While food trends build excitement, the meal on the plate needs to be flavorful, enjoyable, and satisfying. As more people discover meat substitute options, recipe creativity grows. During a recent conversation with Yumna Jawad, aka Feel Good Foodie, walnut meat recipes offer a different take on vegetarian forward choices.
Meatless meals have become more prevalent. From people who want to expand their healthy eating options to choosing a particular food lifestyle, variety is key. Plant-based food choices are more than just a plate of crudité or a meatless burger brand. Cooks use various ingredients in innovative ways.
Walnut meat has become a hot topic in the meat substitution category. Although there are many situations where other vegetables, legumes, or nuts have been used, the food tok world has pushed walnut meat into the forefront of the conversation.
As a California Walnuts creator partner, Yumna Jawad spoke to FoodSided about the popularity of walnut meat, how to be creative with that ingredient, and simple ways to prioritize healthy eating.
When some cooks make an ingredient swap, one key factor is eating satisfaction. No one wants to dig into a plate of food and feel empty after eating it.
Speaking to why walnut’s texture offers that eating satisfaction as a meat substitute, Yumna said, “I think there is something really unique about walnuts. When you chop them up or pulse them in a food processor and then cook them lightly, there’s something really unique about how soft they are on the inside and chewy with a nice bite. I’ve gotten that question a lot on social media when I’ve shared walnut meat recipes asking if you can substitute walnuts for another nut, and I tell them unfortunately not. Other nuts when you chop them up or pulse them, they form a nut butter or become crispy and don’t give you that same texture. I don’t know the full science behind it but there is something about the bite that it has and when it is slighted cooked and warmed, it has a similar texture of ground beef.”
While the texture is a big component of why walnut meat recipes work well as a meat substitute, the ingredient needs to adapt to a variety of flavors. In this case, some classic recipes can become plant-based with just one swap.
Yumna said, “I really love the idea that you can create a plant-based meat substitution by only using one ingredient. If you look at labels on the back of the products that are protein and meat substitutes for vegans, it can be alarming seeing the amount of ingredients in them. So, the fact that you can have something that looks and has a similar texture and taste as grounded beef by using one ingredient it is really amazing. What’s cool about walnuts, once you warm them up is that they start to act like a sponge and you can get creative with the flavor profile – Mediterranean, Italian or Mexican flavors by adding taco seasoning… I like to think of it as a blank canvas but you can add so many things (onions, garlic, soy sauce, balsamic) that would mimic what you would have in a traditional meat dish.”
Building on that versatility, Yumna finds recipe innovation by building on the familiar. She said, “One of the things that I like to do is take something that feels familiar to people and switch one thing. If I’m making sheet pan tacos, I keep all the traditional toppings (guacamole, cheese, tomatoes, sour cream). I switch the regular meat to walnut meat. I really like to do that with my kids whenever possible to try to do something a little different, (creamy pasta but add cottage cheese for more protein) I find that small changes make it less intimidating and more familiar.”
The popularity of walnut meat recipes is a product of food tok. Speaking to the TikTok’s influence, Yumna shared, “It has been really fun because TikTok is giving a voice to smaller creators that other social media platforms did not. Traditionally you could only go viral if you had a big following and that suppressed a lot of creative voices that were smaller and we didn’t have eyes on really interesting recipes. What ended up happening with TikTok is that we ended up learning about cool interesting trends and food ideas that allowed for more voices and creative takes on recipes. It has been really fun and has probably slowed down since 2020-21 but I think it still influences a lot of different food trends.”
“This snowballs into a really beautiful effect of giving a food trend a new twist and a new take on it. Possibilities are endless. That’s what happened with pasta chips. There were a lot of people sharing pasta chips 2 years ago. I saw it and thought that is so cool and thought I could make it better and did my take on it. I had a nice whipped feta dip that I dipped the pasta chips in that made it go viral. Pasta chips got tens of millions of views on social media. The impact of those viral recipes continues and I’m still thinking of ways to play off those recipes.”
“Recently, I came up with pasta shells stuffed with walnut meat that takes that crispy shell outer layer with a nice soft interior on the inside with walnut meat and cheese. It is really cool to see where these trends start and what they snowball into years later.”
While the food trends might build excitement, walnut meat recipes are not the only ways to enjoy those California Walnuts. Yumna said, “One of my favorite snacks that I grew up eating is a handful of walnuts and a date. A handful of walnuts has 3-4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, omega 3’s — my husband who is heart doctor always tells me it is good for the heart. That is of my favorite snacks. But for my kids, I tried pulsing the walnut and the dates in the food processor – really just 2 ingredients. And that magically creates a doughy, big ball substance (literally a big ball of energy) that I use to create tiny little energy balls. So in the middle of the day just one ball gives you energy, protein, satiety. That’s one of my favorite ways to use walnut in a sweet snack.”
From walnut meat recipes to just a simple snack, there are plenty of reasons to have some California Walnuts in the kitchen. Maybe the flavor, texture, and versatility can lead to other cooks creating a flavorful food trend that everyone will want to taste.