nutritional yeast to provide a filling that mimics the flavor and texture of meat.
With walnuts available in sizes ranging from whole pieces to walnut meal, food manufacturers have the ability to tailor the perfect mouthfeel in products using walnuts, whether they are using the nut as an inclusion like the Meaty Ravioli or as a topping or crust.
Diamond of California's Walnut Pie Crust offers consumers a ready-to-use crust with walnuts as the first ingredient. Because walnuts possess a subtle nutty flavor, they compliment both sweet and savory profiles, making these pie crusts perfect for a meat pie or pumpkin pie.
As a topping, walnuts' texture has been an advantage in bakery foods for hundreds of years. From blueberry muffins to banana breads, walnuts provide a necessary crunch. In Smart Baking Company's Banana Nut Smartmuf'n, small walnut pieces add texture to the muffin, as well as flavor and an ingredient that is familiar and loved by consumers.
Texture with Benefits
Food scientists and product developers have an arsenal of tools available when formulating products. However, consumer demand for fewer ingredients and cleaner ingredient listings is ramping up the search for whole, all-natural ingredients that contribute texture plus functionality and nutritious properties.
Walnuts are one of the few unique ingredients that provide texture while delivering clean label functionality and nutrition. If you're looking to add texture and plant-based omega-3s, use walnuts, as they are the only nut to contain a significant amount of plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) at 2.5 grams per ounce.
Walnuts also can be used for texture and added protein and fiber in a variety of foods, as one ounce of walnuts adds four grams of protein and two grams of fiber.
Omega-3s, protein and fiber are three trending product attributes that walnuts possess, as well as adding texture. And these benefits come in an ingredient that consumers find delicious – taste is cited as the No. 1 reason they eat walnuts, according to a 2019 consumer survey conducted by the California Walnut Commission. In that same survey, 90% of consumers recognize walnuts as a nutritious food and 78% said the health benefits of walnuts positively impacted their purchase decision.
Walnuts' texture can be used in an array of products, from plant-based foods to candy bars. With multiple piece sizes available, product developers can specify the exact texture they want to convey to consumers:
- Meat alternatives: Small piece sizes blended with black beans, chickpeas or other legumes yield a plant-based meat alternative that has a texture similar to ground beef. Can be used as taco crumbles, pasta filling, hamburger patties and more.
- Bakery foods: A traditional category for walnut usage with applications including sweet breads, muffins, artisan breads, cookies, brownies, food bars, cereal and more. Piece size varies depending on application as topping or inclusion.
- Snacking: Seasoned walnuts are gaining in popularity due to the textural properties of walnuts and their ability to pair well with sweet, savory, salty and spicy flavors. Plus, walnuts' nutritious properties allow consumers to feel good about consuming a heart-healthy snack with omega-3s.
- Plant-based sauces and creamers: Walnuts' fat composition makes them perfect for dairy-free sauces that require thickening. Walnuts' flavor also makes them an ideal nut creamer for coffee drinks.
With multiple piece size options, as well as the ability to deliver the perfect bite, walnuts are an ideal textural enhancement in a variety of foods. Learn more about walnuts' use in food and beverage product development, from their flavor to their nutritious properties.