“Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: You find the present tense, but the past perfect.”– Owens Lee Pomeroy
No question that 2021 is a year of tension—and anxiety, uncertainty, and stress. So it’s no wonder people are turning to nostalgia laced comfort foods to find peace and pleasure. In the right measure, nostalgia has easily accessible mental health benefits. Research shows that it reduces cortisol levels associated with the body’s acute stress response. It also can be an antidote for depression and anxiety. Positive memories have positive results—and nowhere is that more apparent than comfort food.
Comfort food isn’t just a relic from a diner menu, it’s a pleasurable connection to happy memories from your past. The smell of bacon. A warm apple pie. Or the crunch of a fresh muffin laced with Black Walnuts that you may have shelled yourself from a backyard tree. Comfort foods are a ray of positive reinforcement in a time of stay-at-home orders, restaurant shutdowns, and Zoom conferences.
“I grew up having black walnuts and their unique flavor is a trip down memory lane!”– Hilda, Hockessin, Del., from nuts.com
As a result, home baking us up. Sales of home baking ingredients way up. And many current studies show that the trend has staying power. People have rediscovered the pleasure of home cooking and baking. In addition to the experience, making food at home offers control over ingredients and managing wellness priorities. So, comfort foods can become healthy comfort foods.
Certain tree nuts, like indigenous Black Walnuts, are a main ingredient in comfort foods steeped in nostalgia. And among the healthiest are Black Walnuts, the wild cousin of the cultivated English Walnut. Black Walnuts, however, are harvested in the fall from native wild trees by local folks throughout the central U.S. Many of these nuts are cracked by hand, many more are collected at regional hulling stations and sent to a factory in southwestern Missouri where they’re shelled and sold across the U.S. on the web and in various markets and grocery stores.
“I grew up in Tennessee and have fond memories of times when I gathered and cracked my own nuts. (Black Walnuts) bring back wonderful childhood memories!”– Chef Jon, Rosenberg, Tex., Hammons Pantry customer
For people who live in areas where these majestic trees grow, Black Walnuts have a rich, nostalgic legacy. Black Walnut ice cream, pies, cakes, salad toppings, and garnishes have been popular for generations. As has the annual gleaning of nuts as they drop from trees in backyards, parks, and woods.
Working Black Walnuts into both sweet and savory recipes—at home or new “comfort” recipes for foodservice and packaged foods—is an ideal way to combine nostalgia and good health.
In fact, a Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study of 120,000 participants published by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that people who consumed nuts had healthier lives and lived longer.
Innovation represents the best marketing opportunity for comfort foods. Creating traditional comfort foods from healthy ingredients, often with a contemporary twist, has shown significant market potential. Parallel trends include interest in functional foods and plant-based ingredients. And updates of favorites from the mid-20th Century, like chicken Kiev, chicken a la king, cheese fondue and salmon patties are a popular starting point. Black Walnuts represent a way to create innovative crusts, glazes, and garnishes.
“The trend is looking backwards rather than forwards,” says Esmee Williams, a trend specialist for Allrecipes.com, quoted by the Associated Press.
“If you are a food and beverage manufacturer, you need to be thinking about convenience and comfort right now,” says Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst for the NPD Group, also quoted by the Associated Press.
In fact, one of supermarket giant Kroger’s Top Five Trends for 2020 is what it calls NOWstalgia. “Consumers are increasingly seeking out foods and flavors that bring back fond childhood memories. New foods will continue to be added to grocery shelves that deliver nostalgic flavors in a reimagined way—charming customers of all ages and generations,” states the company’s recent announcement.
According to research from the journal Appetite: “Comfort food is associated with relationships (it has “social utility”), … and feeling isolated predicted how much people enjoy comfort food.” This was published five years prior to Covid, and only has amplified in today’s environment.
The Black Walnut has a rich legacy and an even more exciting future. Please let us know how we can provide more insight and information. We hope you include Black Walnuts in any upcoming articles or blogs related to nutrition, sustainability, superfoods, tree nuts, or any of the product categories where Black Walnuts are used.
This report may be reprinted or quoted with attribution.
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