Food allergies are dangerous things — a person with a serious allergy can't take any chances. But when your favorite recipe calls for an ingredient that's off-limits — like walnuts, if you have a walnut allergy — that doesn't mean it's a recipe you can never make.
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Instead, you just have to get creative and explore substitutions. Here's a look at some of the nut replacements you can count on if you have a walnut allergy.
5 Foods to Substitute for Walnuts
There are five main foods you can use in a recipe that calls for walnuts — and they all vary by taste and texture, so it's important to consider the pros and cons of each.
1. Other Tree Nuts
Some people have allergies only to specific kinds of nuts — in this case, walnuts. But depending on the diagnosis you receive from your doctor, you might still be able to enjoy other tree nuts, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI).
Other tree nuts include:
- Brazil nuts
The nut closest to walnuts in texture and appearance is pecans, but be careful: This similarity in taste and texture is because walnuts and pecans are more closely related than other tree nuts, the AAAAI notes. Your doctor can guide you as to which other tree nuts you can have.
Walnuts have a more delicate texture than most other nuts, so you may find it's necessary to chop other nuts coarsely if you're using them in a walnut recipe.
It's not uncommon to be allergic to more than one kind of nut, so for safety's sake, make sure to get tested for an allergy to all the major nut varieties.
Peanuts are technically not a nut — they're a legume. Still, up to 40 percent of people allergic to peanuts will also have an allergy to at least one tree nut (like walnuts), according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
If you don't have a peanut allergy, halved or coarsely chopped peanuts can be substituted for walnuts in most recipes in identical quantities.
Peanuts have a strong flavor of their own, so they're not your best option in baked goods with a delicate flavor.
Like peanuts, the most common seeds are unrelated to tree nuts and are considered a separate allergy. Seeds you can use include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
Larger seeds — including pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds — can be used as direct replacements for whole walnuts or walnut pieces, while smaller seeds — such as sesame seeds, flax and chia — can replace crushed walnuts in some baking recipes.
Pumpkin seeds have a mild flavor and a texture similar to walnuts, so they're a good choice.
4. Roasted Beans
With a little bit of ingenuity around the oven, you can turn beans into a crispy, crunchy snack with a texture similar to nuts.
Try this crunchy Roasted Chickpeas recipe and use them in recipes like salads and baked goods.
(If you're a little wary about using crunchy beans in baked goods, don't worry — you have plenty of other options below.)
5. Crunchy Grains
There are many other ingredients that can add flavor or a contrasting texture to your foods. In some instances, breakfast cereal such as Rice Crisps or Grape Nuts can add a pleasant crunch and nutty flavor.
Crunchy grains are great for salads, snack mixes and breading. Just be careful about what you choose — something like pretzels or sesame sticks will add a lot of flavors, but they likely have a lot of sodium too, the University of Washington points out.
What to Use Instead of Walnuts in Salads
It's great to have an idea of what kind of substitutions are available, but it's even better to know how to choose from among those swaps for the best results with whatever you're preparing.
Salads are a great place to try those crunchy beans.
If that's not your style, you can always use a grain product with a crunchy texture, such as whole-grain croutons or coarse whole-wheat crackers.
What to Use Instead of Walnuts in Baking
Roasted seeds or other tree nuts make the easiest substitutions for baking, but in some cases, you might find you don't need walnuts at all.
Brownies or oatmeal cookies often call for walnuts to give extra dimension or flavor, but eliminating them won't affect the finished product.
You can also use cocoa nibs, small pieces of real cocoa beans. They have a distinct crunch and a chocolate flavor that can make a pleasant variation in your favorite recipe.
What to Use Instead of Walnuts in Snack Mixes
Trail mix is an easy, convenient, healthy snack. People will often use walnuts in trail mixes because they are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your joints, per the University of Washington.
But eliminating walnuts is easy to do when there are so many other options. The University of Washington recommends people with nut allergies use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, which are also high in omega-3s.
What to Use Instead of Walnuts in Breading
Crushed nuts (like pistachios) are great for breading meat, poultry or seafood before cooking.
These crunchy elements are an important part of the recipe because they add to the texture of the dish and lock in flavor, according to the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.
If your recipe calls for crushed walnuts as part of the breading, you can swap it out for another grainy product like crushed nuts, crushed cereal or crushed crackers as well as panko breading.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Everything You Need to Know about Tree Nut Allergy”
- Produce for a Better Health Foundation: “I Am Allergic to Tree Nuts. What Can I Substitute for Nuts?”
- University of Washington: “How to Build a Better Trail Mix”
- Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: “How Breading Makes or Breaks a Meal”
- American Heart Association: “Crunchy Chickpeas”