The term hazelnut refers to the genus of roughly 15 species of shrubs and trees in the birch family and the edible nuts they produce. Hazelnuts are also commonly referred to as filberts, a name of French origin. It’s believed that the term filbert is derived from St. Philibert, as August 22nd is dedicated to him, which corresponds to the earliest ripening date of filberts in England.
Native American hazelnuts are found throughout the Midwest, East, and Southeast of the US and Canada. In addition to being enjoyed by humans, the nuts also serve as an important food source for wildlife. They provide a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts and are eaten by many species including squirrels, foxes, deer, turkeys, woodpeckers, and deer, among others. The American hazelnut is also a prized ornamental tree. They are known for providing colorful fall foliage, as their leaves turn orange to red or purple in the fall.
But the US isn’t the only country where hazelnut trees are grown. They are commercially cultivated in various parts of the world, including Turkey, Italy, Spain, and China. In fact, roughly 75% of the world’s hazelnut supply comes from Turkey. And one small Turkish town, Ordu, accounts for about 25% of the world supply, as the crop makes up nearly 80% of their economic activity.
There is evidence that hazelnut has been a prized crop for thousands of years. A manuscript found in China that dates back to roughly 2800 BC, considered the nut to be one of the five sacred nourishments God bestowed on human beings.
In the past, it was often used as a medicine and a tonic. In the first century CE, the Greek physician Dioscorides described its reported properties, “It cures chronic coughing if pounded filbert is eaten with honey. Cooked filbert mixed with black pepper cures the cold. If the ointment produced by mashing burnt filbert shells in suet is smeared on the head where hair does not grow due to normal baldness or to some disease, hair will come again.”
Modern studies have shown varying results on whether the consumption of hazelnuts has a direct effect on various health conditions. But regardless, they are rich in several nutrients that make them a valuable addition to a healthy diet. Most notably, hazelnuts contain high levels of vitamin E, protein, healthy fat, and dietary fiber.
Popular Hazelnut Products
One of the most popular hazelnut-based products on the market is Nutella, a sweetened spread manufactured by the Italian company, Ferrero. Nutella was officially “born” in 1964, but the origin of the product dates to post-World War II when cocoa was extremely scarce. As a solution to the shortage, Italian pastry maker Pietro Ferrero created a sweet paste made from hazelnuts, sugar, and a small amount of rare cocoa.
The precursor to Nutella was shaped into a loaf that could be sliced and spread on bread. It was named Giandujot, after a local carnival character. From there, the recipe was refined to make the paste more spreadable, leading to a product called SuperCrema. And finally, the recipe was further improved, leading to the creation of the first-ever jar of Nutella, released in 1964.
In addition to hazelnut-based foods, there are several other common products made from the plant. Oil from the European filbert is often used in perfumes and soaps. Hazelnut oil is also used for its moisturizing properties in skincare and hair care, and as a carrier oil for aromatherapy or massage oils.
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