Walnuts from California
History and Origin of the Royal Nut
Walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man, dating back to 7000 B.C. The Romans called walnuts Juglans regia, “Jupiter’s royal acorn.” Early history indicates that walnuts came from ancient Persia, where they were reserved for royalty. Thus, the walnut is often known as the “Persian Walnut.” Walnuts were traded along the Silk Road between Asia and the Middle East. Caravans carried walnuts to far off lands and eventually through sea trade, the popularity of the walnut spread around the world. English merchant marines transported the product for trade to ports around the world and they became known as “English Walnuts.” England, in fact, never grew walnuts commercially.
The walnut was first cultivated in California by the Franciscan Fathers in the late 1700s. The earliest walnuts to enter California were known as “mission” walnuts. Unlike today’s walnuts, these first entries were small with hard shells. The trees flourished in the Mediterranean-like climate zones of California.
Walnuts from California are shipped to more than 40 countries throughout the world every month. Two thirds of the global walnut trade – with or without shells – involves nuts from the sunshine state.
California Walnut Industry
The first commercial plantings began in 1867 when Joseph Sexton, an orchardist and nurseryman in the Santa Barbara County town of Goleta, planted English walnuts. For several years, walnuts were predominantly planted in the southern areas of California, accounting for 65% of all bearing acreage.
Some 70 years after Sexton’s first planting, the center of California walnut production moved northward to the Central Valley area in one of the most dramatic horticultural moves in history. Better growing areas, improved irrigation, and better pest control methods in the north resulted in greater yields, which gradually increased each year.
Today, the Central Valley of California is the state’s prime walnut growing region. Its mild climate and deep fertile soils provide ideal growing conditions for the California walnut. California walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial US supply and three-quarters of world trade.