Nuts are weird. With a sweeping statement like that, you probably have no need for clarification, but I’ll provide it anyway. Unlike fruits or vegetables, other food products that grow naturally, nuts seem to be the only ones that contain enough protein to count as steaks, yet all require you to crack needlessly thick shells in order to actually get to the tasty treat inside. Some are simple enough, like peanuts and pistachios (well, the peanut isn’t technically a nut but that’s weird for different reasons), but then there are some like the hazelnut, delicious but virtually inaccessible without either a hammer, some pliers, or a stick of dynamite. Regardless, I don’t need to worry so much about needing those things if I just want to casually talk about hazelnuts, so let’s make that today’s spotlight and learn more about this simple nut!
Hazelnut Culture and History
Some of you may be wondering what a hazelnut is, and that’s because you aren’t used to calling them by that name. Depending on where you live, you may know them as cob nuts, or if you’re from the Pacific Northwest, you most likely grew up familiar with filberts instead. It was only just last year that I learned filberts were hazelnuts and my world finally made sense.
The hazelnut’s history takes it way the heck back in time, all the way to the Mesolithic age, which occurs roughly between the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages some 10,000 years ago. It was 1995 when archeologists or geologists or some kind of –ist ended up finding a whole midden pit (a dump hole) in Colonsay, Scotland that was full of hundreds of thousands of hazelnut shells, specifically burned hazelnut shells. Various other pits have been found around Britain, which gives us a better idea as to the reasoning behind the strange find.
Seems that hazelnuts were all harvested within a single year and then the trees themselves were cut down all at once. Even stranger, there didn’t seem to be a very large big game population on the little island in Scotland, so the theory is that the Colonsay community was actually primarily vegetarian. Perhaps they understood that hazelnuts, which are high in protein, could compensate for the lack of meat-based protein. Whatever the case, the shells were clearly used for kindling, something you can do now as well.
We do know that the Romans cultivated hazelnuts a good while back, though they weren’t really responsible for spreading them around much. These days you’ll find them growing most in Turkey, which is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world, as well as Italy, Greece, Kent County in the UK, and Oregon and Washington in the US. Some of you from the Pacific Northwest may be familiar with Burgerville’s hazelnut milkshakes? Oh, I’m so sorry if you’re not. Please do come visit the Pacific Northwest posthaste to rectify your life’s mistakes.
Health Benefits of Hazelnuts
I’m getting ahead of myself as milkshakes are great but we need to know some facts about the nutritional value of hazelnuts! If it doesn’t have some real nutrients to it, why would you bother eating it? Well you’re in luck, as has been the case with every such food spotlight on VegOnline thus far. Hazelnuts are little presents of health, especially when it comes to vitamin E. Hazelnuts are so full to bursting with vitamin E that a single serving actually counts for 100% of the recommended daily amount, which is a pretty impressive feat.
In addition, these nuts are filled with protein and fiber, giving you energy and a good excuse to read a book, plus they can help to balance your cholesterol levels extremely well. So basically, they help prevent heart disease. Oh, and they can help reduce the risk of other diseases and cancers as well. You know, I’m starting to wonder, if everything we eat tends to reduce the risk of cancer and other series diseases, why are there still cancer and serious diseases around? Mathematically the probability of illness has to drop to 0% at some point, right? What, life’s not a sliding scale like in Skyrim? What’s the point?
Okay, back to hazelnuts, you’ll also find healthy amounts of iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, copper, zinc, selenium, folate, and even some B vitamins like B6. So, we’ve learned then that hazelnuts are the usual mixture of everything that’s good for you and nothing that’s bad for you. Oh and they’re gluten free, making them a great substitute in foods for those with gluten or wheat allergies. Yup, nuts are a perfect food! Wait what? There are people out there who are deathly allergic to nuts? Well darn it, so close!
Eating More Hazelnuts
As you’d probably assume, I’m going to recommend putting hazelnuts in salads and on ice cream, and you’d be correct. I’m also going to highly recommend making hazelnut milkshakes because those who haven’t had a hazelnut milkshake just don’t know what it means to be truly alive. Why don’t you live, maaaaan?! Okay, you don’t have to go the milkshake route, but also, why wouldn’t you?
If you like your “nutrition” in solid form, hazelnuts are fabulous in baked goods of all shapes and sizes. So that includes cookies, muffins, cakes, pies, brownies, cupcakes, pancakes, biscotti, bread, and even milkshakes of all things. I suppose if you really want to get healthy you could go all out and just put the hazelnuts into a soup or some pasta or in my mouth right this very second, but that’s up to you.
Half of the fun is just cracking the darned nuts as they’ll certainly demand a level of commitment that usually involves a ring and your whole family present. In a way, this can easily keep you from overeating and just gorging yourself on hazelnuts like I’m wont to do, but hey, don’t judge me because you’d do the same thing if you could find hazelnuts outside their shells. Oh wait, they do package them like that, don’t they? Well, looks like you’re doomed to become just like me. Care for a hazelnut milkshake?
With that said, I am 100% certain that there are many fans of hazelnuts out there just ready and willing to share. Do you have a special recipe that makes hazelnuts taste the best or inversely has the hazelnuts make something else taste phenomenal? Please do share! And bring a mallet because these filberts aren’t going to crack themselves!