U.S.: Commercial black walnut production a "long-term goal" at Hammons
After 71 years of business Missouri-based Hammons Products Company continues to market native black walnuts (Juglans nigra) from across 14 U.S. states, but the aim is to take the crop one step further from a predominantly foraged nut to a commercially harvest crop.
Speaking with Fresh Fruit Portal during last month's Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in New Orleans, company president Brian Hammons said the unique nut was "hitting a lot of trends" in flavor and health.
"It has a lot of the same great characteristics of a regular walnut – low-fat, no cholesterol, low unsaturated fats, and good kinds of fats and omega-3. Black walnuts have more protein than any other tree nut, including almonds," Hammons claimed.
"The flavor is bold, wild, robust, aromatic, earthy - it really is a unique flavor that goes well with a lot of foods. You know if there’s a black walnut is in something.
"Chefs are discovering the wild flavor of black walnuts and how it complements a range of different foods. It’s pretty exciting.
"A lot of the consumption is at home so people are buying black walnuts in grocery stores, in club stores, either in our package or from larger national packers or pre-baggers, as well as the nut section in many stores, especially in the Midwest and southeastern parts of the United States.
He said the company had 238 buying stations set up to receive the nuts people pick up from their fields and yards, with the relatively short season running through October to early November.
"Missouri’s the largest source but also Ohio, Kentucky, all the way into Virginia and Pennsylvania, they grow wild.
"People there are familiar with the bold flavor of black walnuts and what they can do in cooking and baking and also in ice cream.
"The total nut industry is relatively small. We have 23-24 million pounds a year that we buy, and these are wild. Of course with black walnuts that’s a lot of nuts – so we’re thankful to be able to do keep doing this after 71 years."
He said the crop fluctuated quite a lot from one year to the next with alternate cycles.
"Last year was a little below average year, we’re expecting above average this year. We should have pretty good supply for the next year," he said.
The next big step for growth, according to Hammons, is convincing landowners to plant black walnut trees for greater production.
"We’ve worked with the universities to develop some improved varieties – a little thinner shell, because the yield on the nut meat is the big challenge for the wild nuts," Hammons said.
"So a thinner shell nut can have a higher yield and that’s worth more money. We buy a few thousand pounds a year from those folks who plant and grow these trees.
"We see perhaps 5,000 acres of these trees being able to produce as much nut meat as we get from the wild crop right now, so that’s our long-term goal to have those established over time."