FOLSOM, CA — Retail bakers looking to innovate in the healthy indulgence space — one of the top retail baking trends in 2023 — may not need to look too far past their own storeroom. Walnuts, a go-to ingredient in many bakeries, have long been a consumer favorite because of the taste and texture they impart to bread, muffins and other baked goods. They’re also packed with healthy attributes that can help meet consumer demand for better-for-you treats.
“Walnuts, with their creamy, rich flavor and fat profile really play well with a lot of different, indulgent baked goods,” said Jennifer Olmstead, senior director of US marketing and communications for the California Walnut Board, one of the sponsors of the Craft to Crumb Great Ingredients Giveaway, along with Farmer Direct Foods. “But they also have a wealth of health benefits, too. Research shows that nine out of 10 consumers know walnuts are a healthy food.”
Walnuts are the only existing tree nut that is a good source of the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can only be obtained by consuming foods.
“Consumers are aware that omega-3 is a good thing,” Olmstead noted. “It’s been associated with healthy benefits for the heart as well as the brain. There’s also been a lot of promising research in areas such as cognitive health, weight management and reproductive health as well.”
Additionally, walnuts contain magnesium, melatonin, protein and fiber, and they carry a Food & Drug Administration health claim that consuming walnuts may reduce the risk of heart disease. They earned the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark, which helps consumers quickly spot healthy foods.
What does all this mean for retail bakers striving to meet consumer demand for healthy foods that also provide a sense of indulgence?
“Two areas bakers could play up in their marketing are the fact that walnuts are plant-based, which more people are moving toward being more plant-forward in their eating, and that they are healthy,” Olmstead offered. “They can be added into baked goods that fit in the more health-forward trend and those products could be labeled with the health benefits of walnuts.”
The versatility of walnuts — they’re well-suited for both sweet and savory applications — offers a fun path for innovation.
“Most consumers are familiar with walnuts in brownies and other more traditional types of baked goods, but there’s so much opportunity beyond that,” Olmstead shared. “For example, toasted and candied walnuts can really give consumers an experience they haven’t had before. I’ve had blue cheese and walnut artisan breads that have just been out of this world.”