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Everything You Need to Know About Cooking and Shopping for In Season Hazelnuts
Plus, 3 new recipes
For a long time now, the hazelnut has been one of my favorite nuts, and for good (cough, not just Nutella) reasons. It can lean sweet or savory, acting as a divine, nutty dust on top of creamy tangles of pasta or announcing its bolder, chunkier self scattered over practically any dessert. A celebrated and revered nut the world over, Piedmont’s Gianduja, France’s praline, and (I dare say) the world’s Nutella would be nothing without the humble hazelnut. So, what is it about these tree nuts that make them so irresistible?
1. Hello, my name is hazelnut
Sometimes also referred to as filberts or cobnuts, the cream-colored hazelnut itself is sweet with a papery brown, subtly bitter skin which can be removed before cooking or simply left on. Just over half of the world’s supply of the acorn-shaped, smooth-shelled nut is grown in Turkey, followed (but not very closely, mind you) by Italy.
A tree-nut that grows on, you guessed it, hazel trees, hazelnuts are harvested once each year in autumn—dropping from the trees along with the hazel’s leaves, and mechanically or manually raked up.
A rich source of a variety of essential nutrients including protein, dietary fiber, vitamin E, thiamin, and manganese, hazelnuts are also a good source of monounsaturated fats—the fats help protect against cardiovascular disease and are also found in high quantities in things like olives and olive oil, avocados, and whole milk products.
Oddly enough, the principal flavor compound or “smell” of hazelnuts, called filbertone, has been isolated and can be synthesized in labs. It’s most often used in perfumery but is sometimes even present in other foods. In the past years, the presence of filbertone has even been used to suss out adulterated olive oils—one major olive oil dealer was even arrested and jailed for selling Turkish hazelnut oil as premium olive oil.
2. How to buy hazelnuts
Only the kernel is edible, so both the delicate husk and hard shell are usually removed before the nuts hit the retail shelves where they're often sold raw (blanched or skin-on), roasted, chopped, or ground. When shopping for whole nuts in the shell, find nuts that feel heavy. If buying shelled nuts, look for plump nuts with tight skins. In addition to the nuts themselves, you can also buy hazelnut products like hazelnut butter, hazelnut meal or flour, hazelnut oil, and hazelnut pastes.
Like many other types of nuts (namely walnuts and almonds) you can sometimes find, or forage for, green hazelnuts. They are safe to eat, as long you carefully peel away the fuzzy green shell to release the nut. They are more vegetal in taste with a natural crisp-crunch and would be wonderful chopped and scattered into salads or added to rich pan sauces for pork, fish, or chicken.
3. How to store hazelnuts
An oily and rather fatty nut, hazelnuts bought pre-shelled and stored in an airtight container or vacuum sealed will stay longer than hazelnuts in their shells. Store shelled hazelnuts in the fridge or freezer for up to 4 months, unshelled hazelnuts in a dry, cool place (ideally a woven basket) for up to a month.
4. How to prepare hazelnuts
Open unshelled hazelnuts with a nut cracker to release the nut. If you don’t have a nut cracker on hand, you can wrap some hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel (make sure they are in a flat, even layer) and pound them gently with a heavy frying or cast-iron pan. Don’t hit them too hard or you’ll crush the nuts! Practice with one to find the right pressure.
If you want to remove the dark, bitter skins follow our how-to for skinning hazelnuts:
Two ways to skin nuts
- 01:22 min.
- 17.8K views
Whether you prefer them skin on or skinless, you should almost always toast hazelnuts before cooking them. It brings out their oils and gives them their full, nutty flavor and makes them a bit crunchier in the texture department. From there, the hazelnuts are ready—it’s up to you how to use them. They taste great in savory dishes but also sweet baked goods like hazelnut cake, hazelnut muffins, and hazelnut macaroons, and can be blended into a delicious DIY chocolate-hazelnut spread.
5. What to make next
All week long, we'll be featuring new hazelnut recipes on Kitchen Stories. Check back to see what's new, then try one for yourself! Here's where to start:
What's your favorite way to enjoy hazelnuts? Let us know in the comments below or share your best hazelnut recipe with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on November 18, 2018