Walnut meat is our favorite no-cook vegan kitchen hack that’s perfect for summer, the holidays, or any time of year! Grinding up soaked walnuts with the right spices and herbs creates the best plant-based ground meat substitute for tacos, pasta, pizza, and salads. In this post, we’re sharing all our best tips, tricks, and recipes to create THE most flavorful walnut meat you’ll ever taste – from the best ever walnut taco meat to our favorite meat-free sausage for pizza.
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Today, I’m talking about one of our favorite vegan meat substitute hacks: walnut meat!
Have you tried this trick yet?
Walnut meat is easy to make and no-cook, a great alternative for last-minute weeknight dinners when you want to serve something delicious and healthy but don’t have a ton of time on your hands.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve turned to walnut meat when our cupboards and fridge were looking a bit empty.
And it has never disappointed us. There is SO much you can do with this magical meat-free meat!
But first, if you’re new to the wonderful world of walnut meat, you may be asking…
What is walnut meat?
Walnut meat is plant-based meat made from walnuts instead of animals. It’s vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, egg-free, and easily made gluten-free and oil-free.
Walnut meat can be flavored however you want, doesn’t require any actual cooking, and can be made in under 25 minutes (and 20 minutes of that is soaking time).
Basically, if you’ve ever wondered “What can I use instead of meat for tacos?” walnut meat is the answer! Although, that’s certainly not the only thing it can do (more on that later).
The texture of walnut meat is a bit different from that of a soy-based or seitan ground meat you may find in the freezer section of the grocery store. It’s a little less tender, but the flavor is absolutely unbeatable.
And when used correctly, walnut meat can be a key ingredient to making kickass vegan versions of many of your favorite dishes!
What is walnut meat made of?
All you need to make walnut meat is walnuts, water, and whatever seasonings / spices you want to use to make it taste how you want it to taste. It is SO versatile!
When choosing seasonings for walnut meat, just think about the dish you’re trying to recreate and what spices and flavors you associate with that.
I use a few basic ingredients in almost every version and then branch out based on what dish I’m trying to emulate.
- Raw walnuts – Make sure you store walnuts in the fridge or freezer for optimum freshness!
- Soy sauce – I almost always use soy sauce in walnut meat recipes because it adds both sodium and umami flavor. Plus, the walnuts soak it in so much better than if you were using all dry spices. This can also be substituted (either wholly or in part) with other sauces like hot sauce, curry paste, coconut aminos, red miso, or teriyaki sauce depending on what flavor you’re going for.
- Onion and garlic – Either raw / minced, powdered, or both! Red onion adds a fun and interesting flavor (especially with that teriyaki sauce!). Onion and garlic are always a great place to start.
- Extra virgin olive oil – You can totally skip this if you want to keep your walnut meat oil-free, but I love the rich taste a touch of good quality olive oil adds. It also adds an extra crispiness if you’re baking it on top of pizzas or pastas.
- Nutritional yeast – This is a common vegan pantry staple (different from the yeast you use to make bread). It adds a deep savory and almost cheesy flavor.
- Fresh herbs – Like oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, etc. Use fresh herbs if you can, but dried will work too! We like to mince the herbs before adding them to the blender to ensure everything is a uniform texture / flavor
- Liquid smoke and/or smoked paprika can be used to add a smoky flavor. We do this with our walnut sausage along with some fennel and celery salt. Or, add some heat and a little vinegar to create more of a chorizo-style meat.
- Cayenne pepper or black pepper and cumin are great additions for walnut taco meat. A Tbsp of salsa may be nice too! Chili powder creates a deeper savory vibe, or make it easy and use a packet of taco seasonings.
- Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, or sauteed mushrooms add great flavor along with an extra tender texture. Tomato paste can be used in a pinch as well!
How to Make Walnut Meat
Now that you know what ingredients you need, let’s talk about the basic process you need to follow for the perfect texture.
Remember, you can find specific recipes in the section below. Here, we’ll walk you through the process, so you can make it your own!
The good news here is, once your walnuts are soaked, the rest comes together in under 5 minutes!
- Soak your walnuts in cool water for 20 minutes. Soaking the walnuts prior to using them will create a more tender texture and get them ready to soak in allllllll that delicious flavor.
- Drain the soaked walnuts and spray with cool water. Make sure you spray them off after soaking – that’s an important step for good flavor.
- Add the walnuts to your food processor with the remainder of ingredients.
- Pulse about 7-9 times until the walnuts are broken into small pieces like the texture of ground meat and everything is well-combined. Make sure you pulse the walnut mixture rather than blending it (which would create more of a paste).
Do you cook walnut meat?
It depends! If we’re using walnut meat on salads, tacos, or nachos, we don’t cook it at all and just use it straight from the blender!
But if we’re topping pizzas with it, making dips or casseroles, then we cook the walnut meat in the recipe.
Tip: If you’d like to cook it, I recommend baking it or warming it using a large skillet at a low temperature (about 325-350F), stopping to stir it around every 5 minutes until the walnuts are slightly toasted.
Be careful not to burn them; I wouldn’t go past 10 minutes total cook time.
This will help the seasonings and other ingredients really adhere to the walnuts.
How to Use Walnut Meat
Knowing when to use walnut meat and when not to use it is important and can make or break your whole experience.
Its meaty texture makes it the perfect plant-based protein option for many dishes, but there are also some areas where you’ll want to avoid using this delicious plant-based meat.
Walnut meat is a great option for:
- Pizza topping
- Baked pasta dishes
- Hot or cold dips
- Wraps, tacos, burritos
- Taco bowl with rice and veggies
- Salad topping
We don’t recommend using walnut meat in:
- Brothy soups or stews – Why? The flavor may get a little lost. The toasting trick we described above may help this, but I still don’t think it’s the best idea.
How to Store Leftover Walnut Meat
It’s is great for batch-cooking and meal prep because you can easily make a lot at one time and leftovers freeze incredibly well.
How long does walnut meat last in the fridge?
It lasts for up to 5 days in the fridge, stored in an airtight container. If we are going to store it any longer than that, we freeze it.
How to Freeze Walnut Meat
We suggest spreading the walnut meat out on a baking sheet or large plate and freezing it like that overnight before transferring to another container or freezer-safe bag.
This will keep the walnut meat nice and crumbly and prevent it from freezing in one giant unmanageable block. (IYKYK)
Stored like this, your it should last for at least 6 weeks.
Walnut Meat Recipes
Now that you know the basics, let’s talk about a few of our favorite walnut meat recipes!
Here are a couple of different ways we’ve worked these into our cooking already.
Our classic spicy walnut beef is our go-to vegan taco meat recipe but can be used in a variety of ways to replace ground beef.
The flavor is spicy and savory in alllll the right ways – one whiff and you’ll be ready to dive in!
Use it for:
- Walnut vegan tacos, taco salad, or burrito bowls with black beans or refried beans, vegan sour cream, and pico de gallo
- Loaded Vegan Nachos
- Spicy Vegan Tater Tot Hotdish
- Vegan Crunchwrap
Yes, walnut-based meat is a fantastic ground beef substitute, but it can also be used to replace other ground meats like sausage!
This vegan sausage-style walnut meat recipe is smoky, savory, and has a deep earthy flavor thanks to the ground fennel.
Use it for:
- Creamy Vegan Sausage + Pesto Lasagna
- Vegan Baked Ziti Pizza
- Walnut Sausage and Stuffing Balls
- Hot Walnut Sausage Dip
- Pesto Pizza with Walnut Sausage
Use it for:
- Southwest Tofu Scramble – as a platter or in tacos!
- A breakfast version of our vegan nachos!
- Easy Vegan Taco Salads
These healthy vegan lettuce wraps with spicy buffalo walnut meat are the perfect low carb recipe for summer!
This easy and delicious recipe is a surprisingly hearty meal that’s also light and fresh and loaded with veggies.
And it’s entirely no-cook, so you don’t need to turn on a stove or oven to make it! Serve it for a poolside lunch or as a dinner on the patio with potato wedges.
If you’re looking to switch things up with the texture of your walnut-based meat, try adding some sauteed mushrooms.
Sauteed mushrooms add a great earthy / savory flavor and an extra tender texture.
Use it for:
- Tikka Masala Lasagna
- Served over basmati rice with a side of curry-spiced roasted cauliflower
This Walnut and Mushroom Stout Pie with a flaky puff pastry crust is a main dish you’ll come back to again and again.
Walnuts are ground up with the right spices to make a beef-style vegetarian ground meat that’s simmered in a rich stout beer gravy with onions, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms.
Serve with mashed potatoes and mushy peas for a fantastic meatless Saint Patrick’s Day dinner.
Scrapple is a PA diner favorite originating from the Pennsylvania Dutch community. They’re like thick, fried sausage patties with crispy edges and a slightly mushy interior.
While the original version is pretty well-known for containing some seriously “don’t ask what’s in it” kind of ingredients, our easy vegan scrapple recipe uses ground walnuts, chickpea flour, and cornmeal for a truly delicious vegetarian version!
Have a question about walnut meat we didn’t answer in this post?
Let us know in the comments, so we can make this a more complete resource for future readers!
We hope this post helped spark some walnut-spiration for you and that you’ll give this plant-based hack a try in your own kitchen.