You Say Hazelnut, I Say Filbert

13 10 2013

IMG_7747Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I always had a variety of nuts available. No, I’m not talking about people, but Pacific Northwesterners are known for being a bit quirky—thanks to the show Portlandia and the local slogan “Keep Portland Weird.” I didn’t go through any extreme phases to find my identity, if you don’t count my 13th year when I went by Kym instead of Kim until my friend’s dad teased me incessantly by pronouncing it as “Kime.” I loved it though, and the memory still makes me smile. Anyway, back to nuts. A bowl of hazelnuts in the shell and a nutcracker stayed near the TV in my family room for years as a snack for anyone to partake. Actually, Pacific Northwest natives refer to these tree nuts as filberts. They are called cobnuts in Great Britain and are grown in Kent. 

The hazelnut’s popularity as a chic flavoring expanded the worldwide demand for this nut from the hazel tree. Did you know that was the tree’s name? I just learned that. I’ve been calling it a filbert tree for four decades! Pralines, tortes, and chocolate top the list of sweet confections that incorporate hazelnuts to gratify people globally. My pantry never lacks a chocolate hazelnut spread waiting to top bread, crackers, or fruit. I find this ironic, because when I first was introduced to chocolate hazelnut spread in Romania by my host family, I couldn’t read the label and assumed it was chocolate frosting being served for breakfast. To avoid a headache on those days, I ate plain toast. Duh, I could’ve used that morsel of protein! It wasn’t until parents of my children’s friends told me about chocolate hazelnut spread that it became a staple in my household. Better late than never.

Hazelnuts are grown commercially only in four geographical regions worldwide. These regions share commonalities of mild winters, moderate springs, cool summers, and late-frost autumns. Also, they all are within a few hundred miles of major bodies of water that regulate the climate. These regions include Turkey near the Black Sea, coastal Italy, coastal Spain, and the western valleys of the Pacific Northwest. Turkey produces about 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts; Italy produces 20 percent; Spain produces seven percent; and the Pacific Northwest produces three percent. The Pacific Northwest grows the largest hazelnuts in the world and demand for them is exploding. Oregon and Washington in the United States of America are the only two states that produce hazelnuts commercially. Our northern neighbor of British Columbia, Canada, is the only other North American commercial producer.

photoAfter the hazelnut releases from its fibrous husk, the shell is smooth and nearly round. The nut inside (also called seed or meat) is edible and can be eaten raw, roasted, ground into a paste similar to almond butter, or pressed into oil for cooking. Harvest hazelnuts from late September to late October when trees drop their leaves and nuts to the ground. Farmers rarely shake them off the tree; instead, they harvest them with special equipment. The sweeper sweeps the nuts into rows. The harvester separates them from leaves and branches and picks them up. The nut cart holds the hazelnuts. The forklift loads the hazelnuts into carriers and stacks them in storage until the next step in the process.

Hazelnuts are a good source of fiber, protein, good carbohydrates, omega-3s, thiamine, copper, manganese, and vitamins B6 and E. They also have the highest folate content of any tree nut. As with any food, make sure it lines up with your personal dietary needs. I’ll share an easy method to try them roasted.

Roasted Hazelnuts

Spread whole, shelled nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes

If you want thin skins removed, wrap warm roasted nuts in a towel

Allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes in the towel

Rub the towel all over them to remove the skins

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