Hazelnuts are sweet, acorn-shaped nuts have a long, fuzzy outer husk that opens as the nut ripens, revealing a hard, smooth shell. Depending on the cultivar of the Hazel tree, the nut is also sometimes called a filbert.
The hazelnut is believed to have originated in Asia. It is one of the oldest agricultural food crops, providing a high-quality protein and sustenance to humans for thousands of years.
Ancient Chinese manuscripts dating back 5,000 years refer to the hazelnut as a sacred food bestowed directly on us by the heaven. Meanwhile, the ancient Greeks and Romans valued hazelnuts for their medicinal properties.
While ancient lore has it that hazelnuts held the cure for everything from baldness to gastrointestinal illnesses, modern research is informing us that nuts in general may accord cardiovascular benefits. The monounsaturated fats in nuts are believed to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
Hazelnuts are also a source of plant sterols, substances that help lower LDL cholesterol. These nuts supply good amounts of vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, vitamin B6, iron, and magnesium. Also, when compared with other nuts, they have a high vitamin E profile.
Despite the wealth of nutrients found in hazelnuts, be mindful not to overeat them, as—like all nuts—they are a high-calorie food.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Hazelnuts in the National Nutrient Database.
Types of hazelnuts
Hazelnuts are available in the shell or shelled. You can buy them raw, roasted, chopped, or ground.
Hazelnuts impart a sweet, rich flavor and texture to numerous foods. They’re often added to cookies, candies, ice cream, breakfast cereals, biscotti, tortes, chocolates, coffee, bread, liqueurs, and spreads.
Other hazelnut products include:
- Hazelnut butter: This creamy, smooth spread resembling peanut butter is made from roasted hazelnuts and, like peanut butter, can be eaten on its own or added to recipes for a full, sweet flavor.
- Hazelnut meal & flour: Hazelnut flour, like other nut flours, is ground from the solids that remain after the nuts have been pressed for oil. It can be used in baking as well as for breading fish or chicken for sautéing.
- Hazelnut oil: The most common form found in the market is derived mainly from unroasted Italian hazelnuts (also known as filberts). However, a roasted version from American hazelnuts is also available. Full of flavor, hazelnut oil is excellent for seasoning desserts and salads.
- Hazelnut paste: This sweetened mixture of ground hazelnuts and sugar is used as a confectionery paste in hazelnut marzipan, icings, bakery fillings, ice cream, and cookies.
How to choose the best hazelnuts
If buying hazelnuts in the shell, look for shells that are full and heavy. Old nuts will start to dry in the shell, making them lighter. If buying shelled nuts, look for skins that are tight and nuts that are plump. Shop at a store with a brisk turnover to get the freshest nuts possible.
How to store hazelnuts
Fresh hazelnuts are delicate and perishable. Shelled hazelnuts, in particular, should be eaten as soon as possible and kept at room temperature, away from heat and humidity. Shelled hazelnuts may be kept in the refrigerator or freezer for up to four months. Unshelled hazelnuts may be stored in a dry, cool place for up to one month.
How to remove the skin of hazelnuts
The dark skin of hazelnuts is slightly bitter. You can remove the skin by toasting shelled hazelnuts in a 350° oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the skins begin to crack. Not all skins will crack, so don’t worry and don’t wait for all of them to crack. Transfer the hot nuts to a kitchen towel and vigorously rub to remove most of the skin. Some skin will remain, which is fine. Let the nuts cool before proceeding with the recipe.
If you’re baking a cake or cookies, and your recipe calls for ground nuts, place them in a food processor with a little of the flour in the recipe and process. This way they’ll grind without becoming oily and pasty.
8 ways to serve hazelnuts
- Add chopped hazelnuts to salads.
- Roll goat cheese in crushed hazelnuts and serve a slice for dessert along with red grapes.
- Coat fish in a mixture of breadcrumbs and crushed hazelnuts before sautéing.
- Stir coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts into frozen yogurt.
- Add chopped hazelnuts to vegetable sautés.
- Dress salads with a light coating of hazelnut oil.
- Scatter slightly crushed toasted hazelnuts over grilled pineapple slices for dessert.
- Add hazelnuts to pilafs, risottos, and other rice dishes.
Also see this recipe: Fusilli with Asparagus and Toasted Hazelnuts.