Hazelnut is the world’s fourth largest tree nut crop after cashews, almonds and walnuts. Hazelnut cultivation has a long history of more than 5000 years. It is a native of the Black Sea costal region. Hazelnut tree has been regarded as a plant with mystical and magical qualities since ancient times. Branches of hazelnut tree have been used to locate underground springs of water, buried treasures and minerals. Chinese believed that this nut was one of the five scared foods given by God. Ancient Greeks used it as a tonic or medicine for a host of ailments ranging from balding to colds.
Hazelnuts are also called filberts. It is believed that this word originated from German word volbart (full beard) due to its long husk of the nut. Another theory attributes the name to St. Philbert’s day, which falls on August 22- traditionally the time when the nuts of the European hazelnut have matured and are ready for harvest.
Turkey amounts for about 75% of worldwide hazelnut production. Turkey is followed by Italy, the U.S.A, Georgia, Spain, South Africa and France. The commercial production, however, is confined to a limited growing area. In India, the tree is found growing in the forests from Kashmir to Kumaon.
The size of the hazelnut tree ranges in size depending on the species. There are different forms ranging from small, multi-stemmed shrub to a large single-trunk tree. The leaves are rounded with soft hairs on both sides and have a double-serrate margin. Male and female flowers grow on same tree. Male flowers are long, yellow flowers while female flowers are tiny red or purple ones. Nuts are borne in clusters and each nut is enclosed in a husk.
The nut is rich in protein and unsaturated fat. Hazelnut contains a well-balanced mixture of vitamins and minerals. They contain significant amounts of magnesium and calcium, both of which improve bone and teeth formation and density. It also contains copper that supports immunity and slows down ageing process. Hazelnut is a good source of Vitamin B1, B2 and B6 which are good for mental health, especially in young children. The hazelnut also contains folic acid, which reduces birth defects and heart disease.
The hazelnut can be eaten in raw, roasted and salted forms. It is widely used in confectionary and food products. It adds a richness to chocolate and a nutty flavor to cookies and pies. Hazelnuts are added to a wide range of dishes, from cereals and breads to soups, salads and main dishes. Hazelnut oil is used for cooking and is prized for its lightness and flavor.